Reclaiming My Body as a Hijabi – Happy Hijab Day

Here is my 2 minute explanation of my choice to wear hijab on video.

Happy Hijab Day, everyone!

World Hijab Day is an annual event founded by Nazma Khan in 2013, taking place on 1 February each year in 140 countries worldwide. Its stated purpose is to encourage women of all religions and backgrounds to wear the hijab (Islamic head covering) for a day and to educate and spread awareness on why hijab is worn.

Why do I wear the hijab (the Islamic head covering)?

As I wrote all this out, the content matter actually got a lot darker than I originally intended. This brought up themes about how women are objectified sexually in society, and how this objectification leads to mental and psychological distress. It’s a dark conversation, but I think it’s one that is more relevant today than ever. So if you are willing to read something with a bit of a heavier theme, please continue.

Part of my answer as to why I wear the hijab is an explanation of what I am attempting to leave behind. Of course if any kind of sexual harassment happens, it’s the sexual harasser’s fault. But there are a set of extremely toxic social standards that I no longer wish to associate with or even pretend to accommodate.

If there is one thing that men need to understand about being a woman, it is that we grow up being bombarded constantly with the message that our worth as a human being is directly connected to how sexually attractive we are. This sexual objectification happens everywhere in every culture. Of course attractive men are treated better than unattractive men as well. But I feel that the amount of pressure and attention given to a woman’s appearance is far greater.

A particular enlightening conversation on this issue was one that Dustin Hoffman had about his role in the movie Tootsie. In this movie, they do as much makeup as they can to make him look like a real woman. And yet when he saw his female self on screen, he felt disappointed that he wasn’t more beautiful. He started crying because he realized that he wouldn’t even talk to his female doppelgänger at a party because she didn’t fulfill his own standards of female beauty. And in that moment, he realized how much female attractiveness was tied in with concepts of self worth as a human being.

If I say the name, “Hedy Lamarr,” you may know her for being a beautiful actress. Fewer people know that she was also a brilliant inventor who invented the frequency hopping technology that would lay the foundation for wi-fi. If I mention Kim Kardashian or Paris Hilton, you may think of their sex tapes. You might not think of the fact that Kim Kardashian has done political work to help prisoners, or that Paris Hilton has lobbied for youth home reform. If I mention Dolly Parton, there are two big things about her that may come to mind. Those two things are probably not included in the millions she has donated to charity.

Millions of Americans feel uncomfortable about their bodies. Seven million women and one million men in America have an eating disorder. Women represent 90% of all people with Anorexia.

Women will spend a quarter million dollars on their appearance in a lifetime. And women today are spending thousands on new silicone breasts and new silicone bottoms. They are vacuuming out fat from parts of their bodies to put in other parts of their bodies. They are injecting fillers into their faces that have potential to cause their facial muscles to droop so they have to constantly get more fillers. They get burning hot wax ripped off their skin and private parts. And if a woman simply allows the hair to grow on her body that is natural, complete strangers will loudly and rudely comment that she looks unnatural.

People may think things are getting better today for women with the body positivity movement and new and inclusive beauty standards. But I am not sure if this is the case. Ever since kids have started using social media more in the 2010s, self harm behavior has been spiking severely for young women, while remaining steady for young men. Why is this the case? The theory is that boys are mainly looking at YouTube videos about video games, while the Instagram and Tiktok feeds for young women are overwhelmingly full of beautiful Influencers. The anonymity of the internet is also conducive to bullying. Teens can more easily bully a young woman for not fitting in or not looking “the right way.”

And today it’s no longer just that young women feel as if they must compete with the most beautiful women. Now they also have to compete with digitally enhanced women who look way better on screen than anyone could ever appear in real life. This is a cruel social battleground where a woman’s declining self worth not only leads her to develop health and psychological disorders, but also opens her up to other forms of exploitation and abuse. I’m astounded by how many beautiful women out there think they are ugly. I astounded by how many young men just can’t be attracted to a woman who is clearly attractive. And I am saddened by the women who tell me they feel pressured to dress in a certain way by society in order to be liked or accepted.

I remember one time as a teenager I saw something on television about how Saudi Arabia had a contest to see which woman was the best person. They evaluated a group of women all hidden under their black niqabs, and gave a prize to the woman who spent her time taking care of her elderly parents.

In the West we like to look down our noses at the Muslim countries. We’d like to think we’re so much more enlightened. I’m not saying there aren’t problems in Saudi Arabia. But how likely is it the U.S. would have a beauty pageant based solely on a woman’s personality, and not her appearance? That would happen on a cold day in Hell, right?

I remember the most socially comfortable I’ve ever felt anywhere was when I was dressed in my Mass Effect Quarian costume at AwesomeCon. I was wearing a helmet that hid my face. And the rest of my body was hidden as well. When people interacted with me, they were interacting purely with my personality and the cool costume I constructed. My body and sexuality were a private thing that was just for me.

After some twenty-five years of enduring weird, inappropriate and sometimes life threatening statements about my appearance (I am in my mid 30s), I feel like I’ve finally reclaimed my body for myself as a hijabi. I’m not saying that people are never rude to me. But what I am saying is that I am setting a clear visual boundary. Psychological boundaries are very important for social interaction. For me, physical boundaries are important as well.

Obviously sexual harassment can happen regardless of what a woman is wearing, but at least dressed like a hijabi I feel like I have some control over what I want to show and what I don’t want to show. I feel like my body is mine, and not some product that exists to be judged by today’s shallow, consumer obsessed, hyper capitalist society.

I feel empowered and free to be me.

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