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.

When Writing, Assume Your Reader is a Woman


“Try to write for a single reader who’s sitting across the desk from you…and if you’re smart, make that reader a woman…women buy 70% of the books.” – James Patterson

Currently I’m listening to James Patterson’s master class. I’ve just gotten started, but I think this is probably the most brilliant thing he’s said so far.

Why? Because with so much of the media I, as a 31-year-old woman, have grown up consuming, (TV, Movies, Video Games), has been made assuming that the target viewer is male (although that’s definitely changing).

Back in the 1930s, Hollywood made their basic formula for selling movies. They assumed that the average person buying movie tickets was going to be a white male.  Movies were made predominantly to target the male ticket buyer, and to treat the female viewer as accessory, with the exception of the occasional “chick flick.”

And even in very recent times (like this decade) many Hollywood producers refused to make movies with a female superhero, or female lead, claiming that it would get low viewership, never mind the fact that Wonder Woman was a box office success. Marvel CEO Doesn’t Believe in Female Superheroes

What’s interesting is that there is a tendency to see the under-representation of women as the norm, and to overestimate the presence of women when they’re actually being underrepresented, or normally represented. For example, there was a study that found that even when women did 50% of the talking in a group, they were perceived as talking too much (PBS).

The tendency to see the under-representation of women as the norm, and to underestimate the value of their contributions, is due to longstanding exclusion. When a group has been excluded from representation for a long time, this exclusion becomes seen as normal. And thus we are trained to see the male experience as the norm, and to see the female experience as accessory.

I think when many men write (and many women too), they automatically think their reader is going to be a male, because male is the lens we’ve all been subconsciously taught through which to view the world. People don’t think this way for malicious reasons, these are just very deeply ingrained stereotypes that are difficult to dismantle.

But the literary world is not like Hollywood. As James Patterson said, women buy most of the books. According to Author News , women buy 60% of books, and 65% of ebooks. Also, I’ve noticed a vast majority of literary agents are women, and most of the people who are going to be involved in producing a book are women.

Does this mean that men shouldn’t write, or that there shouldn’t be male characters, or that there shouldn’t be books with a more gritty, masculine vibe? No, I think people should write what they want to write, and anyone who feels compelled to write should do so.

But I think the point is that when people write, they shouldn’t do so assuming their reader is only going to be male. Writers can’t afford to think like that if they want to be successful.

I think what many people, male and female, need to realize, is that if their book has language that turns off women (because it’s overtly chauvinistic, or seems to go over the top in promoting sexual violence against women), it’s going to be a hard sell.

As a beta reader, I had an experience with reading a scene where the male lead character (who was supposed to be the good guy) committed an act of sexual violation against the female lead, an act that made me (as a woman) very uncomfortable. When I told this to the author, and then told him he should change it, someone else said, “Well maybe he just won’t write it for women.”

Well…maybe he just won’t get published then.

And what about those who self-publish? That’s hardly a loophole. Women are buying most of the ebooks, so trying to self-publish a sexist manuscript probably won’t go over that well either.

I’m not saying there can’t be books with sexual violence and chauvinism. Those are challenges that people deal with everyday. And in particular, when writing about an older time, chauvinistic ideals may simply be part of the time period.

But the point is that a writer shouldn’t write a story that seems to promote these ideals. The main character (if they’re the hero) shouldn’t be making sexist comments against women, or sexually violating women, unless he’s some kind of antihero. But that’s a balance that should be handled very carefully. If the antihero’s sexism is supposed to be a negative aspect of their personality, that should be made very clear.

Long story short. Write what you want, but make sure it doesn’t alienate women. And value the opinions of the women who beta-read your material.