Mainstream hijab fashion dismisses the reality of women’s experiences
Having followed news about the onset of global hijab fashion trends and ‘modest’ clothing lines, I am conflicted about whether the normalisation of Islamic attire is a good step forward or whether in reality it dismisses the brutal experiences of some who wear hijab.
When I used to wear it, the idea of putting earrings on, or a attaching a sparkly, colourful chain on my scarf would have been unacceptable, because the whole point of it was to remain modest and deter male attention. But the hijab of the fashion world seems to be little more than a pretty accessory. This raises so many questions for me, because by emptying the hijab of religious meaning there is a dismissal of the fact that many women are coerced into wearing it. I am all for adult hijabi women who truly choose to wear the headscarf to do so in whatever way they want, but I also recognise that perhaps the young girls who follow changing hijab fashions are doing so because that is the only form of self-expression allowed to them within their communities. I am all too aware of the many young girls who are forced to wear it and who now only have the ‘choice’ of a few colourful trends to console themselves with. Does this enforce their subjugation or does it give them an outlet for self-expression?
By way of background, I used to sport the hijab and jilbab in my teenage years as a Muslim. After 6 years I took it off for several reasons, not least because of the fact that I am now an ex-Muslim. Below is a snippet from a journal entry early last year. I wrote it after an incident with my parents, when my mum insisted that I resume wearing it again to hide my ‘disgusting female body’.
“I cannot wear the hijab because it means more than a headscarf. I despise it for many reasons, such as the fact that I am perceived as a sexual object requiring covering. I cannot, for the life of me, separate the ‘cloth’ from all the symbols and representation that comes with it. I cannot wear a hijab because it reminds me of dark days when I was trapped, and I promised myself I would never go into that cocoon again. The hijab comes with expectations and a strict code of behaviour. The hijab incapacitates my ability as a woman to be seen as a human being, to be on an equal standing with a man. The hijab restricts my movement, it makes me hide and feel incapable of socialising in public and with men (without guilt and long stares). The hijab removes my femininity, dismisses my aspirations and desires as woman. The hijab mutilates my sexuality. The hijab makes me feel like a sex object and completely worthless.”
In my opinion I think it is dangerous and misleading for the fashion industry to promote hijab fashion. Of course there is huge demand from some consumers in this spiritual supermarket for pretty hijabs and jilbabs. What the industry forgets – or simply does not care about – is that it removes every bit of meaning and conditioning attached to that piece of clothing. For them it is little more than a money-making strategy, and an irresponsible one at that. When you look into what the hijab means, it is defined as a piece of clothing to cover the awrah, or ‘private parts’. In simple terms, the woman is reduced to awrah and must be covered. Many women around the world are coerced into wearing hijab because their religion dictates that they should – or they will face the burning flames of hellfire. The hijab is a symbol of ‘modesty’ that promotes an unjust purity culture. This means that a woman’s character is judged on whether she is sporting it or not. It is a tool (given legitimacy by religion and promoted by conservative patriarchal cultures) used to control a woman’s behaviour: it is a weapon of subjugation.
I personally am against the idea that hijab can be a mere fashion trend. I feel that it perpetuates a misguided perspective that wearing it is always a choice. I do not support a culture that celebrates hijab and the oppression of many women. I know some hijabis who claim it is, but I find it hard to believe it is a choice when the consequences of not wearing the one for all too many women is the accusation that they are not obeying Allah and that they are destined for hellfire simply for displaying her hair. Or perhaps they are perceived as loose and immodest without appropriate veiling. Nonetheless I am also a secularist, and as such, I do accept an adult woman’s sincere choice to adorn herself in whatever she may wish despite, my personal views against it. But I am strongly against the promotion of hijab for children (such as the hijab Barbie) – this is just plain wrong. Children cannot make a reasoned choice to wear a hijab and neither should their bodies be sexualised.
I had a damn hard time taking off hijab, and I still suffer the shaming consequences of it.