The Hijab: Can it Promote a Healthy Self Image?

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By Sharon Haywood, Co-Editor

Several years ago while traveling through Malaysia, I had the opportunity to visit a mosque in Kuala Lumpur, the country’s capital. Despite my modest dress (a long flowing skirt and a loose-fitting blouse that covered my arms), the mosque required that I wear an abaya, a cloak that covered my head, face, and all my clothing. (They had plenty on hand for tourists just like myself.) As I explored the mosque, I couldn’t move past the unsettling sensation of feeling invisible. From my western perspective, I had a difficult time imagining choosing to cover myself on a daily basis, as so many Muslim women do.

Recently, I came across Zofeen Ebrahim’s article, “Educated, Glamorous and Wearing a Hijab,” which got me thinking about head and body coverings from a body image perspective. I was left with two persistent thoughts. First, I’ve been contemplating the idea that by wearing a hijab, women are free from being objectified. Or least freer than women who do not don the Muslim headdress. Ebrahim quotes Farahnaz Moazzam who chooses to cover herself as saying: “I don’t feel like a product or an object anymore. Now people notice my smile, my conversation, and take me more seriously.”

The author echoes her sentiments:

“Aside from considering it as an offering to Allah, the women say dressing the way they do liberates them from worries about their looks and allows them – and other people – to concentrate on more important things.”

Second, I was struck by the concept of getting a funky hairdo, adorning my body with jewelry, and wearing clothing that reflects my fashion preferences only to keep it hidden from others:

“Fashion, why not?” says Moazzam. “I am as normal as any other woman. I have, however, come to a point where I am covering up my fashion statement, jewellery, haircut, in front of the crowd. But I still do it and enjoy it.”

How many of us dress just for ourselves? How many of us judge others based on their sense of style or size? I’m not suggesting that we should adopt Muslim customs such as the hijab or abaya, but I can’t help but wonder if we all covered up (men and women alike) how much more accepting we would be of others and ourselves?

Continue contemplating the hijab and body image and check out IPS Gender Wire to read Zofeen Ebrahim’s article, “Educated, Glamorous and Wearing a Hijab

Many thanks to Sheila Smart for permission to share the above photo.

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5 thoughts on “The Hijab: Can it Promote a Healthy Self Image?

  1. @Sophie I completely agree that when all of us, regardless of gender, race, etc. are truly seen as equals, objectification will become a non-issue. I applaud your courage in using your voice to combat harassment but as you recognize this approach would not be appropriate in all instances. In my opinion, responsibility taking is essential for both men and women to eradicate objectification.

    @Cherry I appreciate your difficulty in taking a firm stand on the issue of the hijab. I too have struggled with not having a strong opinion for or against the hijab and it’s for this reason my post is an exploratory one. I used to be vehemently against a woman’s use of the hijab because I saw it dictated by men as a means to curb their sexual desires. But since exploring women’s perspectives on their choice to don a hijab and the freedom they garner from it, I can only respect their decisions.

    Here are a couple of links that provide the female’s perspective: Check out: and a teenager’s view:

    Do you think objectification would be a non-issue if we ALL covered up?

  2. To talk about whether women would be less objectified by covering themselves with something like a hijab, the political and religious connotations would first have to be removed. In reading the article that prompted this post, it’s obvious that the wearing of the hijab brings up many non-body related issues for people. Assuming those issues didn’t exist:

    It’s like a uniform in that, to some degree, it is an equalizer. Of course it covers more than a uniform so hides a woman’s hair which is a sign of beauty and sexiness and a woman’s figure. Covering, for ex., a woman’s breasts and cleavage did seem to me at first like it would decrease objectification. But the more I think about it I wonder how much of a difference it would make and definitely don’t think it would eliminate it.
    The woman’s body is still underneath, hormones still exist, the face, the smile, “bedroom” eyes would still be there. I’m having difficulty formulating my thoughts on this and still not sure where I stand.

  3. Personally I look forward to the day when women take full responsibility for being concerned about their looks, or even objectified. There are few of us who are so stunningly beautiful that we cant “turn down the volume” on our physical appearance, one way or the other. We get to say how we do that, whether it is using a “culturally blessed” method or not. I also will admit for myself that I maintain a healthy groomed appearance as much for myself as for others, and when I take a little more care it is usually for the purpose of attraction.

    I have never lived in a muslim country, but I do recall being followed on the streets of Paris with some regularity by Arab men. As a 6″ blonde I stood out and men wanted to engage me in flirtation of various types. I found the best way was to stand and face them, acknowledging their presence with a greeting, then make it clear I did not wish to go further with the conversation. I have used this technique quite a bit over the years with good results. In other words I found that the best way not to be objectified is to not act like an object.

    Please note that I am a realist when it comes to various forms of gender domination, and I don’t recommend this in all situations (eg dark empty streets). Its just that the more we engage each others essential sameness the more we can move past the need to use gender, class, race, or other identity-based structures to keep us separate and safe.

    SF, CA

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