Modernizing Modesty: the Hijab and Body Image

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47 Responses to “Modernizing Modesty: the Hijab and Body Image”

  1. Mantissa128 says:

    as long as we put our beauty and bodies first, we will never be happy.

    I believe this. But men and women didn’t evolve to be happy, we evolved to ruthlessly evaluate each other’s reproductive fitness constantly, constantly. I think this is one of those eternal tensions between the beast and the god in us, and until we can hack our brains (not that far away, really) it will remain like this.

    That said, the more options for Muslim women to be modern and fashionable, the better. Embracing modernity is exactly what is needed.

  2. rachel says:

    This is really interesting. I do find it hard to get a complete understanding of what is going on without images to back it up though – fashion is a visual medium that isn’t served well by plain text. I would love to read more but there are no links to move on to for further information?

  3. Bezoomy says:

    Any images of this new style Hijab?

  4. Jonathan Roberts says:

    That sounds really interesting, I still don’t know what the clothes actually look like though.

    • nowimnothing says:

      according to bezoomy’s link above not much different than Jackie O or other American/European women’s fashion from the 1950′s. Long skirts or pants, long sleeves and a scarf.

      • vvafa says:

        The idea of modesty had never been seen as  “foreign”, until politics made Muslims, and Muslim women in hijab, seem like the enemy. Islam has just a few simple conditions for hijab, and you’ll find that the styles of many cultural icons from the past and present easily meet those conditions! (take Gweneth Paltrow’s gorgeous Tom Ford gown from the Oscars — sleeves & a scarf and ta-da, hijab!)

        Islamic modesty really isn’t a foreign concept at all, especially not among Americans and Europeans and ESPECIALLY not among religious folk! So many of the styles on LoveHFW.com are straight off the racks of your local shopping malls, and yet they pass as 100% hijab-friendly. 

        “Not so different, you and I”

  5. Kimmo says:

    I think the media portrays women as nothing more than a tool to draw attention …
    there is nothing positive about that.

    Commercialism is just so fucking base, vile, heinous. It insults me to the very core every chance it gets.

    Then I need a fix of BBC or RRR or something.

  6. sigdrifa says:

    Well, dear Muslim women, all I can say to that is: welcome to the modern world. Not meaning to offend anybody, but non-Muslim women in  the “western” world have been struggling with the discrepancies between women in the media or on the catwalk and the real world for generations.

  7. This is quite relevant: London-based fashion start-up by Sarah Elenany: 
    http://www.elenany.co.uk/

    She tries to do stylish street wear within the accepted boundaries of modesty. I quite like the style.

  8. Jonathan Roberts says:

    One of my lecturers (who comes from Italy) converted to Islam while I was in university. It was fascinating to hear her talk about the issues of self image associated with starting to wear the hijab. For a while she wore more modest clothes before starting to wear a head covering. It must have been a huge step, especially as a white European who was well known in the university.

  9. I detest the idea that the hijab serves a utilitarian function: “protecting” women from the roving eyes of men, who are apparently all sex-crazy rapists whose desires are thwarted with a little extra fabric.
    Admit it for what it is: a  religious mandate. One I personally find completely irrational and patriarchal. There is plenty of cultural variation in the muslim world and I hope pretty soon that variation includes letting women wear what they want. (For the record, I think outlawing the hijab/etc is exactly as bad as mandating it.)

    • millie fink says:

      Are you also arguing that Western women should be allowed to go topless in public, should they choose to do so? And for that matter, how about letting them say, pick up their kids at the day-care center while completely naked?

      • lecti says:

        Depends on the intent on going naked in public.  Clothing has a function of protection from the elements and also makes people look better – you know?  Not every piece of cloth has morals attached to it.

        I detest the idea of *forcing* women to wear tops in the “Western” world as well.  Saying women has to wear something because men can’t control their desires is a shitty rationalization for a shitty belief system.  Sorry, but I can’t stand this kind of thinking.

      • RedShirt77 says:

        It seems valid to require sexual Organs be covered in professional circumstances, but Europe seems to be able to survive with bare breasts while swimming or sun bathing.

      • llazy8 says:

        I’m arguing that, anyway. 

        As for picking up their kids at the day-care center while completely naked, I’d say that it’s okay if the day-care has the same rules for everyone but IMHO it’s convenient that in general everyone covers their bottoms, so that the subway lost-and-found isn’t constantly backlogged with people who left their towel on the train.  

      • benher says:

        I’m listening. Please, continue.

    • Abbie,

      Hijab is more than a “protection,” and although that is meant to be one of the served purposes of wearing hijab (it actually says in the Quran that believing women should cover, “so that they may not be bothered.” Another reason for hijab is modesty, and this should be something that is celebrated and not questioned nor attacked. Modesty is a noble thing, and should be encouraged. 

      Different religions and cultures have different ideas of what is “modest,” but I think that all would agree that a woman walking around naked (or nearly naked) would never be  considered “modest.” Think of what would be appropriate to wear at a religious service (Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Hindu, etc), or for going to work, and I do not think that women scantily clad will come into anyone’s mind. 

      As for “cultural variations in the Muslim world,” it should be noted that just because a Muslim has chosen to dress in a particular way, it does not mean that it is in exact accordance with Islam. Muslims, just like everyone else, come in varying degrees of adherence to their religion. Just as there are Catholics who may not attend Mass every week, or Baptists who sip the occasional beer, there are Muslims who personally choose to be lax in their religion. In no way does this mean that this is something that is acceptable, and should be encouraged. It just simply means that perhaps that one individual (or group) may be struggling with that particular aspect of their religion. 

      Many Muslim women (myself included) actually CHOOSE to wear hijab. We are not being forced to wear it by our husbands, fathers, brothers, sons, etc. My husband actually never thought that he would marry a woman who covered. It was just something that he never gave much thought. Now that he is married to a hijabi, he wholeheartedly supports my right (and religious duty) to cover. 

      There are a lot of misconceptions regarding hijab and Muslim women, and I strongly encourage that people actually talk to us, rather than start assuming that we are following something that is “irrational and patriarchal.” I love wearing hijab, and I would love to see more Muslim women in hijab. For me, it feels liberating, and is yet another way for me to express my style. 

      For Muslim women like me, hijab is something that we first embraced because God told us to, and now, we celebrate the ability to express ourselves with a beautiful accessory that happens to cover our hair. 

      • lecti says:

        ”’all would agree that a woman walking around naked (or nearly naked) would never be  considered “modest.””’

        Why would clothing and appearance matter if one’s heart is modest?  Count me out.

      • Sandy Ogilvy says:

        I am glad to hear you are not being forced. But there are women all over the world who did not get your choice. There are places all over the world where that covered head is a oppression. There are also Christian sects that take the same extreme.  Just as sad. I live in a heavily Muslim neighborhood. And I cannot tell you how sick it makes me to see little girls covered and sitting quietly by the pool in the summer while their Muslim brothers run splash and play. You can couch this any way you want. Your “choice” is a symbol of oppression all over the world.

    • Mariam Sobh says:

      Abbie,
      I think the misconception here is that we are talking about the rules regarding Muslim women’s dress. This article is more about the irony of how Muslim women are trying to escape the commercial world of fashion by creating their own fashion that fits their definition of modesty, and yet they are ending up back where they started :)

      • RedShirt77 says:

        It is not really that ironic.  Fashion and clothing are big business.  Creating definitions of modesty and appropriate attire make markets.  Its diversity and outside the norm standards that don’t get commercialized.  Which is why the Amish are safe.   Its a silly misunderstanding of commercialism to think it is focused on immodesty, rather than selling.

  10. irened says:

    Like Abbie said, the huge elephant in the hidjab fashion show-room is the assumption that “modest” garments “protect” women from men’s lecherous eyes!

    Though it’s something one often hear, even from intelligent, college-educated women when queried about their reason to wear a hidjab or some even more covering Islamic dress, like a burqa. I also find interesting the comment from one woman quoted in the article about trying to “escape other women’s scrutiny”, trying to get free from the social pressures to conform to a model-like body-image. I can understand that feeling, but it’s sad. Instead of trying to do something about sexual harassment or lack of diversity in the societal standards of beauty, instead of trying to get accepted for what they are and feel good about their bodies, lots of women do what repressed generations before them did: they take the burden upon themselves and hide under wide swathes of cloth. And let dogmatic clerics tell them it’s for the greater good.

    • F F says:

      That’s not why I wear hijab. I started hijab at 21 after a lot of soul searching and a lot of religious study NOT because it would “protect” me from scrutiny (AS IF!! my number one reason for not putting it on earlier was to avoid the scrutiny and judgment!!)  but because Islam dictates modesty for all of its followers in all walks of life, male and female. I am to be modest in showing off dress, language, home, wealth, beauty. There are many more specific dictates in the Qur’an regarding modesty in wealth than regarding dress. And the dictates regarding dress apply to both men and women. To all the hijab-bashers here and elsewhere: why do none of you bash the Arab men wear long loose flowing robes (thobes) and head coverings (keffiyah)? Or South Asian men wearing skirts (dhotis) or loose tunics and trousers (shalwar kameez)? 

      • Sandy Ogilvy says:

        Because I NEVER see them.  Never. Seriously never. What I see are Americanized men walking the streets with there wives and really young little girls covered from head to toe. These men you speak of are also not being treated like chattel in other countries with religious dogma as an excuse. In case you didn’t see my comment above I live in an African Muslim neighborhood so I am out and about with these folks all the time. I am not implying any authority, just answering your question.

  11. HahTse says:

    The hijab in the first picture reminds me a lot of the Bene Gesserit.
    (Or maybe nun’s gowns in general. I wonder if it’s a coincidence that “hijab” and “habit” sound so similar.)

  12. glittertrash says:

    I’ve always felt strong affinity for explanations of modest dress that are about avoiding the many poisonous elements of the capitalist fashion-game. Body-judgement, compulsory consumerism & competitive fashion among women are horrible to live with, and I would have opted out any way I could as a younger woman (as an older woman, I’ve opted out by ceasing to care, but it took a long, long time). I love seeing the strides Muslim-oriented modest fashion is making in terms of pursuing the positives of fashion (self-expression, creativity & comfort) while being openly critical of the terrible stuff. I remain baffled by people who cling to the “but modesty is about shielding from the male gaze, therefor patriarchy, therefor bad” without engaging in any of the many positive reasons why modest dress can be a genuinely empowering thing. Modern Western fashion culture is hardly a powerhouse of feminist empowerment. I enjoy the possibility that other clothing traditions might have valuable insight & contributions to make.

  13. ozan says:

    This is one of the all-time most popular books in Turkey: http://www.press.umich.edu/titleDetailDesc.do?id=10254

    Is Mariam Sobh familiar with it, I wonder?

  14. vvafa says:

    This article cracks open quite a few doors for discussion, but the main point here is that hijab-centric fashion labels, which are supposedly founded on an Islamic concept, continue to promote a singular idea of what physical characteristics a real “model” should have. Yes, it’s disappointing that mainstream fashion is still marketed like this, but it’s even more-so disappointing coming from hijabi fashion because the Muslim population is so incredibly diverse! There just really is no sense as to why hijab-centric labels, or any fashion labels in THIS day and age,  should mimic such backwards tactics for promoting their fashions! 

    Communities are growing more and more diverse, and they are gaining greater access to global fashions. Marketing via a singular, convenient, definition of beauty is no longer the way to go, and never has been for labels marketing online.That’s why it’s refreshing to see websites like LoveHFW.com, which hosts a virtual Hijabi Fashion Week, for the people, by the people! Muslim women of all ages can check out the looks that everyday Muslim Women share through Hijabi Fashion Week, for inspiration and practical ideas on dressing modestly, comfortably, and modern.

    We embrace the diversity that exists among Muslim women, because that’s how Islam is. We celebrate modesty and beauty, as defined by regular, everyday beauties :)

  15. vvafa says:

    This article cracks open quite a few doors for discussion, but the main point here is that hijab-centric fashion labels, which are supposedly founded on an Islamic concept, continue to promote a singular idea of what physical characteristics a real “model” should have. Yes, it’s disappointing that mainstream fashion is still marketed like this, but it’s even more-so disappointing coming from hijabi fashion because the Muslim population is so incredibly diverse! There just really is no sense as to why hijab-centric labels, or any fashion labels in THIS day and age,  should mimic such backwards tactics for promoting their fashions! 
    Communities are growing more and more diverse, and they are gaining greater access to global fashions. Marketing via a singular, convenient, definition of beauty is no longer the way to go, and never has been for labels marketing online.That’s why it’s refreshing to see websites like LoveHFW.com, which hosts a virtual Hijabi Fashion Week, for the people, by the people! Muslim women of all ages can check out the looks that everyday Muslim Women share through Hijabi Fashion Week, for inspiration and practical ideas on dressing modestly, comfortably, and modern.

    We embrace the diversity that exists among Muslim women, because that’s how Islam is. We celebrate modesty and beauty, as defined by regular, everyday beauties :)

  16. abod1 says:

     Good for you Mariam,
    talking about such topic, its one of those topics that a lot of Muslim women feel but not really talking about.

  17. Wreckrob8 says:

    I think we all need to dress differently at different times – to please ourselves, to please our peers or for sexual attraction. Clothes have more than one function. The problem lies when people are not happy themselves with the various aspects of their own personalities – they start to feel the need to prescribe rules for others to suppress their own contradictions. Paradoxically if we did not try to determine codes for others we might find codes we could share.

  18. RedShirt77 says:

    Practices of “modesty”. As disproportionately applied to women are a practice designed to limit the sexual options of women. In societies where men are often the economic drivers it prevents women from forming even minimally flirtatious of relationships with men that might be alternatives should their primary love interest turn out to be abusive or mistreat them. Its common in patriarchal societies, particularly those that are religiously orthodox and/or allow polygamy. forgive me if I don’t stand up to applaud the “modernization” of the practice of treating women like a sports car you keep under a cover to keep the neighbors from coveting it.

  19. billoislove says:

    As an ex-Muslim who can see how misogynistic pressures force through social coercion girls to wear hijab, it is beyond depressing to see boing boing publish a piece of propaganda for hijab in what I thought would have been a corner of the web that might be alive to these issues – you got played by the identity politics crew. At the very minimum you could give space to the other side of the issue and not be beholden to the identity politics of the hijabis who deny the coercive and misogynistic precepts that do exist regardless of their own personal choice but want to pretend it is neutral and voided of coercive pressures all to proclaim the flag and banner of Islam and religious primacy. Also, the idea that if you don’t cover your hair you are immodest is a vile, slanderous, misognyistic piece of religious chauvinism that demonises non Muslims & Muslim women who reject this ‘uniform’

  20. Tariq Kamal says:

    Ooh. Surprisingly nuanced commentary on Muslim women that moves past the “Muslim women are helpless victims of bestial Muslim men, to be rescued by Westerners!” trope. On BoingBoing, too. How uncharacteristic.

    I think it’s an interesting question too, considering how local Malaysian artistes like Yuna — who made it to Conan O’Brien’s show — still emphasize a slim conventionally pretty look.

    And yes, you can still be harmful as hell when your models and products imply that what is wrong with you is that you are not slender and Caucasian enough.

    And geez. Those shoes are STILL as impractical as hell.

    • Sandy Ogilvy says:

       Your right. Western social conventions are unattainable and oppressive in their own way. But women don’t get beaten or killed in other countries for not following them

  21. cizin356 says:

    I converted several years ago. Not a fan of Islamic fashion aimed at 18 year-olds, nor do I want to look like I just emigrated. I tend to shop mostly at http://www.shukronline.com because they have a nice middle way of doing things, and I’m a super huge fan of their jersey fabric. It’s also nice to see models who look pretty average in build :) And, shopping without getting some sort of complex about your build is an added bonus. 

  22. ChickieD says:

    I have an aunt who has travelled all over the world for her work, including into many Islamic countries. She used to be very large, although recently she had gastric bypass surgery and lost a lot of her weight. She used to love traveling in the Muslim countries, where advertising could not include images of women and the women were covered, because they did not have such rigid ideas of beauty and she was not nearly as stigmatized as she was in the West. 

  23. “In particular, Muslim women say the use of tall caucasian models to market fashionable hijab is misleading: the products look amazing on the clothes horses, and less so on average women.”

    That’s interesting – as a white woman, I always feel like a total idiot in hijab, like it wasn’t meant for my face. I felt like I either looked like a nun, or a babushka.

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