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Saturday, October 02, 2004

Western Teenage Girl - Why do I wear Hijab?

By Sultana Yusuf Ali (a 17-year-old high school student)
Published in Toronto Star Young People's Press

An insightful and personal account of why a Western teenage girl would
reject the 'wonders' of fashion, and want to cover herself in the hijab

I probably do not fit into the preconceived notion of a ´rebel¡. I
have no visible tattoos and minimal piercing. I do not possess a leather
jacket. In fact, when most people look at me, their first thought usually
is something along the lines of ´oppressed female¡. The brave
individuals who have mustered the courage to ask me about the way I dress
usually have questions like: ´Do your parents make you wear that?¡ or
´Donÿt you find that really unfair?¡

A while back, a couple of girls in Montreal were kicked out of school for
dressing like I do. It seems strange that a little piece of cloth would
make for such a controversy. Perhaps the fear is that I am harboring an
Uzi machine gun underneath it! Of course, the issue at hand is more than a
mere piece of cloth. I am a Muslim woman who, like millions of other
Muslim women across the globe, chooses to wear a hijab. And the concept of
the hijab, contrary to popular opinion, is actually one of the most
fundamental aspects of female empowerment. When I cover myself, I make it
virtually impossible for people to judge me according to the way I look. I
cannot be categorized because of my attractiveness or lack thereof.
Compare this to life in todayÿs society: We are constantly sizing one
another up on the basis of our clothing, jewelry, hair and makeup. What
kind of depth can there be in a world like this?

Yes, I have a body, a physical manifestation upon this Earth. But it is
the vessel of an intelligent mind and a strong spirit. It is not for the
beholder to leer at or to use in advertisements to sell everything from
beer to cars. Because of the superficiality of the world in which we live,
external appearances are so stressed that the value of the individual
counts for almost nothing. It is a myth that women in todayÿs society
are liberated. What kind of freedom can there be when a woman cannot walk
down the street without every aspect of her physical self being ´checked
out¡? When I wear the hijab I feel safe from all of this. I can rest
assured that no one is looking at me and making assumptions about my
character from the length of my skirt. There is a barrier between me and
those who would exploit me.

I am first and foremost a human being, one of the saddest truths of our
time is the question of the beauty myth and female self-image. Reading
popular teenage magazines, you can instantly find out what kind of body
image is ´in¡ or ´out¡ . And if you have the ´wrong¡ body
type, well, then, youÿre just going to change it, arenÿt you? After
all, there is no way you can be overweight and still be beautiful. Look at
any advertisement. Is a woman being used to sell the product? How old is
she? How attractive is she? What is she wearing? More often than not, that
woman will be no older than her early 20s, taller, slimmer, and more
attractive than average, and dressed in skimpy clothing. Why do we allow
ourselves to be manipulated like this? Whether the 90s woman wishes to
believe it or not, she is being forced into a mould. She is being coerced
into selling herself, into compromising herself. This is why we have
13-year-old girls sticking their fingers down their throats to vomit and
overweight adolescents hanging themselves.

When people ask me if I feel oppressed, I can honestly say no. I made this
decision of my own free will. I like the fact that I am taking control of
the way other people perceive me. I enjoy the fact that I donÿt give
anyone anything to look at and that I have released myself from the
bondage of the swinging pendulum of the fashion industry and other
institutions that exploit females. My body is my own business. Nobody can
tell me how I should look or whether or not I am beautiful. I know that
there is more to me than that. I am also able to say no comfortably when
people ask me if I feel as if my sexuality is being repressed. I have
taken control of my sexuality. I am thankful I will never have to suffer
the fate of trying to lose / gain weight or trying to find the exact
lipstick shade that will go with my skin color. I have made choices about
what my priorities are and these are not among them.

So next time you see me, don't look at me sympathetically. I am not
under duress or a male-worshiping female captive from those barbarous
Arab deserts. I've been liberated!


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