A few weeks ago, the very bubbly and intelligent Kate at Imperfectkate introduced herself to me and told me about a really interesting post series happening on her blog. Called Modesty Monday, this series aims to explore different perspectives about modesty from all kinds of women. Naturally, I was honoured when she asked me to write a piece.
So if you’re looking for me, I’m over at Kate’s place (I’m not cheating on you, I swear. I’ll be updating shortly!)
“Oh I love your scarf! It looks so delicate and feminine. Where are you from?” The woman fingered the lace dripping from my hijab before absentmindedly feeling the fabric by rubbing my shoulder. Wide-eyed, I plastered a smile to my face and thanked her – suppressing the urge to shudder at her unwanted touch.
A week later I took a shortcut through an alleyway between some apartments and as he passed me, a man greedily looked me up and down and muttered, “beautiful.” This time I did shudder.
I was completely covered according to one standard of Islamic dress – exposing only my face and my hands. The rest of me was hidden behind a modest black hijab, an ankle length, flowing skirt and a baggy, long-sleeved tunic. Not one curve or strand of hair was exposed.
Regardless, I had drawn unwanted gazes. I was exotified and objectified.
Prior to converting to Islam, I likely would have welcomed the attention – drawing sexual empowerment from people desiring or praising my body. I loved dressing provocatively, with tight and flattering clothing. The attention was thrilling and I often based my self-worth on how others viewed me and not how I felt about myself.
Eventually, Islam filled this emptiness (though my reasons for converting are certainly more complex than just dealing with a fragile self-esteem and body image), and I found solace in the religion’s moral guidance regarding modesty.