Does My Freedom Bother You?
The word Hijab – which in Arabic means “Barrier” or “Protection” - many of us associate with the head scarf, or the Abaya/Jilbab. For a very long time, I believed I didn’t look nice or good enough with it. Thanks to perfectly blow-dried hair, flawless makeup and size zero figures, many like me start disrespecting our bodies. To don the hijab was my decision and mine alone.
I started donning it when I was living in the UK. Surprisingly, not once did I encounter any racism or anyone blurting “Oppression!” See, I started donning it when I was 24. The older you are, the harder it gets to adapt yourself to it. Alhamdulillah (Praise be to God), I’ve done well so far, I think! There are times when you envy those who don’t cover especially in the summers! But then that’s the part where I feel it’s important to explore different styles so you actually enjoy wearing it.
So coming back to my story, we moved back to Pakistan and I decided to do the impossible…join the fashion industry! When I say join, it’s not like it’s an exclusive club that you pay millions to be a member of. However, It’s a whole different world altogether. I remember walking into a meeting with a leading Lawn Brand in Pakistan.
"I doubt how I choose to dress would bother anyone especially in an industry where we encourage women to dress as we please. My work should be of relevance to you, not how I dress."
I met the Marketing Manager who after the usual greetings took me to the CEO’s office. I was pregnant at that time with my second one. Now to be fair, I had just moved back so my lack of fashionable (read DESIGNER) eastern wear was apparent. However, I was in my comfortable yet smart western maternity wear, which was doing its job very well, covering up the cow I was slowly becoming! LOL.
I sat down, he asked me about my portfolio which I had arranged to show on my laptop. He looked at me and went, “Your work is nice...” but then he gave me a long, silent and a pretty weird look. “Are you sure you will be able to sustain yourself like this?”
Before I could start babbling about how supportive my family is and how I plan to juggle my newborn, my older son and my work as a freelancer, he blurted out, “With this scarf” ………
It took me a while to establish what he had just said. Did I hear him correctly? Are we not flipping living in a Muslim country? Why would my scarf get in the way? How would that even happen?! I did feel like punching him, I’m not going to lie!
But I couldn’t let the hormones get the best of me. I took a deep breath and managed to reply,... “I doubt how I choose to dress would bother anyone especially in an industry where we encourage women to dress as we please. My work should be of relevance to you, not how I dress.”
The problem is, fashion is very superficial. It’s a modern chivalry, a hidden form of bigotry. As apparently when hair shows and body is flaunted, only then you are considered to be fashion worthy. We are mere pawns in society’s beauty game. If you are not wearing makeup, if your hair style is not glossy enough you are not considered beautiful.
I, on the other hand, feel privileged to have the freedom, to show only what I want others to see. It gives me the freedom to reject the social structure. If you want to work in fashion, the hijab is not for the faint-hearted. The irony is, there are little to no influencers around in my country, who are in the hijab. We have somehow led ourselves to believe that modest is not fashion worthy.
Fashion conscious Muslim women in the form of bloggers, designers and stylists have been taking center stage for a good few years in several countries, showing the world that modesty and style can coincide with faith. My dream is to see mainstream brands catering to us.
Making those hemlines a little long and fittings a bit loose. While we in Pakistan are fortunate to be able to design as we please thanks to the ‘unstitched’ revolution, I would love to see the same brands representing women who cover and including them when they market. My Hijab liberates me from society’s expectations of women. Does my freedom bother you?
THE WRITER: FAIZA MURAD
Hi, I'm Faiza! Pakistan's first Hijab wearing Fashion Photographer / Blogger. Journey with me as I discover what it means to be modest and fashion conscious at the same time.
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