I was 15 when I first started wearing hijab. It’s been 10 years since I started, and while I’ve never regretted the decision once, it’s one that changed my life in ways I couldn’t imagine.
I had been going to Islamic summer camp and felt closer to my faith than ever before. I wanted to please God. I wanted to wear hijab.
My mom cautioned me on my decision; not because she didn’t support it, but because she worried about me, about me taking the decision lightly. She told me that once I started to wear the hijab, it wasn’t good to take it off. I had to be 100% sure this is what I wanted to. I was sure.
I had seen my friends wearing hijab in middle school. They wore it to school, but didn’t wear it to the mall. It was easy, I thought.
But once I started, I realised how difficult it was. I quickly learned that my hijab wasn’t an accessory that I could wear wherever I wanted and take off whenever I wanted. It had more significance than that. My beloved earring collection lay on my dresser, now futile. All my short sleeved shirts had be donated in exchange of a new wardrobe when I realised I couldn’t show my arms or my neck. It was a lot more challenging than I had originally thought.
But the challenges weren’t over. Soon after donning the hijab, my family questioned my decision. My parents were supportive, but no one in my family wore hijab. Not my mom, any of my aunts, or my cousins. I was the first and only. It was a post 9/11 world, and my grandfather worried that I would quickly become a target for anti-Muslim attacks. He knew how sensitive I was and he didn’t think I could handle the negative attention I was bound to get. Other people in my extended family asked if I had been forced into wearing it by my conservative father. They couldn’t believe that the decision had been completely mine. Many thought I was becoming an extremist.
It was hard dealing with all this negativity. But the negativity didn’t stop there.
I went to a predominantly multicultural school with lots of Muslims and people of ethnic minorities. They was no shortage of hijabis, that’s for sure. But for some reason, I was somehow supposed to be different.
I still remember the reaction I got from some friends when they first saw me in hijab that first day of grade 10 after a summer of being apart. They were shocked. They told me that they didn’t expect this from me. I didn’t get it. Yes, I was born and raised in the West, in the same community where I was going to school. My family wasn’t overly religious nor had I ever really spoke about my Islamic beliefs at school. But after attending Islamic summer camp for a few years now, I knew I was going on the right path.
Not only did I have the challenges from the outside world, there were also inner challenges as well. Suddenly getting ready in the morning was like climbing a mountain. Shirts didn’t really come with long sleeves, and layering with sweaters in the summer was annoying. I didn’t know where to buy clothes that covered me up properly, especially as a growing young woman, and I began hating shopping and trying to find clothes. I felt frumpy all the time and like hijab wasn’t beautiful. Like I wasn’t beautiful.
I began resenting the hijab and all the challenges that came with it. There was nowhere to shop for clothes that I liked and I felt ugly all the time. It didn’t seem like there was any way hijab could be beautiful.
That all changed when I started university and was exposed to a whole variety of hijabis, who not only dressed fashionably, but who tied their hijabs in different ways. Suddenly I discovered H&M, which magically had clothes that were modest and chic. I discovered my personal sense of style and figured out a way to wear my hijab in a way that covered me up and suited my face. I realised that just because I couldn’t wear earrings didn’t mean that I couldn’t wear bangles and bracelets and long, dangly necklaces. I fell back in love with fashion.
Deciding to wear hijab was an easy decision, but it hasn’t always been easy to live by. I’ve never felt that there’s a contradiction between being modest and wanting to look good. And wanting to look good has nothing to do with following trends or revealing all; it’s all about how you feel comfortable and beautiful in your own skin. Maybe that means that you feel beautiful in a completely covering abaya, or maybe it means you feel beautiful in a completely covering maxi dress. It doesn’t have to be either or. It can be both.
Because wanting to be modest and wear hijab doesn’t mean you shouldn’t feel beautiful.