Friday, January 31, 2014
World Hijab Day and the half-jabi'ed experiment
Today was an interesting day at my small-town government office: World Hijab Day. Two of my colleagues and myself underwent a hijabi/half-jabi transformation. The goal? Start a dialogue about women's rights to cover or uncover as they please, inner beauty reflected in comfort and confidence and the realities of body-policing as a universal but detrimental phenomenon against women's agency. In simpler term: most societies care more about what women wear than who women are--and that's wrong!
Many studies will tell you that people are generally happier when they feel good about themselves. That's often the ruse used by the beauty industry to sell beauty to women: they attempt to sell them happiness. The problem is that this same industry put their standards just out of reach so that they can continue to sell. This standard, while increasingly true for men, has been part of women's reality for a lifetime. Women have been, at the hand of misogynous attitudes and patriarchal societies, the subject of discomfort established by companies aiming at a profit.
I'm not going to be a hypocrite: I buy in the happy/beauty myth ALL. THE. TIME. I have enough makeup to repaint my apartment; enough dresses, skirts, pants, tights, tops, jackets and cardigans to dress the entire town; and more hair products, scarves, jewelry and other accessories to decorate an 8-feet tall Christmas tree. You're selling beauty? I'm probably the first hypocrite buying into it. That's one of a number of reason I started to wear hijab a year and a half ago: it gave me the ability to fit into various standards of beauty without ever compromising my own physical esthetics. You see, I am one of those people who has a number of tattoos and often have crazy-coloured hair (I've had everything from blond to black to blue and purple) but I insist that those are strictly for myself. Even without hijab, my tattoos rarely showed (they are conveniently place for discretion) and I was extremely shy to wear my crazy hair when I had to show it. Now, I do as I please with my body--haraam police be damned--and no one is the wisest! Only God can judge me.
So today, I let a part of that go; I told myself that this discussion was much needed and took off the piece of cloth which has enabled this re-orientation of my focus towards myself. I took it off "come what may" and would allow whatever conversation to happen. What happened, was a wonderful show of support from friends online and off but also a surprising hatred of being called "pretty" without my scarf.
Since the morning, I was incredibly uncomfortable with removing the head scarf: I knew I was doing it for a good cause and for good intentions, but all the while I resented that this actually mattered. At the dawn of the Charter of Quebec Values banning religious symbols (including hijab) in the provincial public service, as neighbours and less culturally-diverse province, I knew a statement had to be made that I *can* take off hijab but am uncomfortable doing so, because it should be my choice, not my government's choice what I wear!
So I enlisted the help of two of my wonderful colleagues and we roamed the office in a strange switcharoo: hijabi'ed/half-hijabi'ed. As the (usually) only hijabi in the office, these women constantly got mistaken for me and I got some interesting looks throughout the day. Most were simply puzzled about the change, some in "awe" of my hair--of which I only showed my well-groomed bangs and my favourite ones were from those who simply could not put a finger on what had changed. The latter were my favourite because they'd taken such an interest in who I am that what I wore never crossed their minds or imprinted their memories. I *love* those people!
There were also the few and far between who tried to convince me that I was "much prettier" without my scarf. Some time after the third or fourth similar comment, I came to terms with my rage and anger. I felt disrespected when my colleagues valued conforming with societal ideals of "beautyh" above my comfort, but that in no way took away from my beauty. I *am* beautiful, hijab or not, and if wearing hijab is my choice then I am beautiful wearing it, if I were to decide not to wear hijab, I would still be beautiful without it. What I eventually saw in my colleagues' statements were their limitations when it came to acknowledging beauty.
It might come off as condescending, and I must admit it is to some extent, but I came to pity these
Regardless, I remain my own self; a hijabi-artiste with a flair for the unusual, unconventional, culturally diverse beauty. Monday, I will be back to work, hijab secured and bangs covered; I pray and I hope I will have had some impact on my colleagues and my community because this country is too beautiful, too great to be soiled by bigotry and body-policing.
[NOTA: While this article is written solely from my perspective wearing half-hijab for the day, I have yet to get my colleagues' experience wearing hijab--another article for another day!]