A couple of weeks ago, as I got ready, I was having one of those days where nothing seemed to look good. I made intentional changes to the way I dress when I was around 20 and it made me question my body confidence. My clothing, now less revealing than before, also changed how people “viewed” me. Could I feel as confident about my body with more clothes on?
It’s important to question how body confident you are every now and then. One of the questions I’ve asked:
Is the way I dress, actually a reflection of how I feel about my body rather than because it is for the sake of Allah?
It is easy to hide behind the ‘I am empowered because I am covered’ narrative. In a world where beauty ideals are far from what I look like it can be a difficult journey. It is important, to be honest with ourselves and ask the tough questions.
I asked some friends who wear hijab or try and dress “modestly” if they ever felt like they were “missing out.” Many of the responses were that they were waiting for marriage to be able to wear “things like that.”
As Muslim women, it often feels like our expression is anchored to the male gaze. Whether it’s a politicised gaze about the hijab, a hyper-sexualised gaze of “Sister I can see your hair,” or the ultimate hypothetical husband gaze of “when I get married.”
While I don’t doubt that some of these women are body confident already, I think it important to explore your expression regardless of our relationship status, within the framework set out by Islam. Anchoring our self-expression and body confidence to marriage can put us under an unnecessary amount of pressure.
The journey of body confidence starts from a very young age.
On top of being spoken about in relation to the male gaze, we are often shamed more than we are complimented. Shaming becomes the language through which we are educated about our bodies.
“We teach girls shame. Close your legs; cover yourself. We make them feel as though being born female, they’re already guilty of something. And so, girls grow up to be women who silence themselves.”
― Chimamamda Ngozi Adichie
South Asian culture in my experience doesn’t help; what can end up happening is self-expression is then sought outside of the house or online and we end up living a double life. We shame women into treating mahrams like non-mahrams when it comes to what we wear. Now I’m not saying you need to sit in the living room watching TV with your family in a bikini, but safe spaces are a thing. What ends up happening is we end up going through life in one mode, covered mode.
The concept of mahram* and awrah** has defined for us what is permissible, why override them with culture?
We go from your top is too low, to hold on it’s time to go to ann summers. We are then expected to trade high necklines for more “sexy” clothes post marriage, don’t get me wrong, I know these expectations can come from ourselves. There is also definitely an element of saving these intimate moments for your other half.
A lot of Arab cultures have got it right with women-only gatherings. I remember walking into my first Yemeni wedding, I knew most of these women to dress in abayas and hijabs, I walked into plunging necklines, backless dresses; a sea of glamorous women. I must admit I felt a little bit like an aunty rocking up in my sari. These women were able to have the space to express the many different sides of themselves, regardless of if they were married. On top of it, they weren’t shamed for what they were wearing.
Dressing in a backless dress, in the right context, is not immoral, so why do aunties treat it like it is?
We conflate our cultural morality with Islamic morality. We do this with periods, nikkahs, breastfeeding and sex. Women pretending to pray while on their periods, parents saying their daughter can’t see their husband post nikkah or saying they can’t wear a low back blouse at an all ladies mehendi.
Men join in too:
We need to be able to foster an appreciation of ourselves and nurture our expression. To navigate all these things post-marriage can be difficult and lead to insecurities. The whole, ‘when I get married I will’, also applies to other areas of our lives, be it learning more about Islam or doing that thing you’ve always wanted to do.
And god forbid, what about those women who don’t want to get married?
*mahram – kin you cannot marry
**awrah – term used within Islam which denotes the intimate parts of the body, for both men and women, which must be covered
Co-founder of Amaliah, Nafisa is passionate about women's rights and putting the wrongs of our ummah right. She also secretly wants to be a Taekwondo champion. Sometimes known as “Mrs M”.
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