The hijab (حجاب) is a veil that covers the head and chest, worn by some Muslim women as a symbol of modesty and morality. The Western media often portrays Muslim women either as veiled victims with a lack of free choice, or a threat to the Western societies in which they reside.
However, the level of acceptance of the hijab is now evolving. As new generations of Muslim women come of age, they find ways for the hijab to complement their growing desire for self-expression. With this new confidence, a new breed of designers has developed, specializing in “hijab fashion”.
Hijab fashion companies currently have a great opportunity, in this untapped potential market, to showcase women of different shapes, sizes, ethnicities and ages. in making the most of this opportunity, these companies may help to counteract the negative messages and break the stereotype that mainstream advertising may be sending out about the hijab. “As a Western woman, I appreciate the Hijab; it is important for the West to realize that the wearing of the hijab is a choice. Western culture is trying to integrate it, and I think it is positive, but there is a fine line between romanticization and appreciation” says Meredith McKelvey, American student at International Christian school in Kenya.
The trend, like so many others in the fashion world, could be just another marketing gimmick, except that the hijab is not just an article of clothing. iIt is a politically charged symbol.
Muslim women who choose to wear headscarves sometimes face challenges, but Stephanie Kurlow, a 14-year-old Australian citizen, is not letting anything stop her from becoming the first professional hijabi ballerina. She has been taking ballet classes since she was 2 years old. She has faced many challenges with regards to her faith over the years; dancing, according to some Muslim traditionalists, can be considered forbidden. Add to this the self-consciousness that also feels when she tops her tutu with the modest hijab headscarf, and one can see that she has already overcome many difficulties.
But she keeps pushing forward with both her passion for ballet, and her faith. Kurlow wants to one day open a diverse performing arts academy. She says she wants to “inspire other young people who maybe don’t feel so confident to follow their dreams due to the outfits they wear, religious beliefs or lack of opportunities.”
Jhillah Chaaker, an Iranian student at Rosslyn Academy, has similar feelings about the hijab. She says, “We are normal people, we cover ourselves by choice. I wear it to embrace the beautiful religion I love. Hijabs do not restrict us or exclude us from society when it comes to partaking in daily activities or pursuing dreams. If everyone else can dress down with shorts, why cant we dress up and cover ourselves without being judged?”
In January 2016, after 71 years of a tall and skinny Barbie, Mattel introduced new physically diverse Barbies that are curvy and small. Now, Haneefah Adam, a 24-year-old who lives in Nigeria, is calling on the doll company to introduce “Hijarbie”- the new diverse body-type-friendly Barbies we know and love, dressed in up-to-date hijabi fashion. This Barbie would represent and inspire millions of Muslim girls around the world who play with the toy.
In our world, everything is changing. It’s time Mattel caught up with retail giants such as H&M, Dolce & Gabbana and Uniqlo, who have answered women’s calls for more diversity in their designs by stocking hijabs and featuring them in campaigns. The acceptance of the hijab in today’s world is truly inspiring and a positive move forward. As long as the true meaning of why Muslim women wear the hijab is not lost, the modernization of modesty is just around the corner.