Last weekend when I was in Madaba (for the Biblical Jordan trip), I purchased two barbies. These two barbies wear a full hijab. When I was a young girl, playing with my barbies was my favourite thing to do. I had at least a hundred of them and furniture for every room of their imaginary house. As I look back on it, I realize that I got a lot of my ideas of beauty and fashion from my barbies. I changed their outfits and played with their hair until they fell apart. Spending that much time playing “house” with the “perfect image of a woman” has to alter how we view beauty. Seeing these barbies in a full hijab made me stop and consider how different a girl’s view of beauty and fashion must be in this part of the world. How much different would we view a woman’s image if suddenly her body and hair (and sometimes her face) weren’t even part of the equation? Suddenly, the hijab doesn’t seem as oppressive, does it?
On my university’s campus, I can probably count on one hand the amount of girls I see not wearing a hijab. Before coming here, my feminist-side was absolutely horrified by the hijab. The idea of a society forcing women to cover themselves seemed like some sort of strange fairytale. Then I got hit with a dose of reality. Religion and culture here are inseparable. They are smothered together like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Knowing this fact alone explains so much. A hijab is a kind of ‘religious’ accessory here. Walking around campus this becomes abundantly clear. Girls match their scarves to their outfits so perfectly that I often look at my clothes and feel silly for not having colour-coordinated. Purple scarves to match their purses and shoes. Green scarves to match their jacket. White scarves to match their pants. That’s just how it is. Real life. Not some sort of oppressing factor, just woman living life and being fashion-forward. Suddenly, the hijab doesn’t seem as oppressive, does it?
The other day as I made my way to one of my classes, I heard a strangely familiar song.
American culture continues to sell ideas of what ‘beauty’ really is and how we should aim for it. This definition of beauty affects every aspect of our lives from movies and music to food and toys. There is no escaping it no matter what country or culture you run to. And this is oppressive. Yes, there are aspects of the hijab that are still oppressive, but it is not as clearly cut as I had first assumed. Being here has taught me an invaluable lesson. I must not be so quick to judge an aspect of someone’s culture simply because it is different. I thought I already knew this, but I’ve realized my heart wasn’t listening to my mind.
So, Reality Check: I have a lot to learn.