Yes, It Is Hot in Here
Reading Time: 4 minutes
I began wearing a hijab at eight years old. My family and I were in our car on our way to the supermarket when my dad announced that I needed to start wearing one. It felt like a strange time to make such a decision, but nonetheless, I was excited. A week later, I went to school in my first hijab: it was the color of pearls and had small rhinestones around the forehead and back—the hijabi starter pack. My young, naive mind dreamed of compliments and smiles, but instead, I received nonchalance and a lot of concern. It broke my heart when my teachers asked if everything was all right at home instead of asking me what I was wearing. Adults asked me if my father “did” this to me. But I did not understand what they meant, thinking that they were asking about the rhinestones that fell off.
For the remainder of elementary school, some classmates made comments on my hijab, mentioning how much prettier I looked before. Others made the classic “Is it hot in there?” jokes. It was funny until the comments turned hurtful, and I became tired of the jokes.
For years, I spent my life trying to embrace my hijab while others did not believe I could be happy with it. Some thought my hijab was an insult to feminism and freedom and that I was brainwashed to believe I did not need saving. So, I tried to appease them. I would pull back my hijab a little to show the tiniest bit of hair without actually taking it off. I would brush the loose ends of my scarf away to show just a little bit of skin. I would beg my mother to wrap my hijab as Congresswoman Ilhan Omar does sometimes, where only the back of the head is covered.
I distinctly remember a class trip in seventh grade to a beautiful, prestigious university. My friends and I were at the front of the loud, chattering group of kids, and we began to tease each other. My friend asked me why I wear a hijab, and I was eager to tell him why, since it was the first time someone cared to ask how I feel. Yet before I could even say a word, my teacher swooped in and said, “I don’t like where this conversation is going. Either you talk about something else, or you don’t talk to her at all.” My heart shattered, and my friends did not look me in the eye for the rest of the trip.
However, my experiences in middle school redefined what the hijab meant to me. Friends of mine would pull me aside privately and ask if I truly wanted this. “This what?” I would ask. “Well… that. Don’t you want to show your hair sometimes?” they would say. Their faces would fall, and their hands would fidget, and I could never muster the right words to reply. I understood that people want to help hijabis like me, but the constant comments got on my nerves. Anytime I wanted to have a meaningful conversation with my peers about why I wear the hijab, someone would swoop in to “protect” me. It made me feel conscious of what people would ask me. I never wanted people to worry about me, but it was wrong of me to put aside my confidence for their peace of mind.
Despite my current pride in wearing a hijab, it took me a long time to come to terms with my culture and realize the answers to the questions people asked when they saw my hair covered: Am I okay? Am I being oppressed? I chose to bear the brunt of endless questions, comments, and fears. But on that university trip, I realized that no matter how hard I try, some people just cannot be convinced I am proud of my culture.
From then on, I felt less conscious about my hijab and started to reflect on what it meant to me. My hijab is exactly what it is designed to be: a symbol of my religion, faith, and morals. A lot of my peers believe that modesty automatically equals oppression, but it does not. A lot of hijabis would agree that modesty is simply a personality trait, just as much kindness or generosity is. I am modest, and my hijab reflects that about me.
The same can be said for many Muslim women across the nation. Over 80 percent of American hijabis say that they wear a hijab as an act of piety, to be identified as a Muslim, or for modesty. Only one percent are actually forced to do so by a family member. We understand that people are trying to help, but insinuating that our own family members are trying to control and harm us can lead to confusion and frustration for Muslim girls.
I do not mind that my father made this decision for me, and I do not mind hiding my hair. The hijab means so much more to me than a fashion statement. It is representative of my religion and my dedication, so I will gladly wear it. My hijab and my religion are not a symbol of oppression. They are my pride.