How Modesty is Liberating the Modern, Religious Woman
“What is so offensive about covering my skin?”
It is a question many women who follow modest religious (or not religious) dress codes might find themselves asking. It is a valid question: What is it about covering hair, wearing long skirts and shirts to the elbow that has so many in an uproar - or at least bristling with misdirected concern for our freedom? Why has the hijab become synonymous with a woman silenced, beaten, and/or stripped of the basic ability to function on her own? When, in reality, many women freely choose to follow the dressing standards of hijab, tzniut, or any other religious law. I say this with no intent to mitigate the suffering of women across the globe whose fathers, husbands, and brothers use dress as a means of subjugation. However, millions of women wake up every morning and choose to dress conservatively.
France - where, not long ago, “Burkini Bans” were put in place - is a prime example of a community riddled with Islamophobia and the perception that modesty is somehow wrong. In the same way that forcing a woman into a hijab or tichel is wrong, forcing a woman out of it is no better. The objection to modesty is just another method of policing women’s bodies.
A Tichel, the headcovering worn by some orthodox Jewish women.
Yet, despite all of this what it really boils down to is a woman’s ability to choose her clothing without having to deal with judgment from others. Neither being modest nor “immodest” should be a requirement or determine our worth. Whether we want to wear a tank top or an abaya, we should not have to deal with people’s perceptions of us solely based on our clothing of choice. And in the same way women have found freedom in reclaiming their skin by revealing it, many religious women have reclaimed their skin by covering it. It is our own, not anyone else’s and by covering we are able to select who may see it. Not that showing skin changes it in any way, but for me and my other religious friends, our bodies are gifts and by covering them we protect them. We own them and no one else. Modesty is a way to regain control in a world that is constantly telling women how to act and live.
For me it is honestly liberating and not oppressive, as many people see it. I have chosen this on my own and I alone delegate what I wear and how I wear it. Many of my other friends feel similarly. Modesty, for them, is a way of life and many of them wouldn’t change it for anything.
One of my modest fashion icons, Habiba Da Silva.
In fashion terms, modesty is often equated with plain colors and frumpiness. However, it certainly isn’t always that way. With the advent of modest youtubers and fashion designers such as Dina Torkia and Habiba Da Silva, modest and beautiful styles have been brought to life and are now commercially available to all. I remember the hours I spent watching Torkia and Da Silva when I first discovered their Youtube channels. To see other women wearing fashionable and modest clothing was inspirational. It encouraged me to find my own religious path and discover modest dressing, something I have come to love. Designers like Da Silva and Torkia have brought modest dressing into a public light that is far different than the traditional perception. I will always be grateful for their work and inspiration.
Modesty can be used as a function of oppression, but many modern, religious women have taken it into their own hands and we have been using it to liberate ourselves.