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LAYLA, SHE / HER

As a child immigrant in America, I was brainwashed by the media that my mother was oppressed because of the scarf on her head and the modest clothing she wore, that her choice to cover up was not her choice at all, when in fact it was her choice. I was taught to believe that dressing more provocatively meant I was more free; it meant I would fit in; it meant that people would like me. I was taught by the media from a very young age that modesty was not a source of beauty, only oppression. Society sees a woman in a hijab and does not see past it. She cannot be a doctor, a lawyer, or an artist; she is just her hijab—seemingly voiceless.

DESCRIBE LOOK 1.

I wore Look 1, almost as a sort of rebellion and exaggeration. Media expects me to have no choice in the modest way I choose to dress; the media expects that I was forced to dress this way, one that renders me speechless and deprives me of my own free will.

IN WHAT WAYS HAVE YOU BEEN SCRUTINIZED?

Growing up in America, I held a lot of resentment for my mother’s scarf. Society had labeled the hijab oppressive, submissive, and unexpressive. Modesty was a concept I wanted to stray from. Why? Why cover? Why would you want to cover? You are free in America. I never felt comfortable dressing in revealing clothing. I never felt the euphoria or the freedom other women may feel from it. But, as a teenager, I dressed in this way to fit in. I was an immigrant. I did not want to alienate myself more by being singled out for the way I dress. I conformed to the accepted Western dress code.

IN WHAT WAYS HAVE YOU FELT EMPOWERED BY YOUR BODY + STYLE?

As I grew older, I realized that as we work to free women from societal expectations when it comes to clothing, modesty is demonized. And so, I let go of all the control society had over me. I dressed in turtlenecks and long pants in the summer. I didn’t care. For me, to draw attention away from my body is empowering. I find that it is liberating. It gives me comfort as well. In the heat of the moment, no one—be it a woman or man—can look to me and reduce me to one body part. 

To me, modesty is so beautiful. In Islam, hijab means modesty— applicable to both men and women. Hijab goes beyond clothing. It means to carry yourself in a modest manner. To me, the head scarf on my mother’s head is beautiful and empowering. I hope to wear it one day, proudly as she does everyday.