So... What Are You Doing, Again?

My name is Lauren, and by most accounts, I'm "cute." I'm known for always dressing well, and my friends often tell me I'm "super-stylish" and "adorable." I better damn well be: I spend enormous amounts of time and energy on how I look, like most American women. I work out, I dance, I'm a vegetarian and in my twenties with red hair, pale skin and blue eyes. I probably look the best I will ever look in my life.

I'm also more than a little vain. My personal "addiction" is makeup and nail polish. I can't go to CVS or Walgreens because I end up staring at a wall of $12 lipstick thinking, "Which shade will make me look as beautiful/ exotic/ earthy/ real/ fun/ flirty/ whateverthehell so I can accomplish whatever goal I have in mind this week?" Sometimes I'm up nights thinking about what I will wear the next day, and bad hair days upset me more than most things. Really.

So this week I was reading Muslim Women In America: The Challenge of Islamic Identity Today by Haddad, Smith and Moore, and there was a section on Islamic dress: you know, covering the hair, arms and legs. The authors talked about how that kind of garb is interpreted by Westerners as a symbol of the oppression of women in Islam-- we look at a veiled or covered woman and think, "Made to be ashamed of her body! What an oppressive, misogynistic belief system!"

And then, as I sat on the couch in the lobby at school, tummy sucked in so I looked thinner, makeup on my face to hide my blemishes, uncomfortable shoes on that I wore because they matched my outfit even though I had to walk three miles in them, hair with enough $15 product so it lays just so, and my whole "look" completed with a scarf that was always in my damn way and skirt arranged to look natural but was actually perfectly placed to cover my knee socks... I thought, "Is this really any better?"

The book claims that in America, Islamic dress is often a choice, and the women who make this choice say that they're eschewing things like endorsing Western Imperialism, the sexualization of their bodies, the influence of traditional Islam (which does seek to oppress women according to the book) and of course, as a way of expressing modesty and resisting the pressure to expose themselves in order to be scrutinized against Western standards of beauty.

Now, I understand that there's a big difference between being forced to cover oneself, and choosing to cover. I recognize that I have it waaaaaay easier than any woman who is threatened into covering herself, and that I can't really know what it's like for American Muslim women who choose to dress Islamically. But I wonder: How much time and money would I save if I just put all my crap in boxes for six months or a year or whatever, and only wore modest clothing, with no makeup and my hair covered? Would it change the way I constantly compare myself to every woman I see? How would the gazes of those around me feel different than the usual, appraising gazes I get as a young, reasonably good-looking, white American woman? And most importantly: how would my self-image change if I knew no one would ever see my cellulite (except my man) and everyone had already seen my skin without foundation? Would I feel less chained to the "beauty myth" as Naomi Wolf calls it? Even though I have the option to expose whatever parts of my body I choose, I'm still ashamed every day of some aspect of my appearance because I'm constantly bombarded with the message that I'm not beautiful enough. Whether hijab or skinny jeans, I would say that shame is a major mechanism of oppression in both instances.

I want to know what YOU think. No matter what happens, no matter how I decide to go about this project, on March 16 of 2011 I'll be putting away my makeup, covering my hair, and covering my body.

What happens after that, I will chronicle here.


  1. FABULOUS! This is sure to test everything about your daily living and will no doubt change your self-awareness, perceptions, attitudes, and actions for (hopefully) something greater. If anyone can do this, it's you. And it kinda sounds like this is something that, on a very personal level, you need to do. This could prove to be more liberating than any of us will expect.

    And as your trusted friend, I am of course willing to find a safe place for said clothes and makeup ;)

  2. Ha! You're such a sweetie :) Thank you, I might take you up on that. And yes, I think this IS something I kind of need to do: I've come to realize just how much my self-concept relies on how I look, what my "image" is, and I think that without this big ol' project I'd chicken out. I think I'll have to do this in a very structured way.

  3. Wow I wish I could do that! I'm a revert Muslimah
    and this is what I'm struggling with. I'm all alone,
    American, and nO body tells me what to wear or
    not wear. sO don't even think anyone is influenc-
    ing me. EXCEPT , for GOD , and setan... 'setan'
    bombarding me with "what will people think!!!
    what will people think!! what is your identity
    now! Your fellow Americans will hate you!!!
    You will be rejected as an American!!!" and
    WHATEVER it takes to keep me exposed as
    a walking piece of flesh asz foin for strange
    men who get to eye me (i. e. rape me with
    their eyeballz that may sound extreme but
    IT IS WHAT IT IS eww. U can ignore it but
    it doesn't make it go away!)... I WANT to
    deny everyone the HONOR of being allow-
    ed to look at me. And the way I've been
    trying to do it (without hijab) is by trying
    to make them stop looking by glaring at
    them (it doesn't work, they look more, n
    now you're in intimate eye-to-eye aka
    "eye fu..ing each other" keep in mind
    these intimacy are with STRANGERS)
    but all that's accomplished is that
    part of mY post in parenthesis. I
    see the answer is to hijab mYself.
    Just wear a blanket or ghostsheet.
    That tells them eyefu**ers to f off
    mOre than anything else. this way
    they CAN'T see, nO matter how
    hard they try, as opposed to now
    that *I* CAN'T make them NOT
    look, nO matter how hard I try!
    Westerners ignore the fact that
    they're being raped every second
    that they go out and turn heads.
    A guy will look right at you and
    sexualize you right there n then
    in public without you even know-
    ing it. Our choice to IGNORE these
    doesn't make them go away. Wearing
    abaya does. and for me, it's a dream.
    mY Abaya Dream. C'mon girls we're
    nOt pieces of flesh for perv eyes to
    feast on whenever they want. If they
    wanna look they have to PAY. YES I
    am talking MONEY BABY ! They'd
    have to shelter you and feed you
    and take care of you in order to
    get to look at you. Don't whore
    it for free. Make it happen (I'm
    preaching to mYself here!) ...Peace...