• Hanna El-Mohandess

The Perfect Accessory

I’ve always been mesmerized by women in hijabs.

Hijab is an Arabic word meaning barrier or partition, commonly used to describe the veil that many Muslim women wear -- but to most of the people I’ve encountered throughout my life, it’s just the foreign word for “that thing on your head”.

I grew up in a very religious Muslim family, so all throughout my childhood, every woman I looked up to (literally) wore a scarf. Their hijabs would always be perfectly coordinated with their outfits, down to their shoes and chunky necklaces. I would sit there and watch the multicolored silk float elegantly behind them as they walked through the wind and just dream about the day I could wear one too. To me, a hijab was the perfect accessory.

As a kid I was so excited to wear a hijab full-time that I was constantly trying to sneak some out of my mom’s closet. One of my earliest memories took place on a spirit day in first grade. We were all instructed to come to school wearing red, white, and blue. I had a red shirt and white jeans, but couldn’t for the life of me find anything blue in my closet. Time was ticking and I could hear my mom yelling from the other side of the house, asking me to hurry up. What was I supposed to do? I couldn’t only wear red and white to school, this was life or death! Panicked, I scurried into my mom’s room and immediately found the perfect blue scarf lying on top of her dresser. Perfect. Destined, even. I ran into my living room, excited to show off my outfit, but my mom’s reaction was underwhelming. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that she had a mini heart attack that morning. After collecting herself, she insisted that I was not allowed to go to school dressed like that “today of all days”. I was heartbroken. What I came to learn much later was that I wanted to wear a hijab to school for the very first time on September 11th, 2006. I probably owe her a big apology for the temper tantrums I threw that morning.

I grew a little older and it was finally time for me to decide whether or not I wanted to wear a hijab -- for realsies.

The decision was easy, being a hijabi was my dream. I was elated for the first few days... until I wasn’t. Slowly but surely it began to feel less and less like a glamorous symbol of my religion and heritage, and instead felt like I was lugging around a big fat target on my head. For some context, I started wearing my hijab in middle school aka. during some of the most self conscious years of my life. Old friends would always tell me I would be so beautiful without my hijab on. Boys would ask me if I was bald or if I showered in my hijab. Some of my bolder classmates asked me if I was a terrorist. My confidence was shot. The world around me began to strip away the love I had for my hijab.

In a desperate attempt to rekindle a fizzling love, I began to play with makeup, jewelry, and turbans. I had to learn how to make it my favorite accessory once again. Slowly but surely I began to regain confidence, not because I was all dolled up, but because I felt an increasing sense of ownership over my hijab. And trust me, I know that’s a controversial take.

For a very long time, I felt like I couldn’t talk about my insecurities because in many ways feeling beautiful is kinda the antithesis to the hijab. A hijab is supposed to symbolize modesty and devotion to your religion -- it’s not really even supposed to be thought of as an accessory. But I’m human, and I’ve learned that wanting to feel confident in my hijab doesn’t devalue it. It’s symbolism is so beautiful, I feel like it's only right for it to look beautiful as well. And for me, beauty can only come with confidence.

People often look down on things like makeup and jewelry like it’s a vain and sinful luxury, but I think they underestimate the power of the perfect accessory. Maybe they’ve never felt it, or they get their confidence in other ways. Today, my hijab makes me feel like I can take on the world. My perfect accessory makes me feel complete. And when I look in the mirror to see my hijab matching my outfit, my shoes, and my statement jewelry, I feel like I’ve accomplished something I always hoped I would.


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