What I Learned from Wearing a Hijab for a Week

MERRI WORDS

As an Honors freshman at Central Michigan University, I have to complete a Personal Development Project which includes ten events I completed that were a meaningful stretch for me. One of the events we are lucky to have the program arrange for us is Hijab Week. I jumped at the chance to do something so unique and hopefully learn a lot. This is my experience with Hijab Week at CMU.

From November 2nd to November 8th, I took part in Hijab Week, meaning I wore the traditionally Muslim headscarf as well as modest clothing when in front of men, which basically meant I never left my room without the hijab on. A group of twenty to thirty female Honors students participated, so it wasn’t too unusual to see hijabs around north campus during the week, but in other areas people were oblivious to the activity, which made it more interesting…

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What I Learned from Wearing a Hijab for a Week

As an Honors freshman at Central Michigan University, I have to complete a Personal Development Project which includes ten events I completed that were a meaningful stretch for me. One of the events we are lucky to have the program arrange for us is Hijab Week. I jumped at the chance to do something so unique and hopefully learn a lot. This is my experience with Hijab Week at CMU.

From November 2nd to November 8th, I took part in Hijab Week, meaning I wore the traditionally Muslim headscarf as well as modest clothing when in front of men, which basically meant I never left my room without the hijab on. A group of twenty to thirty female Honors students participated, so it wasn’t too unusual to see hijabs around north campus during the week, but in other areas people were oblivious to the activity, which made it more interesting. I chose this activity because I know how anti-Islam sentiment is a pretty significant issue in our country, and as an accepting, open-minded individual I wanted to immerse myself in a part of Islamic culture in order to foster a better understanding for myself and for those around me.
The week began with an information session, in which a Muslim professor named Duha explained the significance of wearing the hijab and some of the rules associated with it. A really important point she touched on was that it is not offensive to try the hijab. Many students, including myself, were nervous with doing anything that could be considered cultural appropriation. Duha explained that as long as we were wearing the hijab with respect and expressing our motives to engage in cultural understanding, the Muslim community would welcome our trying of the hijab. I thought this was really important to touch on, because, as a white female student with privileges like never being questioned or discriminated against because of how I express myself culturally, I am quite detached from other cultures, especially ones with such a complex history in this country. She lent us some scarves and helped us learn how to tie them, and off we went. The first day I really didn’t plan ahead enough, as I didn’t realize I still had no idea how to put on a hijab. I had difficulty with my pins, but when I borrowed some safety pins from a friend I was able to secure the scarf on my head and focus my concerns on the cultural experience.

I acknowledge it is a little difficult to get the full experience without following the other behaviors of Muslim women, but I took the point as focusing on understanding the reasoning behind wearing a hijab in an effort to de-stigmatize it. I tried to keep this in mind, and I hoped each day that no one would take offense to me, without knowing why an obviously white girl was wearing a hijab. The first few days I was definitely hyper-aware that I was wearing it. I can laugh thinking about that Monday when I walked into my 10AM and noticed people glancing at me and practically immediately started to sweat and get uncomfortable from their probably natural but seemingly never-ending looks at me. Over the course of the week only one person knew about the Honors activity, and not a single other student asked me about it. Whether this was out of their intimidation, discomfort, or neglect to care, I don’t know, but either way I would’ve rather had people ask me so I could express my passion for acceptance. Even though I wasn’t very vocal about why I was doing it to anyone besides my friends and family, I think the message was still communicated and the point of acceptance was made. It’s hard to not loosen up to the sight of a hijab when someone you know is not Muslim is wearing it with ease. I hope that my privilege doesn’t detach me from any progress in this sense.
My main struggles of the week were just finding something to wear that was not too tight (I ended up wearing skinny jeans with a long cardigan because I had no other options) and managing in the random heatwave Michigan decided to throw at us. I have no major complaints, though, about my week. I actually enjoyed wearing it, and I felt it just become a natural part of my ensemble each day, and it was awesome not having to worry about what my hair looked like. After the week was over, on Sunday, we had a reflection session and I got to hear many students’ points of view on the week. Many of them had complaints and confessed to not wearing it the whole time. I have to admit I was a little disappointed at how many of them seemed to miss the meaning of wearing the hijab, and continued to view the practice through a Westernized point of view, something so outside of the social norm that they couldn’t even relate to the principle behind it. Then again, I’m sure many of them were touched like I was, but just didn’t vocalize it.
I got a lot more out of this activity than I thought I would. Western women see the hijab as a way Muslim men control women, yet Muslims see the sexualized female norm this way, since we are pressured to look good to impress men and other women. I have a greater appreciation for the values behind the hijab having worn it for a week. I found myself less self-conscious wearing it. As a fashion student, I am always concerned about the way my outfit looks, but with the hijab I found myself more concerned with expressing who I was rather than what my body looked like. It is eye-opening to realize Western beauty standards are very different from other cultures, and often we allow these standards to unnecessarily control our body image, mindset, and behaviors. The hijab is typically empowering to the women who wear it, and it is a way of declaring that the woman’s husband is the only one who deserves to know her intimately. I find this to be beautiful. Most Americans view other cultures with a strong bias, and due to a long history of foreign affairs their view and treatment of Islam is filled with even more contempt than for other cultures. We would all benefit and our nation would progress if we took the initiative to understand other cultures, and realize cultural differences are cause for celebration, not separation. Although I can understand the wearing of the hijab, it is not something I would personally follow. I am not a religious person in general so I don’t follow any set of guidelines for behavior. I will definitely always remember my experience with Islam, though, and remember that my confidence should stem from the beautiful person that I am and to not put such a focus on an ideal appearance. These are values that we can all benefit from. We all benefit from living in such a diverse society, and we do not necessarily have to participate in something like Hijab Week to gain better recognition and empathy for others’ cultural experiences- we just need to take it upon ourselves to be educated.
It is so valuable to recognize how diverse the cultures in this world are in order to foster a more welcoming and cooperative society. I am so proud to have taken part in this activity that helps advocate for social justice and shown myself and others that there is no reason to view other cultures with a sense of fear or distance. We also cannot generalize the things that we learn about others. Not all Muslims wear the hijab, and this shows the wide diversity that exists even within a single group. We need to realize the world is so much larger than just ourselves and our experiences, and recognize the privileges we have that have allowed us to live with a sense of belonging in our communities, and extend this to everyone. When we realize others do not have the same privileges, we can help them achieve the equality of protected rights and happiness that they deserve and help foster a safe environment for self expression and cultural practice. This was one of my favorite activities I did for my project and I am glad I am offered such enlightening experiences, because in no other situation would I ever think to wear a hijab for a week and discover my capacity to empathize with others. I learned even more how to put my accepting beliefs into practice: to be unbiased, to educate myself, and to be open to new experiences and types of people. By doing this, we can only grow as individuals, thus better enabling ourselves to connect to the global society around us and contribute to its social progress in a way that benefits all of its members.

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What I Learned from Going without Social Media for a Month

For the month of October I decided to go without social media. I am not the biggest social media fiend so for me this meant not using Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, or Tumblr. I only use Facebook for my work with PETA, so that was allowed. I decided to do this because I noticed in the months that I had been at college I was getting prone to looking at these sites, and using this as a way to fill the time in between doing other things. While I didn’t think it was extremely harmful, I recognized that there were more constructive things I could be doing, and one I wanted to do was to introduce myself to more people and connect with those around me more. One cannot make friends with their face in a screen. I saw many other ways to spend my time, and I wanted to test my theory.

I have to be honest and say going without social media for a month was not the biggest challenge for me, or the biggest life-change. This isn’t one of those stories where my time away from technology transformed me into a better, more enlightened self with unlimited time to devote to enjoying myself in solace. I am still a college student who has work every day, and often uses technology as a tool to get it done. The month started slow. I thought I had chosen the wrong month-long project, because I didn’t notice any changes in my behaviors or my attitudes, besides the fact that I was eager to Snapchat my best friend back home again. I was a little bitter for cutting out the things that allow me to catch up with the people that mean the world to me, but I was willing to see what would happen if all the other mindless factors were cut out too. It wasn’t until a few weeks in that I started to realize there were a lot of things missing from my life, things I had habitually done before moving to school, but had fallen out of habit recently. I took some time to think about this, and determine who it is I want to be- this, of course, determined by the things that I do on a regular basis, because action shows character, right? I started to think of myself again as someone with many hobbies and much enjoyment for the world, and not the version of myself people see on social media, or the version people at school perceive of me. I am so much more than that. I had to refocus my goals and realize while there aren’t so many things I want to remove from my life, there are quite a few I want to bring back. I’ve vowed to get back into meditation by meditating every day for thirty days to see how it will improve my well-being. I am getting back into writing poetry, doing yoga on my own, reading, and making art. I never want to get so wrapped up in mundane daily routine that I forget to do the things that make me enjoy life. Social media is not one of those things. Its role in my life is minimal, and I will remember to only use it in a positive way, and not abuse it to the point that it negatively impacts my well-being. It is an extra, not a necessity and I must make sure my mind and body are in a good place and those needs are satisfied before I seek other outlets. I don’t want to waste my energy or time on things that have no importance to me; that doesn’t even make sense!

I did end up talking to more people and doing more constructive things, but could I have also done this while still occasionally using social media? Of course. Yes, there are quite a few downsides to using it often, but blaming social media for sucking up your time and keeping you away from important things is just escaping from your personal responsibility to carve out a life you love. I realized this. I am in control of my life, and I determine the level of enjoyment I get out of it, by choosing the things I do. It’s only an illusion- that when you have these things in your life like social media that they are “distractions.” Nothing is distracting you from your goals and passions but yourself. I came to realize this. I can balance it all. I don’t need to take vows from things I do- I just need to spend the most time doing the things that add the most meaning to my existence. We need not deprive ourselves of any pleasure, if our hearts and efforts lie with the deepest ones. While part of me admires anyone that swears off social media or technology, another part of me says why can’t we have it all? We are modern, multitasking humans in this ever-changing world and I think it is alright for us to find joy in silly things, so long as we can put those things to the side and tackle the important issues in this world. No one should be all work, all the time. So maybe a part of us needs these “distractions” in our lives. When we acknowledge them, then we can center ourselves and get some incredible things done. It is also important to recognize ourselves as multi-faceted human beings. Don’t forget the things you do well and the things that make you feel at peace. I see less importance in defining ourselves, but rather listening to our heartbeats, taking note of our existence, and satisfying its demands in the healthiest possible way.

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