Let’s Talk About Hijab and Self-Esteem

February 1st is World Hijab Day, which fell on a Wednesday this year. My social media feeds were full of pictures and posts to show the pride that Muslim women all over the world feel for wearing the hijab. But it made me think about all of the things that people may not know about the Islamic headscarf, and the affects it can have on a woman’s self-esteem… Both the good and the bad.

Others’ Opinions

When I first started wearing the hijab, my biggest concern was how people would view me. I was worried that there may be Islamophobes on my college campus, or bigots who would mistreat me when I was out in public. I feared being verbally or physically harassed. I wondered whether it would be harder for me to connect with strangers, or make new friends. Would they think I’m oppressed, or an extremist? I also felt anxious when thinking about how my family, friends, and acquaintances would react. Would they be supportive or discouraging? Would they treat me differently, or expect me to be a different person somehow?

Others’ Expectations

I quickly learned that many people do have different expectations from “hijabis” vs “non-hijabis.” To me, it seemed like people either expected me to be a perfect Muslim (with no leniency if I made a mistake) or really judgmental towards others. This can put a lot of pressure on someone who is trying to grow in their faith, especially if they only recently started wearing the hijab and are already dealing with internal struggles.

However, women who don’t wear the hijab often have the opposite issue, which is that they may be considered “bad” Muslims and less modest. It’s a lose-lose situation, until we all start to cut each other some slack and worry more about our own selves.

“Do I Still Look Pretty?”

Let’s face it… Women have a lot of pressure regarding their appearances. And we want to look pretty. We want others to find us physically attractive. Even women who are considered to be extremely accomplished, still tend to put a lot more time and money into their appearances than their male counterparts do. They wear expensive makeup, style their hair with heat and colors, pay to get their nails done, and fill up their closets with high heels and tight outfits.

And the companies that want us to buy these products make it seem like they’re for us, not others. But they are for others. That’s why we usually don’t put in half of that time and effort getting ready for a day at home. And it’s why we feel like we’re not “put together” if we don’t do that whole routine, even though clean clothes and good hygiene should be enough (as it is for men). Those companies want us to become dependent on their products (and even surgeries!), so that we keep giving them our business. Our self-esteem shouldn’t be dependent on how stylish and beautiful we look, but for most of us, it does, to some extent. This is why many of us post glammed-up selfies on social media (which serve no purpose except to get “likes”), and are in an unspoken competition with other women over our looks.

So if you suddenly ask a woman (or worse yet, an adolescent girl) to wear long and loose clothes every day, and to cover up her hair and not wear noticeable makeup, there’s a good chance that it’ll take a toll on her self-esteem. And it’s why many girls and women think they’ll feel more confident if they take the hijab off (or never put it on in the first place) and stop imposing as many restrictions on themselves.

I think that many times, the hijab is glorified in such a way that it’s addressed purely as a thing of women’s empowerment, although these feelings are also very real.

Confidence Booster

On the other hand, wearing the hijab can be a very real source of self-confidence. This was definitely true for me, as I feel that my confidence soared to an unprecedented level after I started covering my head and body. I realized that I will be fine without all of those expensive and time-consuming efforts to make myself “presentable” and pretty to the world. Obviously, I still like dressing nicely, but I’m okay with not looking like everyone else now, which was never fully true before. My self-image is no longer dependent on what other people think of my looks. Sometimes the thought crosses my mind that I could potentially look a lot more attractive if I let go of all of this and started dressing up like others do. I’m sure that thought comes to many women’s minds, who wear the hijab.

But then I think: 1) I couldn’t live with myself knowing that I’m being insincere in my faith. It would bother me a lot to know that I’m outright ignoring a religious obligation that I’m physically capable of fulfilling. 2) There will always be someone more beautiful out there. If I take my hijab off and start dolling myself up to feel “pretty,” I will never be satisfied. Because no matter how good I might look that way, I’ll still be comparing myself to other women (maybe subconsciously) if they look more beautiful or are getting more looks/attention. Or even if I’m not comparing myself, I might still feel disappointed if I dress up a certain way and don’t ever get compliments from others. My hijab (not just the scarf, but all of it) pulls me out of this petty competitive mode altogether, and reminds me that there are much more important things in life than the way I look to others. For this reason, my self-confidence has gone up a lot since I started practicing hijab.


What are your thoughts on this subject? If you wear the hijab, what do you feel are the good and/or bad affects that it has on your self-esteem? If you don’t wear the hijab, do you think self-esteem (from any of the 4 categories above, or any other reasons) has something to do with it?

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  • http://boonerrday.tumblr.com Bissaya

    You bring up many points that have went through my head before. So so relatable. I would also like to add that as a hijab wearing teen, I often fluctuate between having good self esteem days and then lacking it all together another time. Going barefaced for the most part daily especially makes me feel bad about the way I look whenever Im around other girls who have every imperfection concealed or seemingly dont have any physical ones at all. When Im not in such a group, its definitely alot easier to not feel this way as nobody is paying any attention to me. It is so much easier said than done to shun what people could be thinking about me, and focus solely on how Allah views me..but this is the test.
    The comforting fact is that in Surah At-Tin, Allah has already validated all of us. He created us in the best of statures, yet at the same time, our physical form is just that–physical. And since it will fade away, we can’t allow that to be a lingering concern in our lives. Alhamdulillah He made us beautiful, but what takes precedence is if our souls are beautiful.

    Loved the article :)

  • Bessma Haider

    Good point about the fluctuations in self-esteem! It’s something I experience at times too (related to my hijab including makeup), even though I am not a teenager. You mentioned that it’s easier if everyone is dressed similarly to you, which I think would be a benefit of living in a place where hijab is practiced more.
    As far as trying to make our souls as beautiful as our physical appearances, I am reminded of this du’a: “O Allah, like You beautified my body, so do beautify my character.” (Allahumma kama hassanta khalqi fa hassin khuluqi)
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts! You have such a nice perspective on things mA.

  • Bilal

    Fantastic and honest article.

  • Bessma Haider

    Thank you!

  • juwairiyah

    I wear niqab and honestly I think it’s easier on my self-esteem than wearing a khimar. No one can see my face and judge me on whether I’m pretty or not, or if my clothes are cool, or my body is attractive enough. When it comes to integrating smoothly with everyone else, it is much harder; when it comes to my self-esteem, being able to decide for myself how I see myself without other’s expectations in the way is great. I also think being so weird my entire teenage life erased any pressure I might have felt to have to fit in, because no way was I going to :)

  • Bessma Haider

    MashaAllah, may Allah keep you firm in your commitment to modesty and continue to make it easy for you! Thanks for sharing your experiences. I do think that it’s easier for you in niqab rather than the khimar because of how you wear it, though. Because I have seen many women in niqab playing up their eyes with makeup and dressing in form-fitting abayas as well. So it’s up to the person wearing it what image they choose to project to the world, and how it affects one’s self-esteem also differs from person to person.