As a woman who has had lifelong body image issues (i.e., as a woman who is not simply a free-floating head),Â I’ve occasionally joked that a burqa is always an option if I’m feeling fed up with the whole external attractiveness endeavor and simply feel like opting out. Ha ha.
Then today, I’m reading a really interesting article by my friend Abby in the New York Times Style section about the challenges Muslim women face in working out–a hijab can be a very real hindrance to riding a bike, for instance, and swimming in modest attire, which is what Muslim women need to do if men are around, is pretty much a nonstarter.
And then I get to the closing quote of the piece, known in magazine and newspaper parlance as the kicker:
“One of the ideas I promote is that when you are married and you take off your clothing, your husband should not be like, ‘You should put this back on,’Â ” Ms. Ibrahim said. “Even if you wear a burqa, you should be bikini-ready. You should feel comfortable and sexy in your own skin.”
The kicker kicked my ass.
You know…I don’t know. There’s so much here to tease apart that I don’t know where to begin, but here comes a big sigh. SIGH. Ms. Ibrahim, by the way, is Muslim and a personal trainer in New Haven who runs a women-only gym that serves many Muslims as well as Orthodox Jews, who also strive for modesty in public.
Obviously, Muslim women are not exempt from body image issues, even if, as Ms. Ibrahim points out in the article, “There is no little black dress to fit into, no bathing suit. When you pass through a mirror or glass you’re not looking to see ‘Is my tummy tucked in? Do I look good in these jeans?’ You’re looking to see if you’re covered.”’ I would never imagine Muslim women would be free of such hangups, because if the idea behind modesty, in part, is that you’re saving your goodies for your husband’s eyes alone, I suppose you might want your goodies to look, well, extra good. That might result in a certain pressure for some women.
But sheesh! I’ve worked so hard in my 42 years to stop thinking of my body as something to be looked at so much as something I look out from. I hate the idea that even women who are expressly unconcerned with what the stranger on the street thinks of their figures need to be “bikini-ready.”
I think what’s sticking in my craw is that term, which connotes an external eye, one’s husband or some pot-bellied, sunburned yahoo on the beach holding a beer cozy and ogling whoever walks by–or even your own judgmental eye–evaluating you and helping you to determine whether you should “feel comfortable and sexy in your own skin.”
I’d like to feel comfortable and sexy in my own (loose and stretchmarked from having borne twins) skin right now, with my bikini-not-ready body. In truth, all my ranting about my Formerly Hotness notwithstanding, I actually feel pretty great about my body in private most of the time, though on the beach, a tankini is as far as I’ll go.
Which brings me to another element of this issue: The idea that women of any religion should be taking off their clothes in front of anyone who even might say they should put them back on makes me angry and sad, though I know that such things do concern some women. I haven’t thought about such things since before I was a Formerly, thank the Formerly goddess.
You know…I don’t know. I really do feel physically and emotionally much better after I exercise, and now that working out has very little effect on how my body looks (boo!), the emphasis is even more on the mood-lifting and health benefits from working out (yay!). That comes with being a Formerly, or at least it did for me.
If the burqa option is out, there’s always the muu muu.