A Bikini and a Hijab

A Bikini and a Hijab

After scouring the Vickery Trading Company website, I was struck by the idea of an Associate, Forat, sewing a bikini. A bikini?!?! Forat. With the head covering?!?! Forat. Huh. When I mentioned it to Stephanie, she suggested I talk to the women about their head coverings (and the bikini).

I met with the women and discovered that they had a lot to say on the subject. They talked at the same time and heatedly disagreed at times. The fact that I didn’t anticipate this says more about me than about them….why would I think they would behave any differently than I would in a group of my friends? Did the veil lead me to believe they would be more submissive or quiet?

The veil is “cultural” for some and “religious” for others. Eight Associates are from Middle Eastern countries, one is from Africa, and all but two wear head coverings. The women affectionately refer to one of the women who does not wear a veil as “the crazy Muslim.”

In their native countries, laws shifted depending on who was in power. There were periods women were shot for wearing jeans and periods when women were not required to cover themselves at all. Among the Associates, hijab practices vary. Some cover their neck, some show a bit of their hair, some alter the way they cover as they get older. Some did not cover at all in the Middle East until certain time periods or in certain places. But around women and family at home, they are uncovered.

None of them wear a burka. When I ask them about this, they tell me that when they see someone in a burka, they are “scared.” They spent a few minutes trying to find the right English word. Phones out. Lots of fast talking. “Suspicious,” they say.

The purpose of the veil is to hide a woman’s beauty. This group covers their hair; some women cover their shape as well. I wondered whether the veil was doing its job. Does covering a woman’s hair truly conceal her beauty? Two of them showed me pictures of themselves in their homes, uncovered. I truly didn’t recognize them. They DID look different without the covering…really different! Their outward beauty WAS hidden behind the veil. This surprised me – I had no idea how much the visibility of woman’s hair enhances her beauty.

In a time when women are marching and claiming their bodies as their own, these women aren’t much different. Their outward appearance is not for the world. It is theirs, and they protect that. It is for their husband. It is private. But their inward beauty is for us all. I hope I hadn’t missed some of it because of my own misconceptions.

So back to the bikini. It was the first thing Forat sewed when her mother bought her a sewing machine. Two of her aunts were seamstresses, and Forat loved sewing, even then. The bikini was for her doll.

My initial shock over the bikini was an indication of something greater: I was surprised that women who covered their hair held jobs in fashion. Funny, since all they are covering is their hair. I assumed these women didn’t care about beauty because they cover their own. In reality, they value beauty and therefore guard it.

A job in fashion makes perfect sense.