Why Women Who Wear Hijabs Have Better Self-Esteem & Body Image
According to a new study conducted by researchers at the University of Westminster and published by the British Journal of Psychology, British Muslim women who wear Hijabs have a better chance of having higher self-esteem and confidence in their body. 587 Muslim women were surveyed in England assessing their frequency and conservativeness of hijab use, body image variables, attitudes towards the media and beauty ideals, importance of appearance, and religiosity. Preliminary results indicated that 218 women never used the hijab and 369 women used some form of the hijab at least rarely.
The women who wore the hijab had more positive body image, lower internalization of media messages about beauty standards, and placed less importance on appearance than women who did not wear the hijab. Their ages ranged from 18 to 70; the mean age was 27. The majority—about 79 percent—were unmarried, and they represented several ethnic groups—Bengali, Pakistani, Indian, and Arab. More than three-quarters held an undergraduate degree.
When subjects were asked to look at several sketches of women’s bodies and pick the one they would most like to have, the choices of the women who wore the hijab more closely resembled the bodies they actually possessed. On a measure of “drive for thinness”—determined by answers to questions about preoccupation with body weight, fear of becoming fat, and excessive concern with dieting—women who didn’t wear the hijab scored, on average, 3.58 out of 6 points, compared to 2.87 for women who cover up.
“While we shouldn’t assume that wearing the hijab immunizes Muslim women from negative body image, our results do suggest that wearing the hijab may help some women reject prescriptive beauty ideals,” said lead author Dr. Viren Swami, in a release on the study.
Women who wore Western dress also registered a higher degree of “social physique anxiety,” or concern with how others perceived their physical appearance: 3.26, versus 2.92, on the 6-point scale. These women in particular were also more likely to cite various forms of media as an important source of information about being attractive.
The women who did wear hijabs regularly spent less time focusing on their appearance and ranked physicality as less important than women who didn’t wear hijabs. This new study brings a new angle to the debate about a woman’s appearance which solely rides on the religious angle. It allows society to see that it goes beyond just belief, and brings it down to purely a physical aspect.
“It might thus be concluded that use of the hijab offers Muslim women a small protective effect in terms of their body image … the use of the hijab may act as a buffer against negative body image,” write the authors. What they conclude is that while some may see religion as an oppressive force, it seems when surveying these women, so might the media. It is not a new concept to many of us women who see how the media, fashion and advertising has a stronghold over the way we view our body image, but to see it in writing from an academic source is very confronting. Could western media be the very thing that it claims it is battling against?
While typically in the west the hijab is viewed as a symbol of victimization, and by Muslims as a cultural and religious badge, this study has given Muslim women in particular a type of voice we have rarely seen before. A culture that is so used to covering up women’s bodies in a public arena has now been given a means to talk about the very thing that normally holds so much stigma in a religious setting.
The study is not advocating every woman become a Muslim or start wearing a hijab. They aren’t making any final statements, but leave the results to speak for themselves and allow women to interpret them as they need. What we can see from these results is that as women our confidence cannot be derived from anything relating to our physical appearance. One medium cannot be a one-size-fits-all method which is why so many of us feel unworthy in our own skin because we don’t look like the Victorias Secret models we see on TV and in catalogs.
Spending less time worrying about our bodies and comparing them to another body is good advice for anyone, whether you wear a hijab or not. At GTHQ we’re more concerned in the time and energy you focus on your inner qualities. Your outer appearance is what’s handed to you, you have no control over it (unless you get plastic surgery which we don’t advocate electively). Your inner self is something you have the power to craft and create and manifest whatever you will. That is worth spending time on and that is what will make you happy.
The questions remaining for us are: where do we get our confidence from, and how can we lessen the effect of the media on our body image?