Can you be body positive while dressing modestly?

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Someone asked this IMPORTANT question to me over the weekend: “Can you be body positive when you’re dressing modestly?”

I can’t help but be reminded by a similar question Sandy Supramaniam of RojakDaily posed to me in a recent interview for the portal and I feel like sharing my full answer with you guys today simply because this needs to be talked about.

Sandy’s question was: Do you feel like you have a bigger challenge to face being body positive while choosing to dress modestly?

My answer:

“Let’s be clear about something: Being body positive and dressing modestly is NOT the issue. The issue is when people in the movement (or so they believe that they are in one) are EXCLUDING modest-dressing women and men, Muslim or others, and especially hijabis, from the conversation.

Often when we look at the type of content or messaging created to describe body positivity, it is almost always surrounding those who can demonstrate the concept in ways where they’re body positivity is celebrated by wearing or doing things that they once weren’t confident enough to do i.e. wearing bikini, posing nude, showing off areas of their body that are seen as ‘ugly’ or unacceptable to society, etc. We see more and more content that are about encouraging men and women to wear whatever they like, that there shouldn’t be any more rules to follow e.g. big girls should wear black, no sheer clothes, etc.

These messaging have empowered many, myself included. I am happy to see imageries of beautiful women all over the world taking control of their body, following their own rules and showing the best version of themselves. I love seeing fat bodies being celebrated as much as the slender ones do. But I noticed that these imageries and ideas of body positivity are one sided. I remember that moment when I began to realize how disconnect I was to these ‘demonstration of the body positive ideals’. Where are the modest women? Those who are body positive or want to be body positive but might not be able to demonstrate it in ways that are seen “liberating” enough to the core crowd.

As a hijabi, when I named my (now-defunct) blog That Fat Tudung Party Girl, the word tudung is there for a reason. It is part of my identity as much as fatness is to me. To be honest, it’s more important. But why don’t I see images of myself of women like me being showcased the way non-hijabis do? Are we not considered body positive? Why aren’t we celebrated too?

Fact of the matter is, wearing the hijab is body positive by itself! The hijab is my way of setting my own beauty ideal and not following others’ standards. Because of my hijab, I am not only expected to dress modestly and cover my body, but I choose to do so by my own willing. And that’s body positive!

In Malaysia, more Muslim women are wearing the hijab and a hijabi is now becoming a norm. Some would say that ‘wearing the hijab is THE beauty standard’ of a Muslim woman, but my argument to that would be, unless that woman is wearing the hijab against her will or because it is ‘what others are doing’, she’s not body positive. Wearing the hijab is a choice, the same with those who choose not to wear hijab. Acknowledging the fact that body positivity is unique to each individual is vital. This is not a one size fits all concept that we can replicate across individuals on planet Earth.

At the end of the day, the movement needs to be more inclusive and not rejecting or dismissing the different layers that’s connected to it like race, gender, class, ability, ethnicity, sexual oritentation, etc. That’s why the challenge is never about ‘dressing’ and acknowledging that is numero uno.”

Read the article ‘You can treat a person’s body with respect even if you don’t find them attractive‘ on Rojak Daily by Sandy Supramaniam that features my girl Ratna Manokaran and myself, here.

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