Marwa was eight-years-old when her parents began covering her head. She was 23 years-old when she stopped, soon after arriving in the United States. She recently began the Ex-Hijabi Photo Fashion Journal to tell the stories of women who have also uncovered. The self-described “ex-Muslim Atheist” runs the site, along with her blog Between a Veil and a Dark Place.
I spoke to Marwa about what gave her the idea, what she hopes to accomplish, and the themes the submissions share.
Marwa got the idea for the Photo Fashion Journal while talking about her first summer without the hijab. She and a fellow ex-Muslim and asylum seeker discussed the beauty of being “able to be out and feel the sun and the sand and the wind all over your body.” Yet that bliss was also marked by new pains. She found “easing into” displaying her body for the first time difficult, as well as dealing with the self-consciousness of bikini season.
But, eventually she grew more comfortable with her newfound freedom. “We started taking selfies of ourselves in our bikinis,” Marwa said. Which led her to an idea.
“Wouldn’t it be great if there were a space for everyone to do this? A space to celebrate?” And so the fashion journal was born.
Marwa clearly tries to be fair when discussing the hijab. When discussing some of the cultural baggage, issues surrounding it include modesty requirements, objectification, female agency, she is careful to note there’s more to the story. “A lot of the modesty doctrines and the limitations on interactions, I do believe that these things are evolving,” she states. “I actually know a lot of people who wear the hijab that they consciously claim has nothing to do with the male gaze and has nothing to do with modesty.”
“I do believe that more and more women who choose to wear the veil or even were socialized to wear the veil, it’s acceptable for them to interact and to get an education and to have jobs and to be public speakers and doctors and authority figures,” she says. “And so they’re moving away from the traditional understanding of what modesty ought to be. But unfortunately, in many places in the world, it’s still a big thing. You can’t have lunch with your male colleagues because that’s considered sinful. You can’t have friendships with men. You can’t go to places where there will be a lot of mixing and gender segregation is still a radically enforced norm.”
For her, being uncovered wasn’t really a choice. She grew up in Lebanon, which she describes as “arguable the most liberal Arab country.”