If you’ve been on social media this winter, you’ve probably come across the rising trend of wearing “balaclavas,” a cloth garment worn around the face that covers most of the wearer’s hair and neck. Historically, balaclavas were worn as ski masks, used to prevent frostbite in extreme conditions. Originally conceptualized in 1854, the garment finds its historical roots during the Crimean War. In fact, it was named after a small Crimean town where British troops were stationed. Due to freezing temperatures and lack of proper winter clothing, British families sent their troops knitted woolen “balaclavas”.
Recently, balaclavas have evolved from ski goggles to “fashionable winter accessories”. My timeline is flooded with tutorials on how to crochet your own trendy balaclava, photos of models wearing designer balaclavas at Paris Fashion the weekand Instagram influencers come up with ways to style their colorful new accessories.
Here I am, a proud Muslim wearing the hijab, scrolling through my phone and seeing all these pictures of people covering their hair and necks and doing a new fashion trend, thinking, “Hmm… This looks a lot like what I am. resistant…”
Although my immediate reaction was one of curiosity, once I realized the magnitude of this “trend” I started to feel frustrated. Women wearing balaclavas are rented and imitated for their sense of style, as I go out into the streets every day fearing that an almost exact replica of this garment on my own head will subject me to prejudice.
Now you might be wondering why I criticize people who wear this piece of fabric. Can’t people just wear whatever they want? Trust me, this is the same question I ask myself every time I see a headline advertising another hijab to forbida high school girl who had her hijab torn at school, or even when I myself am a victim of Islamophobia in Nashville.
Of course, people should be able to wear whatever they want, and no one should be able to dictate that or shame others for the way they choose to present themselves. Unfortunately, Muslim women who choose to dress modestly and wear the hijab are rarely granted this privilege.
On January 13, The New York Times published an article that finally put my thoughts into words. The writer interviewed Sagal Jama, a popular hijabi influencer, who was initially very excited about the idea of headwear becoming more popular and standardized. However, she later realized the negative implications this has for Muslim women who too often face discrimination.
“People can wear a balaclava and be seen as hip or cool, but a hijab can be seen as a symbol of oppression or politics,” she said.
As someone who has to think in the morning about wearing a bright pink hijab to look as “non-threatening” as possible instead of black which will go better with my outfit, I know that I also hold immense privilege in as a white arabic muslim woman. While Muslim women are often the target of hatred and animosity, black Muslim women are even Following so. In the recent rise of hate crimes against Muslim women in Alberta, Canada, ten of the fourteen attacks were against black Muslim women.
“In the context of the fashion of the balaclava”, noted Anna Peila, author and visitor learned at Northwestern University which specializes in the topics of feminism in Islam and Islam in popular culture, “It’s not just whiteness – it’s white femininity that is read as non-threatening. “
For me, seeing people put on a balaclava and gain thousands of likes on instagram just feels like a slap in the face. The ease that non-Muslims experience whenever they wish to express themselves through backlash-free clothing is something I aspire to have.
Moreover, balaclavas not only cause internal problems for Muslim women, they also cause physical problems, which are openly real.
Singer-songwriter Nemah Hasan, who goes through @nemahsis on TikTok and Instagram shared a video in response to the rise in popularity of balaclavas, sharing an incident that happened as a result of this “trend”.
“I’ve been wearing the hijab for almost two decades now, and recently converted to balaclavas, for over a year,” Hasan said, describing the convenience of wearing the warm garment like a hijab for someone who travels. always for work. .
“They always know it’s the hijab at the airport…but I guess since balaclavas have become a fashion statement over the past few months, it’s become more normal to check what’s on below.”
Hasan remembers losing her voice and being asked by an airport security guard to remove her balaclava. Of course, she quickly tries to explain that her balaclava is actually a hijab.
“The moment he processed what I was saying, this female security guard behind me came and ripped it off like a balaclava, and I’m sitting naked,” Hasan said.
Having your hijab ripped off, especially in such a public and stressful environment as airport security, is a hijabi’s biggest nightmare. Or, at least, it’s mine.
“Hijabis, stay safe there,” Hasan said as he ended the video.
Incidents like this are obviously not the fault of individuals wearing balaclavas. However, they are a side effect, and when we live in such an interconnected world, we need to be aware of the consequences our actions can have on marginalized communities.
As a Vanderbilt community, our goal should be to eliminate hypocrisy and do our best to stand up for Muslim women. Do not wear head coverings such as balaclavas unless you are also willing to acknowledge and support your hijabi peers who are discriminated against. Take Classes like “Islam in the Modern World” (great class and teacher, highly recommended) in order to learn more about Islam and how it has been portrayed through time. Offer to walk with your hijabi friends on or off campus. Advocate for the hijab ban and talk with your friends and family about eliminating prejudice against Muslims or any other cultural or religious group that may seem different from you.
I would like you to express yourself through fashion, to try new things and new styles, without any conditions. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple when there are women around you who are constantly fighting to do the same thing.