Hijab Doesn’t Protect Against Eating Disorders

“I’m on a diet.”

How many times have we heard that statement from another woman or even said it ourselves on occasion? This seemingly harmless statement can have serious repercussions in some cases. Eating disorders have become very common over the last decade and Muslim women are not immune.

A study at UCLA found that female university students in Tehran were just as obsessed with their weight as the female students at UCLA. Statistics have also shown that 1.8 percent of young women (aged 13-19 years) in the Emirates suffer from anorexia. This is substantially higher than the 1.0 percent of young women in Britain that have been diagnosed. Even in a small madressa classroom in Dar es Salam, Tanzania, approximately twenty 15-year-old girls were surveyed for possible eating disorders and it was found that only three of them were satisfied with their body image.

Yes, these findings are surprising, especially since it’s perceived that Muslim women are immune to the media-driven ideas of beauty and attractiveness because they wear modest clothes and cover their heads. Muslim women also have to deal with low self-esteem and body image issues, just like other women. Even in cultural contexts and marriage arrangements, a woman is often regarded solely for her appearance. As a Muslim woman, I know from personal experience that we are not able to get away with not being judged on how we look. We might be the epitome of modesty, but we are still human. It is unfair to hold us to a standard by which we are considered to be unaffected by how others perceive us. Just because we wear a hijab and dress modestly it does not mean that a sack will do the job. Islam has standards for women to cover their body but not in a way that makes them seem tasteless, classless, and unattractive.

Eating disorders consist of various biopsychosocial factors such as family influences, genetics, cultural pressures, and life events. The combination of some of these factors helps to foster an eating disorder. One of the strongest risk factors comes from the combination of a negative body image and dieting. The sufferers of these disorders tend to deny and then try to hide what they are going through from others. With the media always placing emphasis on the “thin ideal” individuals get wrapped up in the hype and believe their worth as a person is directly related to their shape and weight. When women are unable to achieve this ideal they end up having low self-esteem and a negative body image. This also leads to feelings of guilt and an unhealthy obsession with dieting.

If you or someone you know suffers from any cluster of eating disorder symptoms, then please take action and contact a doctor immediately. It is important to realize that an eating disorder can lead to many other medical complications.