Guest Blog by Khadija Moussaif
Born in Montreal, Canada, raised by a Muslim family from Morocco, and growing up in a neighborhood we often call 'Little Haiti'...finding my identity, my “self”, my “me” was my biggest challenge, and to a certain extent, it still is.
To protect my faith, my parents sent me to a private Muslim school in Montreal. So, by the age of 8, I wore the hijab just like the majority of girls in my school. However, it didn’t take long before my parents couldn't afford the school’s tuition and halfway through elementary school, I was sent to my neighborhood’s public school.
Suddenly, I was the only one wearing the hijab. My parents had constantly reminded me of how proud they were of me for wearing it that I couldn't imagine taking it off. So I kept it. At that point in my life, I was already labelled as a rebel by my family so the thought of causing more problems petrified me.
Middle school was particularly hard because I found myself dealing with three identities: who my family wanted me to be, the person the outside world thought they knew, and the version of myself that I was dying to be.
For my parents, life revolved around school: no friends, no boyfriends, no parties.
I hated it. I used to change my clothes when I got to school so I could fit in more. I’d hide to talk to my friends or my crush on MSN “while doing my homework.” When I finally started high school I wasn’t befriending the five other hijabis as was expected of me because I wanted to hang out with anyone and everyone.
On the other hand, because I didn't fit within the preconceived idea society and my community had for me, I was being called a 'fake hijabi' by the outside world. I wanted to make everyone happy, to fit in and be accepted. But this proved to be impossible.
I began resisting what others thought of me.
The first identity I started to let go of was the one my parents wanted for me. I became uncomfortable taking pictures or looking at myself in the mirror when I was wearing the hijab because I just didn't recognize who I was seeing. It didn’t feel like me.
I began rebelling behind my parent’s back and started taking off my hijab when I went out. It was a scary, confusing time as I struggled with this unknown identity. Nonetheless, I felt like the freedom of rebellion was worth it.
I tried bringing up the subject of my hijab to my family but it only made matters worse. At one point it escalated so much that they even considered disowning me. I knew it was time to move out.
As painful as it was, they found out from someone else that I had taken off my hijab permanently. Even once they found out, I still had to wear it when I visited. It took them two years to accept seeing me without the hijab.
In the meantime, I was discovering a new me. After having my hair pulled back in a bun for 10 years, I didn’t know where to begin. I tried every single curly hair gel, mousse, cream, and leave-in on the market until I found my perfect combination. A little bit of this and that, let it dry half way then apply that. It worked for me. I was just happy my hair looked like something and I was more focused on living my freedom than I was with having perfect hair.
Fast forward a couple of years, and I had come to a comfortable place with my family, but I still felt as if I was trying to please the outside world. Even without the hijab on I would still have men tell me they prefer my hair straight or encourage me to dress a certain way. It felt like high school all over again and I knew it was time to discover me—a mix of the tomboy I was and the woman I was becoming.
I stopped wearing makeup as often as I did and chose to embrace my natural hair and beauty. There's something unique about fully embracing ourselves with all that we are and all that we’re not. Even something as simple as rocking my naturally curly hair every day and not labelling it as “unprofessional” or "unclassy” is a huge relief. I’m done faking any part of me in order to please someone else.
This journey has been the most rewarding thing in my life. The transition to finding your true self can be challenging but no good thing comes easily. It’s worth the struggle, especially when you discover the confidence and power you didn’t even know you had.