Behind the Burqua

Burqua  Barbie
artist: Eliana Lorena

Dateline: London 

What is it with the burqua? The Burqua Barbie above is an artist’s interpretation by Eliana Lorena. One of 500, in 2009, this doll was auctioned off by Sotheby’s in Florence Italy to raise money for Save the Children.

If I had been the artist, I would have chosen a more traditional dress. Forget the face. According to the Qur’an, and I reference the Muslim Women’s League website:, there is no explicit language about the exact definition of modest dress; however, women are “advised to cover their breasts and put on their outer garments in a way that enables them to avoid harassment – to not draw attention to their beauty (zeenah).”

The face unveiled, is just that- a pretty face unveiled. If I were the artist, I would have had the face veiled. Maybe she has a Barbie face, maybe not. Who is to know? We should all wear veils. I too, given a veil, could be a Barbie.

 A couple of days ago I stood behind two young girls, both were veiled from head to toe. Over their black scarves, they wore a Zorro-like mask. Around their forehead they wore a headband that tied in the back of their head.  The headband was low enough to cover their eyebrows. Beware of sexy eyebrows! Attached to the headband at the temples was a second piece of cloth that hung below and covered their nose and mouth.

Small of stature and young girls at best (I knew this by their voices), they clutched frothy nothings: bras and panties of the provocative kind. The juxtaposition of their outer dress and their inner lives/yearnings left me wondering. There I stood there in boring, utilitarian cotton underwear under Western clothes to include an open-necked shirt. What do their clothes say about them? What do my clothes say about me?

I don’t wear a veil. I have never been harassed, and I don’t go out of my way to attract attention to my “beauty.” What are the social and political implications of our clothing?

What is it about the Muslim dress that we Westerners find so confusing? The Qur’an does not dictate dress. All the dress-related quotes I’ve read refer to “modesty.” How that modesty is achieved is quite up to the reader. So we are looking at custom, not doctrine.

Surely, some women wear the hijab (a hair-shirt of sorts) out of piety. Others may wear it as a mark of ethnic/cultural identity. And I’ve read that some young London girls have taken to wearing the Hijab as a sort of feminist badge: a challenge to be judged by their intellect and personality, rather than on looks alone.

But I am left wondering how many are imprisoned in their garb by fathers and husbands, their local Iman, or their community? How many would shed their shrouds if they could? 

Yesterday a friend took me to a Muslim tea shop/cafe. She mentioned that no women would be there, so I took a scarf… to cover my head… just in case. We were, indeed the only women. Two sad female birds among the brighter, showier males.

The men were tolerant. They ignored us completely. I felt no need to wear my scarf. The men were quite lovely. Wonderful dark eyes. Nice Western clothing. Expensive, black leather fitted jackets. The horizontal line at the base of the yoke emphasizing the breadth of their shoulders. And there they sat… drinking coffee and eating cake. Congenial in groups of three or four.

But where were their women? At home? Cooking, minding the children, cleaning house…?

But somewhere… in the privacy of her room…  some young London girl was trying on her frothy new bra and G-string.

Leaving the cafe, I checked out the wedding cakes in the window. All over-blown affairs. Curiously, all the cake toppers were your standard American couples. And then I saw the Barbie cake. You can buy this cake anywhere. But why here? Why are there no Burqua-clad women on top of the wedding cakes?

More questions than answers.

About timeout2

I have lived 100 lives. I write essays, short stories, poetry, grocery lists and notes to myself. If I am ever lost, look for a paper trail, but be careful not to trip over any books that lie scattered here and there. I am a reader. I am a reader in awe of writers. When I don't live in Westcliffe, Colorado, I live in London where I am a long-time member of Word-for-Word - Crouch End.
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