Libre Talks: Summer’s on — get your hijab on and hit the gym

By Hannah Shraim
GSS Libre Talks columnist

Okay, so you’ve mustered the courage to go to the gym. Congrats, seriously. Going to the gym and sticking to it is not an easy task. If you’re a regular gym go-er, it means that you’ve dedicated yourself to a lifestyle, not an outdated and eternal New Year’s resolution to get that bikini body. What isn’t well-discussed, however, is that with your gym membership comes certain gym behaviors.

For my new workout buddies, you know what I’m talking about: Walking around to check the names of different machines, trying new workouts while simultaneously maintaining that sophisticated trust-me-I-know-what-I’m-doing gym look. And of course, receiving stares.

Now, if you’re a woman who goes to the gym, you’re going to get stared at because a) you are, in fact, a woman and somehow your presence in an athletic atmosphere remains peculiar and unorthodox to some, b) you’re doing a workout that someone else wants to copy or that someone is trying to copy, or c) you’re wearing a hijab.

Don’t get me wrong, as a hijabi I can tell you that being stared at is part of the gig and that talking about it doesn’t make me a victim. It doesn’t happen every minute of every day. But when I’m at the gym and I do get those good stares, I mean those intense ones that I can feel from my peripheral vision, I can’t help but laugh and wonder what the big shocker is, like, there must be some big joke I’m not in on, or that every stare is a piece of a larger puzzle that I will soon figure out. Yes, Muslim women care about their health and try to maintain a fit lifestyle (okay, perhaps I just solved the puzzle?).

Often, it’s difficult for Muslim women to get involved in athletics because we can’t find the modest clothing that will fully cover the body during workouts. But it’s not impossible. Wearing the hijab should not and does not impede upon success, athletic or otherwise. The key is confidence, starting a plan and finding a scarf that won’t slip:

Earlier this year, Nike announced it plans to cater to that modest look women are seeking while working out.

Nike's ProHijab was developed with athletes including skater Zahra Lari. Photo by Nike.

Nike’s ProHijab was developed with athletes including skater Zahra Lari. Photo by Nike.

Nike’s Pro Hijab, which will be available in early 2018, was prototyped with help from Olympic athletes along with runners and cyclists. Amna Al Haddad, a female weightlifter from the United Arab Emirates, told Nike she worried about her hijab shifting during competition and a lack of breathability that “disrupted her focus.” According to a marketing description on Nike’s website, the goal was to develop a hijab that was like “a second skin.”

Not surprisingly, the reaction was both pro and con, with some arguing against the hijab as an object of oppression, not athletic liberation. But others, including Abu Dhabi Olympian hopeful Zahra Lari, were thrilled by the prospect of a light and no-slip hijab:

Another company, Veil, already creates athletic scarves and shirts for Muslim women. The scarves are breathable and waterproof and the shirts provide full coverage.

Testing Veil's waterproof fabric. Veil giphy.

Testing Veil’s waterproof fabric. Veil photo.

I personally own two Veil scarves and the word on the street stands true: They’re waterproof! This engineering was intended to cool hijabis off while they’re burning those pesky calories. The only thing is that the material is somewhat slippery, so it’s important to pin the scarf and tie it in place. If you wear a base cap under the scarf, you’re golden. You can run those five miles with no slip. The scarves go for $22 each and the Halo Running Hoodie with a hood that doubles as a hijab goes for $59 each. While it may sound pricey, the quality is worth it, and let me tell you why.

As a hijabi, often times I have to layer clothing to ensure that I’m wearing something that covers my arms and my behind. With a single piece of clothing, a lighter fight is provided, making it easier to work out.

Whether or not you wear them, hijabs for athletes seem like they’re here to stay: Ibtihaj Muhammad, a fencer from New York, wore a hijab and earned a bronze medal at the Rio Games last summer. The Guardian reports that the Islamic consumer market is expected to be worth more than $5 trillion by 2020.

While the announcement of the Nike hijab prompted some backlash, it’s important to remember one thing. Islamically speaking, wearing the hijab is a choice for Muslim women. Forcing a woman to do so is a sin in Islam. To negate the value of the hijab by tearing down Nike’s initiative or any such initiative is an insult to Muslim women everywhere. Companies like Veil and Nike are just trying to bridge the athletic divide, and they’re doing a pretty darn good job at it, too.

Now the only thing that separates me from my fitness goals is not my choice of clothing, it’s myself. If you’re insulted by the backlash, just think of it as a good reason to work out and hit the gym. You’ll see me wearing my Nike hijab there soon.

—Shraim is Global Student Square’s Muslim teen columnist. Tell her what to write about next by adding your comment here or tweet to #libretalks. Be sure to catch her videos here and on her YouTube channel, Libre Looks.