(RNS) In non-Muslim societies, a woman in a headscarf is often perceived as less approachable and sociable, according to past research, and some see the head covering as a means of repressing women.
But a new British study concludes that for many Muslim women, the headscarf, or hijab, is correlated with a positive body image—whether the woman is particularly religious or not.
“It makes sense,” said Viren Swami, a psychologist and the lead researcher on the University of Westminster study. “Part of the reason why women start wearing the the hijab is to non-sexualize the female body. Women who wear the hijab probably experience less objectification.”
The hijab may also give women a sense of control over the image they project to the world, and enhance that part of self-esteem that is rooted in a strong sense of identity, as some previous studies have suggested.
Swami and his team asked nearly 600 Muslim British women to answer questions about their satisfaction with their bodies and their weight. They also measured how these women were affected by popular images of women’s bodies.
The results, published in the August edition of the British Journal of Psychology, revealed small but significant differences between women who chose to wear the hijab and those who did not.
“Participants who wore the hijab generally had more positive body image, were less reliant on media messages about beauty ideals, and placed less importance on appearance than participants who did not wear the hijab,” the study concluded.
Uzma Farooq, a Sufi Muslim living in the Washington, D.C., area who wears the hijab, said the new report rings true to her because wearing her headscarf gives her a sense of peace, and allows her to focus on inner beauty.