“People like us,” said a friend the other day, on her return from an upmarket area of the city, “..people like us don’t belong with people like them.”
I don’t enjoy wearing a headscarf. Did I say that out loud? It’s uncomfortably hot in summer, annoyingly damp the winter round – umbrellas and I have a hate-hate relationship. Covering adds a lengthy process onto leaving the house even just to pop out for bread and the effort is often not worth it. Some women are naturals at wrapping and tying the most intricate weaves; I’m not. Pins frequently fly at the mirror in frustration at my inability to repeat the same wrap two consecutive dressings, or even wrap the thing at all. Wearing a headscarf makes breastfeeding more complicated and babywearing less fun. Silk scarves slip and slide, chiffon shows my ears and linen makes my head looks flat. The scarves I buy end up being too thick of too thin or too short or too flouncy. In fact, the only positive I can find in wearing a headscarf – deen aside – is it eradicates the term ‘bad hair day.’
While I struggle daily with the appearance and comfort level of my veil, once home, or with friends, I can take off my scarf loosen my clothes and I know the struggle is all part of the test. The greatest difficulty I have in covering my head, though I believe it to be right, is putting my heart literally on my sleeve. In tucking in my hair, I reveal to the world where my beliefs lie and place the most intimate relationship I’ll ever have on show for scrutinise, question and comment.
It’s funny, meeting people for the first time. People in Turkey hear my obviously foreign name and the last thing they expect is a covered woman. It takes them aback. Likewise, in the UK, people expect you to be foreign when they see the scarf and are flummoxed when you’re not. When people pass me on the street, they stare in that trying not to look at you kind of way – they can’t place me. The women with whom I’d once have had instant rapour with no longer notice my shoes for being unable to pull their eyes away from the lack of hair. These women who would once have smiled, paused to talk even, will try their best to avoid your eye.
Knowing how it feels to be judged on how you appear, I’d love to be able to say I never do, but I can’t; we all do. We’re programmed to put people in categiories..the hippy with the dreadlocks, this seasons hipster, the ‘yummy-mummy’. The teenage geek with the glasses, the enlightened Dad carrying baby in a sling, the Jimmy Chooed snob and the woman with a tatoo. We judge on heel height and hair style, on what we’re wearing, and what we’re not. We judge based on size and the way in which we walk. We judge; period. I used to ‘run’ with a different set. We’d take over club lounges and host parties on yachts. We’ve VIPed many times over and drank champagne ’til it ran dry. And I always. looked. the. part. Nobody would know that they weren’t really my shoes, or these were my only pair of designer jeans. People see exactly they’re looking at you to see. The reality was, that a person like me wasn’t really one of them.
Now, when people look at me, they only see the scarf. They don’t notice the earring at the side, or the sparkle on my belt. They don’t try to see the colour in my shirt or the patterns on the soul of a shoe. I wish they’d look at me and see what I’m asking them to see: the scarf is not a cover of me – it’s more of me.
That friend and I, we don’t often see eye-to-eye and though we’re united in belief, tied together with one beautiful phrase, I have to disagree: People like us are just people like them and we belong where we want to belong.