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"I Wasn´t Always Dressed Like This": Documentary Shows Experiences of Muslim Women with The Veil

Photo of Betty Martins Documentary

The Islamic veil is an object that tends to incite deep feelings and diverse. Its practice and meaning has been much abused throughout history. In the context of the West, the question one might ask is: "In a free country, why women choose the veil?"

In a very intimate and thoughtful approach, three Muslim women living in UK talk about their experiences around issues of cultural memory, identity, self-censorship, feminism, politics and the media. In assessing the personal side of the veil, this documentary is able to articulate criticism and reflection while challenging popular perceptions and stereotypes.

Betty Martins, Brazilian director resident in the UK, has released an invaluable historical and communicative material, with music composed especially for the film by the Iranian-born composer Sanatian Noura. Giving to the veil a reflexive value, appreciating its experiential quality while excluding the popular discourse, this documentary presents the beauty and the complexities of the contemporary Muslim women who veils in the UK.

The Islamic Veil in an Intimate Perspective

"I Wasn´t Always Dressed Like This "is a documentary based on the personal stories with a poetic approach, of three Muslim women from different backgrounds living in the UK. The film focuses on the wearing of the veil as an active process, giving the veil a critical and intimate sight. Muslim women who choose to wear any form of veil (hijab, niqab) are part of a growing phenomenon. The implications of wearing a veil vary from nation to nation and from one culture to another. What the documentary does is put women interviewed as the narrative center around the use of the hijab or niqab. This breaks the traditional axis of stories about Muslim women, in which we are always the "other silent" explained from the imagination of the media, european feminism and patriarchy.

A Matter of Personal Agency

Betty Martins's work is a valuable contribution to the work that from Islam and women's movements is being done to change the discourse about Muslim women. This documentary breaks the construction of Muslim women as objects and the veil as a symbol of oppression, foregrounding what is really important when it comes to women: Subjectivity.

Consequently, this frees the veil and women who wear it, of ideological burdens that have been placed on them throughout the world and history, revealing what covering means to the individual woman, as an expression of her personal experience, recognizing the appropriation ofn the hijab or niqab, as a decision regarding a process of empowerment on identity, faith, body, spirituality and personal history.



Deqa's picture


I am very interested in watching this documentary because I have always liked to know about the culture and lives of other people, the similarities and the differences, and I was always drawn to documentaries about Muslim women across the world and their norms and values. It's such an amazing work.
I am Hijabi and I know it's misunderstood quite often. I chose to wear it and no man forced me to do it. I like to see other women expressing their ideas about these matters and clearing the misconceptions.

Thank you for sharing it my dear.

nasreenamina's picture

Salam my dear sister, I am

Salam my dear sister, I am happy you like it. We need more alternative media and discourses in the public spheres about hijabis and muslim women in general. From my part, I am engaged in doing a latin version of this wonderful work maybe after this Ramadan inshallah.I dont believe muslim women are voiceless, that's the way stereotypes has figured us for many time. But we're not voiceless, our voices have not been heard. I am glad to see in all the world muslim women are empowering around the issues that affect them and speaking up. I want to share with you an article I wrote for Feminism and Religion, I hope you enjoy it.

One's life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation and compassion

Follow me @DivinaFeminista

Aminah's picture

A very interesting read. thanks

The Muslim headscarf it appears is something the 'West' sees as a symbol of oppression. Many times I wonder why. Maybe because the media has played a role in it? Maybe because there have been incidences where women are 'forced' to dress in a certain way in some parts of the world!?

For me wearing a headscarf is as simple as how any westerner would cover their bosoms when they go out into a public space. For me it is not necessarily an association to any religion.

I will always fondly recall a conversation with a fellow researcher at Curtin University, Australia. He is very talkative and naturally a curious person - no wonder he was into anthropology. He, a white, a Jew by birth; me, brown skinned, a practicing Muslim - we made a good pair - sharing the research office with our cubicles next to each other.
Anyways, one day he asked me "what will be so wrong if you were to not wear the headscarf?". To which all I had to say was "dearest Tim, what will be so wrong if you were to come to this Office without your shirt on?" :)
He laughed his jovial laugh. The point of this conversation was to just make him realize it's our choice as well as an expectation of belonging to society and its norms.

His belief system dictates how much he should cover when going to the beach (shorts and no shirt OK), at work (tucked in shirt, shoes and all), casual visit to University (a casual t-shirt and shorts fine). the same goes for me. It's my belief system that dictates what I wear. The only difference is that my belief system is such that I have a need to cover head to toe when I am not inside my house. My palms, my face, my feet are exposed. I have no qualms about rolling my sleeves a little up, or my pants a little higher if the need arises. Nobody dictates to me what I should cover and not cover. It's all about a choice and what we believe in.

Thanks for sharing about the documentary. I watched the trailer just now. Wish I can get my hands on the entire video.


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