Head Covering and Mental Health

A bright and happy hijab.

I started covering my hair way back in 2013, and posted about my reasons when I started. Since then I’ve gone from covering full-time to covering sporadically to going right back to covering full-time again.

Through those changes and over that time my initial covering reasons (piety, modesty, and feminism) haven’t substantially changed. Something I didn’t know when I started, though, is how beneficial covering would turn out to be for my mental health*. It’s been quite the experience!

I’ve seen improvement in these three key areas:

  1. Self-Esteem and Self-Care
  2. Emotional Vulnerability and Boundaries
  3. Social Anxiety and Depression Management

So let’s talk about those.

Self-Esteem and Self-Care

Saying that I had low self-esteem in the past would be misleading. I know what I’m good at, where I shine, and playing to my strengths is second nature. I’ve never had a problem accepting that I’m an awesome person with a lot to offer the world.

However, my appearance has never factored into that. Almost all of the attention I’ve ever received for it, positive and negative, in some way circles back to ideas of sexual objectification. I’m either someone bangable or someone not bangable, and being assessed like that before someone even knows my name is profoundly uncomfortable and unsettling. Even worse, those judgments are based on an aspect of self I don’t enjoy, don’t value, and have minimal control over. I’m just not down with that.

Thing is, though, rejecting that whole concept resulted in me rejecting my body. I dealt with it when necessary and categorically ignored it when not. For most of my life I’ve felt more like a brain in an ambulatory jar than anything else, and who devotes a lot of time or attention to caring for a jar? I’ve done the bare minimum required to keep my body mostly functional and never really gone beyond that.

Until I started covering. Covering my head has helped me reconnect to my body.

My head coverings are beautiful. They’re also perhaps the only part of my appearance that has zilch to do with sex. In fact, covering my head often seems to remove me from objectification-based assessments entirely. Every day is a new chance to be artistic with scarves I’ve chosen and techniques I’ve practiced, and when people see me in the streets it’s the results of my creativity that elicit commentary.

A beautiful double braid tichel-style wrap from Wrapunzel.

A beautiful double braid tichel-style wrap from Wrapunzel.

I’m more inclined to properly care for my body when it’s not attracting unwanted attention. Maybe it’s a bit backwards, but covering makes me feel more like my body is mine as opposed to some kind of public commodity I’m obligated to keep in top form for someone else’s enjoyment. Since I started covering I’ve found myself naturally focusing more on what makes my body feel good. As a result I’m drinking more water and eating better. I’ve actually developed a skin care regimen and work on getting enough sleep. I’m even slowly but surely working towards physical fitness goals.

I don’t know that any of that would ever have become a thing for me without covering.

Emotional Vulnerability and Boundaries

Being vulnerable around others is something with which I’ve struggled. All too often in my own head “vulnerability” equated to “weakness”, and being weak led to being hurt. Not exactly encouragement to do it, you know?

Covering seems to provide a psychological layer of protection, a kind of buffering. I think it’s maybe even spiritual, since I focus on my Lady and Her goals for me when I wrap. Regardless of the reason, covering my head helps me open my heart.

It’s easier to talk about my hopes and dreams when I cover. My fears and inadequacies are easier to share too. It’s like I’m wearing a hug, like I’m supported and loved no matter what, and I can be more open because I’m less defensive.

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A bright and happy hijab.

For me, being less defensive also results in my being more assertive. I know it’s not that way for most people, but in my life safety and security have been assured more by meekly going along than by bucking the system. Whatever that system might happen to be.

Covering is like a physical boundary I maintain every day, and it weirdly serves as a reminder for me to maintain my other boundaries too.

Anxiety and Depression Management

I covered full-time from the tail end of 2013 until about mid-2015. By that time my year of covering had ended and I started tapering off a bit. I left the house uncovered more and more often, until eventually I rarely covered at all.

The tapering off of the covering coincided with a deepening depression. I can’t say if the depression contributed to not covering or if not covering contributed to the depression, but they do seem to have been related.

Depression has always been something I’ve had to manage. For the most part I’ve succeeded remarkably well. However, it has always marched hand-in-hand with social anxiety. By mid-2016 my depression was deeper than I can ever recall it being, and my anxiety started spiking so badly that I essentially became agoraphobic. I started having health issues and migraines around this time too, which did not help. I was about as low as I could get.

A white wimple and veil.

A wimple and veil. In many ways they kind of look like flowy hijabs. They’re just made differently. While traditionally they’re white linen, I’ve been experimenting with other colors and fabrics.

I lit a candle and begged my Lady to help me. I didn’t know what else to do. About two weeks later I found myself reaching for my coverings again. I found that when I covered things got… easier. I wasn’t as overwhelmed in social spaces. My migraines became less frequent. I anchored some shields on my volumizer (the poofy thing worn under scarves to give them shape) and that helped too. The more I covered the better I felt, the fewer my symptoms, the higher my energy level. Lather, rinse, repeat.

I’m not going to sit here and say that covering cured my depression. That would be an incredibly simplistic statement for a complicated issue, and it’s not like covering was the only approach I took. Besides, it’s not like I’m cured anyway – I still have good days and bad days, the same as anyone struggling through. But I will say that I personally find covering to be an incredibly useful way to help manage my depression and anxiety symptoms. I checked with other ladies who cover and a few of them reported the same type of thing, so it’s not isolated to just me, either.

Moving Forward

As of now I’m back to covering full-time. I usually find hijab styles more comforting than tichel styles because they cover my neck, and I switch between them depending on exactly how much comforting I need on a given day. I’ve lately started experimenting with wimples and veils, too, and find that those styles make me feel more connected to my ancestors.

I currently live in Ohio, and at least in my area there is a sizable Muslim population. My covers don’t really stand out here, and I don’t feel alone either. That changes when I leave the area, though. Covered women are often targeted these days, and it’s something I have to consider before traveling elsewhere in the US (*cough* Texas *cough*) or interacting with a new group of people.

My covering is still an act of piety, one that brings me joy and reverence. It’s still a symbol of modesty, too, and it’s changed my entire relationship to myself and the world. It’s still very much a feminist statement for me, and since November it’s become a political statement too. Add in the mental health benefits and covering is a part of my life that is here to stay.

Covering is not a very common practice in Pagan and polytheistic circles, although I do think it’s growing. Because of that, it can be baffling for folks encountering it in our communities. I hope that my open sharing can inspire some conversations. Covering has become a fundamental part of my polytheism. Maybe it can help others, too.

 

*Note: This whole post is about MY mental health and how covering affects it. No one else’s. I am in no way saying that covering is the best/final/only method of managing mental health issues. It works for me in the way I’ve stated. If your mental health is a concern, please do whatever works best for you and seek the help of a mental health professional if needed. 

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11 thoughts on “Head Covering and Mental Health

  1. Judy says:

    Thank you Caer! This is a lovely, personal article. I can relate in a lot of ways.

  2. owanderer says:

    This is beautiful! Wow are those pictures gorgeous too. (I almost wish men and male-spectrum pagan folk had a similar option… you don’t know of any, do you?) Thank you for sharing. You’re making me wonder what little things I can do Day-to-day that might assist me with depression and social anxiety.

    • Caer Jones says:

      Sure there are! Google “male head coverings” and look at what you get. Kufi caps, turbans, beanies, wave caps/do-rags/etc (I’ve seen several names), hats, etc. Wigs are also an option, as they cover the hair without drawing atttention to the wearer. I’d love to see what you come up with! *bouncy*

  3. catawhorl says:

    I love this gentle honest post. My take away from this is still mulling itself around in my head. You know me that I have always been a * do what works for you * kind of person. I like the sound of calm that rings through this, that it’s evolving to suit you and makes you happy.

  4. Reblogged this on By the Mighty Mumford and commented:
    SHE MAKES REALLY GOOD, POSITIVE POINTS ! HAVE A READ!

  5. ganglerisgrove says:

    i’m always fascinated by tichels but i think one needs hair. lol. I also really wonder how to cover when in the throes of migraines, which i get often. But either way, loving your articles on headwrapping.

    • Caer Jones says:

      Who needs hair? I ritually shaved all of mine off before I started covering in a cleansing Yule ritual – which I now understand LOADS better timing-wise! – and lots of people with short hair or even no hair cover daily. It’s all in the underpinnings! You just need some kind of velvet headband and/or shaper.

      This video explains it beautifully: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KI8uAsGaYK8

      Using underpinnings like this even has historical precedent in the veils worn by the Vestal Virgins, as shown here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eA9JYWh1r7U Simply skip the braiding and use the infula as described.

    • Caer Jones says:

      As far as covering with a migraine, the best approaches all seem to focus on light and loose wraps. Gossamer scarves and the lightest of shapers, or even just a velvet headband, are great options. Hats and bonnets are workable options too. Anything that minimizes pressure. I’d also suggest natural fibers only, as you want whatever you wear to breathe. Styles that don’t press down on the ears are better options too. Lots of workarounds!

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