Making Muslims Beautiful by Shanon Shah

There I was, a drab male lump in a queue of chic young hijabis on a sunny, crisp Saturday. We were waiting to get into the afternoon’s events at the London  Modest Fashion Week (LMFW) in Bloomsbury. The line was moving glacially, and it was clear the event was going to start late. People started approaching the rugby player-built security guards around – who looked like they were channelling Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith from Men in Black – to check if the time on their tickets, 2pm, was right. Taking advantage of the bottleneck, a young woman – with an American accent with South Asian notes – started distributing a dissertation questionnaire to people in the queue. She focused only on the young women – I felt equal parts relieved and left out. I couldn’t help but see what the young women in front of me wrote in the ‘age’ column – 21. I made a mental note not to strike up a conversation in case they dealt the unintended indignity of addressing me as ‘Uncle’.
Why was I so self-conscious? Was it because I was surrounded by perfectly preened, young, mostly Muslim women, taking selfies and chattering away? ‘I’m not some creepy, non-colour coordinated lech,’ I wanted to protest aloud, ‘I’m here for research.’ Just as I was thinking this, two attractive English lads walked past the queue and stared, in what I thought was puzzlement, at the sea of hijabis before them. The coin dropped for one of them: ‘Oh, it’s fashion week, innit?’ ‘Course it is,’ the other replied, in a tone that was both enlightened and relieved. How wonderful, I thought, that this is how they made sense of the crowd of Muslim women before their eyes – how wonderfully London.
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