When I first started wearing the hijab as a young teen, I knew I would spend the rest of my life dealing with ignorance. I never imagined that it would affect or limit my love for sports. At 13, maintaining modesty was not a priority for me, but I felt uncomfortable with my body, as do most teenagers at that age, and while other girls around me did not fret over their hair or body as much as I did, I dreaded being so exposed.
Swimming caps were not always useful, and makeshift DIY swimsuits drew too much unwanted attention. A tunic length T-shirt with waterproof spandex leggings soaked with water, clinging to your thighs, is about as uncomfortable as you can imagine. Even if it was just girls surrounding me, I felt self-conscious and constantly embarrassed. Nike’s hijab swimsuit would have been a blessing to 13-year-old me, and I cannot imagine what it would do for female Muslim athletes.
Swimming was a large part of my life as a young teenager. It became a family activity I eagerly anticipated. But every time I went, I would notice the Muslim mothers sitting on the sidelines, disengaged with their children in the pool – not out of choice, but because their clothes did not accommodate to the water. I would notice young Muslim girls show discomfort in their improvised burkinis and perhaps envy the others. There were fewer and fewer visibly Muslim women. Until one day, there were none.