Tick tock goes the clock.
It’s 5:24 in the afternoon and I stare into my bathroom mirror as I expertly apply smooth and even strokes of foundation, being careful to conceal any blemishes left over from years-ago teenage acne angst and some blemishes which, unfortunately, chose to stick around a little longer and regularly haunt me at the ripe old age of 36.
It’s 5:26 and my eyes are wide open along with my mouth, for some strange reason, as I curl and darken my eyelashes. I reward my efforts with a few sultry bats of said lashes and am pleased with the result.
It’s 5:29 and I smile as I apply my favorite shade of lipstick, a deep plum hue which compliments my dark eyes and fair skin. I admire the effect before finishing the look with a subtle hint of lip liner. These lips practically beg to be kissed.
It’s 5:30 and with a final sweep of blush and another quick glance at my reflection and fluff for my perfectly coifed hair I’m ready for my husband’s 5:35 return from work whereupon I will reward his day-long toils with a primped and prettied up wife.
I sit and wait. Tick tock.
But now it’s 5:33 and there’s the Adhan, coming straight from my smartphone application so courteously reminding me of the time for Asr prayer. Okay. No problem. I’ll quickly pray and still be ready to greet my husband when he walks through the door.
It’s 5:34 and I’m back in front of the bathroom mirror splashing water on my face and up my nose and in my mouth and on my hair, a ritual I perform five times a day in preparation for my prayers. I quickly slip into a hijab, hastily pulling my hair into a sloppy ponytail in the process, and throw an old black abaya over my head. I bow my head and cross my hands over my chest. “Allahu Akbar,” I say and launch into my recitations.
It’s 5:40 and, prayer complete, I rip off my hijab and prayer garb, thankful I finished my salah before my husband’s arrival.
It’s 5:41 and now my husband is coming through the door. I saunter on over to meet him, a small smile on my lips as I get ready to launch myself into his arms with all the confidence that perfect hair and makeup afford us women.
It’s still 5:41 and I suddenly catch a quick but horrifying glance of myself in a nearby mirror. My previously immaculately styled hair is now showing minor but unmistakable signs of hijab head! Oh the horror! And my once perfectly applied makeup – including the sexy smoky eye effect which I only just recently mastered after several YouTube tutorials – is now a not-so-sexy mess running in black streaks down my cheeks! Finally, last but sadly not least, my plum lipstick is smudged and my previously perfect pout now exists only in my memory.
It’s 5:42 and I’m standing in front my eagerly awaited husband who’s just walked through the door. My face is a mess. My hair is flat, decidedly unfluffed and a little bit damp. And me? Am I the primped and prettied-up wife I was aiming for? Definitely not!
So here’s my rant: How are Muslim hijabi women – who are taught the virtue of covering their beauty to the outside world and unrelated men and only displaying said beauty for the enjoyment of their husbands – supposed to achieve that look when we are called on five times a day to douse our faces and heads with water?
Now let me say this right off the bat before I go any farther. I believe in prayer and I participate in prayer five times a day every day Alhamdulillah and insha Allah this will always be the case in my life. But as a convert, particularly one who in her past life was accustomed to indulging in the latest eyeshadow shades and trendiest hairstyles, it was difficult for me to put all that aside, don the headscarf and discard my face paint. But, Alhamdullah, I did it! So when I learned that it was a good idea to save all of that beautification for the privacy of my home and for the enjoyment of my husband, I was totally down. That is, until I got down to the realities of what it means to be pretty at home.
Let’s admit it. Home is not where we are used to looking our best and to be honest I just feel strange walking around my house in full dress, makeup and my hair done up just so. Home to many of us means ponytails, comfy Yoga pants and no mascara let alone lipstick. But it seems now that I’m a hijabi I’m supposed to glam it up at home when all I want to do as soon as I walk through my door is yank off my headscarf and all the other layers of clothing I wear and put on my comfiest and, truth be told, not most attractive clothing.
So what’s a girl to do? Well, be warned, I haven’t figured that out yet, but I’ll tell you what I’ve tried so far. My first thought was I could have a cute hairstyle at home so I’ve spent countless hours in the hairdresser’s chair trying to achieve the perfect haircut that is not only stylish and easy to maintain but one that works with hijab. I’ve tried sideswept bangs, which nicely frame my face and bring out my dark eyes, but those bangs soon fall pitifully flat after they’ve been pushed back on my head to be tucked under my headscarf during prayer. And sadly, once they’ve been flattened they never seem to bounce back into place. Next I’ve tried to perfect the chic ponytail look, with nary a hair out of place and a high ponytail perfectly positioned in the middle of my head with its “tail” glossily trailing down my back. But let’s face it: a ponytail is a ponytail no matter how hard I try to convince myself otherwise and it simply does not convey the same “sexy mussed hair” look that I want so desperately to achieve as does loosely flowing locks. And what about cute clothes at home? Well, no matter how much I want to achieve that look I just can’t sacrifice comfort for style. No matter how great I look in my skinny jeans and fitted T-shirts I want no part of them once I’m inside and ensconced on the couch. Not to mention that isn’t the best attire for cooking.
So amidst all this hair and makeup drama and feeling ready to throw in the towel and surrender myself to being covered outside the home and looking not much better inside the home I finally had a revelation! There is a time each month, a span of three to four days, where I am not called on to pray, where I don’t have to assault my makeup and hair masterpieces with splashes of water. What could it be, what could it be? All together now ladies – MENSES!!!
Lo and behold I had found my salvation! Several days all in a row where I was free to indulge my hair and makeup fantasies without threat of water and hijab head! Free to bat my mascara-laden lashes at my husband as he walked through the door! Free to pucker up my lipstick-stained lips as I offered them up for his welcome-home kiss! Free to…wait! How could I forget? Menses may mean all-out glamour at home but we all know what it doesn’t mean, don’t we? No bedroom passion as a reward for all that beautification.
What the…? Oh forget it! Pass me my Yoga pants and ponytail holder.
Carissa D. Lamkahouan is a career writer and journalist and mom of two children, a son and a daughter. She enjoys fitness, reading and travelling to Morocco, the homeland of her husband. She has been a Muslim since 2005 and lives in Houston, Texas.