Women who wear a 'hijab' generally have more positive body image, are less reliant on media messages about beauty ideals, and place less importance on appearance than those who do not wear the headscarf, a new study, led by an Indian-origin scientist, has found.
These effects appear to be driven by use of a 'hijab' specifically, rather than religiosity, said researchers.
The study, conducted by Dr Viren Swami from the University of Westminster and colleagues looked at body image issues amongst British Muslim women.
"While we shouldn't assume that wearing the hijab immunises Muslim women from negative body image, our results do suggest that wearing the hijab may help some women reject prescriptive beauty ideals," said Swami, lead author of the study published in the British Journal of Psychology.
A total of 587 Muslim women aged from 18 to 70 years from London participated in a number of tests.
From this group 218 women stated they never used the hijab and 369 women said they used some form of the hijab at least now and then.
Participants undertook a number of questionnaires that asked them to rate their own feelings of body dissatisfaction, how much pressure the media put on them to be attractive and how religious they were.
They were also asked to match their own figure to a set of female silhouette images that ranged from emaciated to obese.
The results showed that women who wore the hijab generally had a more positive body image, were less influenced by the media's beauty ideals and placed less importance on appearance.
"Although the results showed only a small difference between those who wear or don't wear the hijab it does suggest the hijab offers Muslim women a small protective effect in terms of feeling positive about their body image. It appears that those who choose to wear it are better able to distance themselves from the Western thin ideal," Swami said.
Researchers said these results may have useful implications for intervention programmes aimed at promoting healthier body image among Muslim women in the West.
"For example, by identifying those aspects of hijab use that are associated with more positive body appreciation in future studies, it might be possible to isolate factors that can be targeted in intervention programmes," said Swami.
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