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What liberated women wear

  • 16 September 2010

A while back, I was out shopping for underwear. As I deliberated over my usual modest choices, five women in burqas came into the store. Chatting and laughing, they headed over to a selection of lacy g-strings, holding up the garments for all to see as they checked sizes and made loud comments about each pair of panties.

Years before, I had tried on a burqa in an Afghani rug shop. I had been shocked at how it had obscured my vision, and at how heavily it hung. But when I heard these joyful, sexy, belly-laughing women, invisible behind their veils, it occurred to me that there may be levels of choice and layers of meaning behind the concept of modesty and how it is expressed.

Extroverted women in burqas shopping for fancy lingerie may not be the oppressed victims often portrayed in the media; more to the point, women in burqas in Australia may not embody the same meaning as women in burqas in Afghanistan or anywhere else that forces women to wear it by law.

Then again, perhaps they too are oppressed. But if we are to discuss the burqa in Australia, as we have since the recent decision by a Perth judge that a witness cannot wear a burqa in court, then let's have a proper conversation. Let's avoid inflammatory language and gross generalisations; and let's be honest, too, about the masks we 'liberated' women wear.

Regarding my own masks, I am considered low maintenance. I get my hair cropped short four or five times a year. I wax only when the weather warms up. But I don't get my hair cut by just anyone; I have it carefully trimmed in a salon. I don't wax at home, but shell out to have some other woman smear hot wax on my legs and rip it, and the hairs, off.

I'm getting flak as my sides go salty — most of my friends dye their hair. I don't wear make-up, but many women won't leave the house without lipstick and a swipe of eyeliner. Many wax their bikini lines or more. And I can't tell you the number of times people have suggested I have my eyebrows shaped — they aren't heavy, but one is slightly crooked.

A shockingly high number of women I know have had plastic surgery of one kind or another — ears pinned, breasts reduced, breasts inflated, tummies