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hot blondes, prelim defenses and olympians in hijabs.

travel + culture

on the road and what's out there.


hot blondes, prelim defenses and olympians in hijabs.

Caitlin Surakitbanharn

are you guys living for the olympics or are you LIVING FOR THE OLYMPICS?!

omg the Olympics is like peak of the year for me every 4 years.  I LOVE IT.  any sport, any event, i'm 100% into it.  my favorites are obviously swimming, gymnastics and beach volleyball (KERRI WALSH-JENNINGS, BODY OF A GODDESS).  and i mean, Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky? Are we for real, America?  the Olympics makes me feel like...


anyways.  more on that in a minute.

i wrote a few months ago that i was singing Beyonce to my Prelim document, and now i can finally say i've PASSED my preliminary defense! so the way the Ph.D process works; you do a preliminary defense (a "prelim") and this is where you tell your committee your research proposal and plan of execution.  and they say it's OK or not OK.   and when they say it's OK, you've passed your prelim!  it sounds like no big deal but honestly it's about 6 months of work.  but...I PASSED!  so now, i finish my research, write my defense document, do an oral defense, and I can graduate with my Ph.D next August!  YES!  

celebratory boba tea after passing!  i was so happy/relieved!!!!!

celebratory boba tea after passing!  i was so happy/relieved!!!!!

so now i'm moving along towards finishing my research up.  i have to go through a LOT of ethics paperwork to do human experiments (including filing that paperwork in THAILAND OMG), but it's an awesome learning experience.  that's what i keep telling myself.

next?  oh. hot blondes.  the winter of BLONDE is coming you guys.  i'm within the 4 month mark here... things are getting serious!  i obviously fully understand it's like a one-day process and it's also just hair, but this is the biggest change i'll have EVER done to my hair...and I. AM. PUMPED. what i've also learned is that there are so many shades of blonde like what is even happening? platinum white, ashy, grey blonde, sunny yellow blonde, California yellow blonde? what?  so i've done an excruciating amount of research to cement what i want to be "my look."

it's not meant to look natural.  i'm going for it!

OK - so prelim defense, hot blondes...oh.  Olympians in Hijabs.  

borrowed from  (photo taken by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

borrowed from (photo taken by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

this year, we have had women (and American women) as hijab-wearing Olympic athletes.  and not surprisingly, this has sparked controversy and varying opinions.  I read an interesting article in the New York Times by Roger Cohen about this and a great photograph taken of an Egyptian beach volleyball player (covered and in Hijab) and a German player in her bikini , and it had two anecdotes from two different women: one who was a half-Arab, half-dutch Muslim woman and she described her life and feelings towards her hijab, and another from a non-Muslim woman who visited Iran and had to wear a hijab.  The non-Muslim woman described her feelings towards her experience with the hijab as something she felt was trying to "neutralize" her - as a way to cover up and hide the way God made her; curvy with beautiful hair.  and that she felt covering her head and body was like pretending she wasn't a woman, and that she was somehow "responsible for keeping men's sexuality within social bounds."

i don't think anything this woman wrote is wrong.  it was her experience, and those are her feelings, and she's not right and she's not wrong.  those are her opinions, and she's free to feel that way and do what's best for her.  live your life girl!

however, i do want to add to this narrative.  i'm a non-Muslim woman.  and i've worn hijab.  and you know what? i felt empowered.  

in Abu Dhabi, 2014

in Abu Dhabi, 2014

i was nervous to wear hijab to visit a mosque in Abu Dhabi, especially during Ramadan, during our first trip there in 2014.  but of course, i had to, and then we had this amazing tour guide that totally changed my perspective.  prior to this, i'd always only known hijab as what i saw in the media..that oppressed women in Muslim countries were forced to wear them and cover up.  but our tour guide, a beautiful Emirati woman, explained that while yes, in some countries women are forced to cover up...for most Muslim women, the hijab and the abaya is a personal choice, and what it boiled down to for her was that she wants to control how men look at her.  that she doesn't want any random men to look at her and think she's beautiful or view her as a sexual object.  for her, it represented control of her image.  and i remember standing there thinking...that is so bad ass.

and every single time since then that i've covered my head (and i've done it more than just this photograph), i do it because i want to control my narrative in that moment.  i've done it in India and i've done it in Bangkok in a certain part of town.  i know i'm not really in danger of anything, but i also know that i've walked through those areas before, and i feel men's eyes on me, watching me and leering at me. and i hate that feeling. i hate feeling that and knowing i can't make them stop.  because i can't control other people...but you know what i can control?  what i'm doing.  so i wear hijab (and not just the headscarf - the loose-fitting tunics too!).   and when i walk through that street with hijab on, i pass through without incident.  they don't look at me at all, they don't leer.  i'm just another person walking down the street.  and i love being able to control my story in that moment.  i love taking that power away from people who would leer at me and make me feel violated.  i love being able to say..not today.  you're not going to make me feel that way today.

in India, 2016.

in India, 2016.

i guess i just wanted to share that side of this story too.  my experiences with hijab aren't better or worse or right or wrong...just different, than the women in that NYT article.  i realized while reading that while i've spoken about how i feel empowered by hijab with my husband and some close friends...i hadn't really talked about it openly!  and...i want to talk about it openly, because why not?  there are always more than two sides of a story, you know?