The wind whipped my navy-blue jilbab like a sheet on a clothesline as I wrangled a shopping cart. If I was aware that all eyes were on me, I gave no signs. Growing up in the ’70s in Southern California, I had learned that freedom for me meant, among other things, fewer clothes, and that I could be anything—and still look good in a bikini. I believe that the now-ubiquitous bikini hurts me. Wearing a bikini shuts down his ability to see me as a person. In order to preserve my personhood, I should dress more modestly. The modern me is not prudish about my body. I just may not want to put my erogenous zones on display.
I imagined myself in a string bikini in a few years. Then I imagined myself draped in Muslim attire. It was hard to say which image was more unsettling. I thought then of something a Sufi Muslim friend had told me: that Sufis believe our essence radiates beyond our physical bodies—that we have a sort of energetic second skin, which is extremely sensitive and permeable to everyone we encounter. You wear modest clothing, she said, to protect this charged space between you and the world.