“O Allah, You have beautified my features, so beautify my character as well.”
‘Abdullāh ibn Mas‘ūd (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, made this supplication whenever he looked in a mirror. Of all recommended duas, this is perhaps the most challenging one for me to make because I don’t always believe that my features are beautiful. Appreciating my physical appearance is an ongoing struggle for me. While I easily see the beauty in my friends and family members, when I look in the mirror, I often focus solely on my flaws.
Like many women, I have battled over the years with a poor self-image. It is perhaps harder than ever these days for us females to feel good about how we look. Many of us fall prey to social media with its constant bombardment of staged and filtered photos. In magazines we see models who are airbrushed and photoshopped to impossible perfection. We are continually deceived by all kinds of enhancements and alterations to skin, hair, and bodies that make women seem to defy age, gravity, and natural physical changes. All of these phenomena have conspired to make normal, everyday, un-enhanced women feel inadequate.
Even hijab models can make us feel inferior! Almost all of the women who model Islamic clothing have a slender build, facial features that are considered conventionally beautiful, and a great deal of makeup to upgrade or even transform their appearance.
How can we combat this constant assault on our self-perception? How can we believe that we ARE beautiful, just as Allah made us, regardless of what society says?
Well, for me this is an area I need to be deliberately mindful and intentional about. While I haven’t cracked the code to loving myself unconditionally, I have found a few strategies that help.
1. Being intentionally grateful for my body and all that it does.
Every day I stop at least once and thank Allah for my body that has accomplished so much, thanks to His mercy. It has carried, nurtured, and fed my children. It has allowed me to walk, run, and explore. My hands are marvels in themselves; they have helped me accomplish innumerable things, from typing articles, to driving a car, to gently removing a splinter from a child’s finger. Being grateful for my body helps me see its inherent beauty and worth.
2. Striving to beautify my soul.
It is important to remind myself daily what kind of beauty really matters and whom I actually need to impress. Abu Huraira reported that the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
“Verily, Allah does not look at your appearance or wealth, but rather He looks at your hearts and actions.”
If Allah is pleased with me and my heart is pure, then I am definitely beautiful. Instead of searching for the perfect concealer to cover my blemishes or the right mascara to make my eyes pop, I should focus on worshiping with sincerity. Believers who love their Creator radiate a noor that makes their beautiful soul shine through.
3. Remembering that Allah does not make mistakes.
When I feel insecure, I remind myself that Allah is perfect and He made me exactly as I am. He did not mess up when He fashioned my body. Who am I to be ungrateful to my Lord for making my body exactly as it is? While there are some aspects of my physique that are in my control, many are not. To complain and berate myself about my characteristics is to be ungrateful to the Infallible and Most Generous Creator.
4. Caring for my body because it is a blessing from Allah, not to achieve society’s approval.
The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, reminded us that our bodies have a right over us. Therefore, Muslims have a duty to strive for a healthy lifestyle. When I exercise, eat nutritious foods, get enough sleep, drink enough water, and recharge with calming activities, I try to do this with the intention of pleasing Allah, not with the end goal of appearing more attractive to others. People can be finicky, critical, and jealous and will always find flaws in others’ appearances if they want to. So, if I diet, exercise and commit to a rigorous self-care regime, I might still come up short, according to critical onlookers. But if I take care of my body because it is a gift from Allah and with the intention of showing gratitude to Him, I will never be disappointed in the results.
5. Truly embracing modesty.
It can be extremely hard for women in the West who are judged so prevalently for their physical appearance to embrace modesty. We are taught either directly or indirectly from an early age that being physically attractive is crucially important and tied to our very worth. Women invest an enormous amount of time and money in looking attractive. “According to the latest statistics, the global beauty industry market size is worth $534 billion in 2022.”1 As Muslims, however, we should have much loftier goals than looking appealing when we walk out the door. Modesty is a fundamental part of our religion.
Ibn Abbas reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said: “Verily, every religion has a character, and the character of Islam is modesty.”
Source: Sunan Ibn Mājah 4182
6. Understanding the impact that my perceptions about myself have on my own children, especially my daughters.
I remind myself that my children are listening to the way I talk about my own body and so I strive to set a healthy example. Whether I intend to or not, I might pass my own insecurities down to my children. According to Claire Myski, CEO of the National Eating Disorders Association, “Negative body talk in the family environment can lead to less mindful eating, more disordered eating, less body appreciation, and increased body dissatisfaction in children, which can persist into adulthood.”2
As believers, we must identify and acknowledge the toxic messages we grew up with that glorify attractiveness, immodesty, and overt sexuality over the quality of our intellect and soul. With a concerted effort to redefine beauty, admire all of Allah’s creations, including our own physique, and nurture a sense of gratitude for all the wonderful things our bodies enable us to do, we can, inshaAllah, combat self-doubt and insecurity.
The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said: “Verily, Allah is beautiful and He loves beauty” (reported by Muslim).
Let us all try to celebrate our unique beauty which is a gift from Allah. When we look in the mirror, may we clearly see His perfect plan in our features, and may we make the same supplication as our Prophet, with heartfelt sincerity. Ameen.