Does Wearing a Hijab Protect Women Against Eating Pathology?

Wearing a hijab to protect women
There is some evidence that choosing to wear a hijab is a protective factor against developing eating pathology.

A new study exploring sociocultural pressures in U.S. and Iranian women.

Acceptance of Western values and appearance ideals strongly predicts body image and eating concerns (Keel and Forney, 2013Culbert et al., 2015). As found robustly in research on eating disorders, awareness and perceived pressures from the media, family, and peers to be attractive according to cultural ideals of beauty encourages women to believe that they must look thin, young, and beautiful to be valuable (Thompson et al., 1999).

Given the strong role culture has on the development of body image concerns and eating behavior, psychologists have explored the influence of sociocultural factors in diverse ethnic groups—including women who dress moderately and wear a hijab for religious or cultural reasons.

When Is Wearing a Hijab Protective?

There is some evidence that choosing to wear a hijab is a protective factor against developing eating pathology. Muslim women who chose to wear a hijab in the U.S. (Dunkel et al., 2010), France (Kertechian and Swami, 2016), and England (Swami et al., 2014) reported lower pressures for thinness, thin-ideal internalization, and body image concerns compared to women who did not.

Yet, most existing research in this area to date has examined Muslim women who voluntarily choose to wear a hijab and live in communities where Muslims are a minority religious or ethnic group; almost no research has examined these constructs in Muslim women who are legally mandated to dress modestly, such as those living in Iran (Pahlevan Sharif et al., 2019).

To explore this issue further, my colleagues and I recently published a study examining body image and eating pathology in college-aged women from the U.S. (n = 709) and Iran (n = 331) (Sahlan et al., 2022). The U.S. sample comprised an ethically diverse sample of college-aged women, while the Iranian sample were women legally mandated to wear a hijab and assumed Muslim.

Although the body image questionnaires performed differently for each country–we couldn’t directly compare the two groups of women–thin-ideal internalization and pressure to be thin were significant positive predictors of eating pathology in both U.S. and Iranian women.

Take Home Points and Need for Future Research

Our recent study suggested that the hijab is perhaps not as protective against eating pathology for women who are mandated to wear it as it may be for those who voluntarily choose to wear it. In addition, our results suggested that college-aged Iranian women endorse pressure to be thin and are likely increasingly becoming aware of and affected by Western ideals of beauty (Sahlan et al., 2021).

As Iranians have increased familiarity with Western media via television networks, increased access to social media like Instagram (Sharifi et al., 2016), and large social changes regarding women’s rights, further exploration of these topics is increasingly important.

Copyright Cortney S. Warren, Ph.D., ABPP

Note: This content is only for informational and educational purposes and should not be considered therapy or any form of treatment. I cannot respond to personal requests for advice over the internet. Best on your continued journey.


Keel, P. K., and Forney, K. J. (2013). Psychosocial risk factors for eating disorders. Int. J. Eat. Disord., 46, 433–439. doi: 10.1002/eat.22094

Culbert, K. M., Racine, S. E., and Klump, K. L. (2015). Research review: what we have learned about the causes of eating disorders: a synthesis of sociocultural, psychological, and biological research. J. Child Psychol. Psychiatry, 56, 1141–1164. doi: 10.1111/jcpp.12441

Dunkel, T. M., Davidson, D., and Qurashi, S. (2010). Body satisfaction and pressure to be thin in younger and older Muslim and non-Muslim women: the role of Western and non-Western dress preferences. Body Image, 7, 56–65. doi: 10.1016/j. bodyim.2009.10.003

Kertechian, S. K., and Swami, V. (2016). The hijab as a protective factor for body image and disordered eating: a replication in French Muslim women. Ment. Health Relig. Cult., 19, 1056–1068. doi: 10.1080/13674676.2017.1312322

Pahlevan Sharif, S., Ahadzadeh, A. S., and Ong, F. S. (2019). The effect of religiosity on the relationship between BMI and body image among Iranian women. Psychol. Relig. Spiritual., 11, 168–175. doi: 10.1037/rel0000193

Sahlan, R. N., Williams, B. M., Forrest, L. N., Saunders, J. F., Fitzsimmons-Craft, E. E., and Levinson, C. L. (2021). Disordered eating, self-esteem, and depression symptoms in Iranian adolescents and young adults: a network analysis. Int. J. Eat. Disord., 54, 19–23. doi: 10.1002/eat.23365

Sahlan, R. N., Akoury, L. M., Habashy, J., Culbert, K. M., and Warren, C. S. (2022). Sociocultural correlates of eating pathology in college women from US and Iran. Frontiers in Psychology, 13: 966810. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2022.966810

Sharifi, S. M., Omidi, A., and Marzban, B. (2016). The impact of Instagram use on body image concerns among Iranian university female students: a phenomenological approach. Int. J. Acad. Res. Psychol., 3, 26–36. doi: 10.6007/IJARP/v3-i1/2280

Swami, V., Miah, J., Noorani, N., and Taylor, D. (2014). Is the hijab protective? An investigation of body image and related constructs among British Muslim women. Br. J. Psychol., 105, 352–363. doi: 10.1111/bjop.12045

Thompson, J. K., Heinberg, L. J., Altabe, M., and Tantleff-Dunn, S. (1999). Exacting Beauty: Theory, Assessment, and Treatment of Body Image Disturbance. Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association. doi: 10.1037/10312-000

Dr. Cortney S. Warren, PhD, ABPP

Exposed to a diversity of cultures and lifestyles from an early age, Dr. Cortney was intrigued by the ways cultural and environmental conditions affected the psychological well-being of individuals, groups, and even whole societies.


Safe subscribe. You will have the opportunity to opt-out with every notice we send.

cortney warren