Just recently, a person I know remarked on a particular characteristic of my skin--that it's pale--and claimed that I needed to "get some sun." I responded that my skin is lovely how it is, and that I don't need to bombard it with ultraviolet radiation.
In fact, the remark seemed to me to be a poorly veiled attempt to mock my decision to cover in hijab. Because I wear hijab, my skin (except for my face and hands) receives even less sun exposure than the average person. But my skin isn't really "average;" in fact it's quite fair. So I told the person that I was already at ultra-super-high risk for skin cancer, and "getting sun" is just about the worst thing I could do. And that even if I didn't cover (in hijab), I would be wearing sun screen over every inch of exposed skin.
Why am I ultra-super-high risk for skin cancer? Because I have very fair skin with light eyes, received severe sun burns as a child and a teenager, and on one occasion even used a tanning bed. The first two factors cannot be helped--that is how Allah made me. The latter two were my choice, something I have lived to regret. Unfortunately, I was so inundated with the popular notions of beauty that I would deliberately forgo sunblock even when I knew I would be in the sun, just to try to get some semblance of a tan. While most of my peers would tan quite naturally, I would burn, and freckle, without my skin becoming noticeably darker.
By the time of my senior prom, I thought having lightly bronzed skin was important enough to even consent to using a tanning bed--the one occasion I used it. (And yeah, I got burned in it, too.) For me, getting a sunburn was just part of the summer--although sometimes it did get so bad that I actually blistered (not a pleasant sight, not something I image anyone would like described.) It's not healthy, and I guess it's taken me quite a few years since my last burn (on a cruise in the Bahamas, burned my bad so bad it made me nauseous) to realize that my skin can be beautiful, and lovely, the very color that it is.
All my attempts to blend in, and try to fit the unrealistic and unhealthy standard of beauty failed, but also might have caused permanent damage. As far as I'm aware, I don't actually have skin cancer, but I'll have to live with that risk for the rest of my life. This is one more way that hijab projects women, I think: literal protection from the sun, and also from unrealistic ideals regarding skin tone.
Personally, I don't appreciate my decision to cover being mocked by my "failure" to live up to those unrealistic standards. Nor do I appreciate being held to those standards in the first place, especially since they are not only superficial, but also unhealthy.