In 2013, Masih Alinejad took a selfie and posted it on Facebook.

At first glance, this might not sound revolutionary. But for the Iranian-born journalist, it was a powerful act of political protest because she showed off her flowing, curly hair in the photo.

“Women in Iran are breaking the law every day just to be ourselves,” she explained in an interview with the New York Times. “And I’m a master criminal because the government thinks I have too much hair, too much voice, and I am too much of a woman.”


Masih Alinejad at the Women in the World Summit. Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images.

In Iran, women have to wear hijab head coverings in public, and they can be punished harshly if they don't.

But as Alinejad explained, many Iranian women also know how to steal small moments of stealthy freedom for themselves, moments when they’re hidden from the prying eyes of the piety police and are free to look the way they want.

After her selfie, Alinejad launched My Stealthy Freedom, an online movement encouraging other women to defy oppressive laws through the rebellious act of ... sharing photos of themselves.

Within 10 days, she had a Facebook following of more than 130,000 people. Just over a year later, Alinejad received the women’s rights award from the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy for her revolutionary campaign.

As of 2016, My Stealthy Freedom has built a fanbase of more than a million people, all of whom follow and engage with the selfies and stories of different Iranian and Muslim women every day. Every photo is its own small act of serious insurrection.

Photo by Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images.

To celebrate, here are 21 photos of beautiful, courageous, and revolutionary Iranian and Muslim women rebelling against that compulsory hijab:

1. "To those who say I should leave the country if I don't want to wear the hijab, I say the hijab wasn't my choice. I want to have freedom in my country."

All images and quotes courtesy of My Stealthy Freedom/Facebook, used with permission.

2. "Blowing of the wind through their hair is my nation's girl's dream."

3. "I have always dreamed, and still do, that Iran would become a free Iran. Free so that all of us, especially women, can dress however they please and are comfortable with and be able to leave the house, without fearing that their choice of clothing is considered a crime."

4. "This is all I can do to make my voice reach those who don't see us; or make programs against us to be shown on our own national TV. I salute knowledge and freedom."

5. "I have never neither insulted nor hurt anyone. So I asked everyone to do the same. Don't hurt me and and don't insult me. Please respect how we want to live."

6. "Don't be surprised if you see a girl who is tempted to escape from this cruel, nonsense obligations that have come out of your mind. The air is hers as well."

7. "These are all our rights; no difference whether we are women or men."

8. "In my country, sleeping is the only time to feel real freedom, 'cause there's no rules in dreaming."

9. "I loathe the hijab. I too like my hair to feel the sun and the wind to touch my hair. Is this a big sin?"

Of course, there are also women who do wear the hijab and who are also participating in the movement to show it's the individual choice that really matters.

“I have no intention whatsoever to encourage people to defy the forced hijab or stand up against it,” Alinejad said in an interview with The Guardian. “I just want to give voice to thousands and thousands of Iranian women who think they have no platform to have their say.”

10. "I believe in hijab but hate obligatory hijab!"

11. "Here is me and my best friend in Isfahan and this is freedom of choice."

12. "Hijab is a choice, not an obligation."

It's not just a youth movement, either. Older women are also sharing their stealth freedoms.

13. "Third World is where the greatest girlish dream is the feeling of the blowing wind through their hair."

14. "Mother and daughter, Beautiful Beach."

15. "As I got out of the car a strong wind began to blow and disheveled my hair. I got angry at first and tried to tidy it up; then I said to myself, 'Don’t be a fool! This is the wind you have dreamed of, it's blowing through your hair all your life!'"

16. "This is the voice of a girl, whose dream is not dead-ended. The fence of your thought doesn't fit me."

Some women even shared photos of themselves posing with their husbands or fathers — because there are plenty of men who support these women's rights to choose hijab or not.

In an interview with Vice News, Alinejad added, "Compulsory hijab affects those women who believe in hijab, and those men who are not forced to wear hijab. ... It's an insult to men because it says men can not control themselves."

17. "This place is the tomb of Saadi in Shiraz, a very crowded place. I took this photo to show my support for freedom of clothing for all Iranian women."

18. "Justice means that my share of freedom would be the same as my husband's."

19. "I wish I could have kissed you ... here, right in this photo."

20. "We don't want a lot. Just let us be the way we are. By the way, if you look at the blue van which is parked by the road, you'll notice our risk."


21. "My father was a religious man. He said all of his prayers and fasted. He had also gone for Hajj. But he never even made his children say their prayers or fast during Ramadan; let alone forcing them to wear the hijab."

If these don't strike you as the most audacious form of defiance, just remember: Every single one of these women could be arrested for posting these selfies.

"Social media is a tool and weapon for Iranian people who have been censored for more than 30 years," Alinejad said in an interview with Vice.

"The government of Iran has guns, bullets, prisons, and power, but the people of Iran have Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, social media, and their own words."

That's why a campaign like My Stealthy Freedom is so important, perhaps now more than ever — because sometimes even something as simple as a selfie can be a tool for empowerment.

Courtesy of Elaine Ahn

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

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Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

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That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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