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The Burkini Babe raises the bar for modest fitness training
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The Burkini Babe raises the bar for modest fitness training

The Burkini Babe raises the bar for modest fitness training
Health & Fitness

Alicia Buller

Zahra Pedersen, the self-styled ‘Burkini Babe’, has launched the United Kingdom’s first Muslim-focused personal fitness programme for women who want to stay healthy while protecting their modesty.

But what’s the difference between a burkini body and a bikini body? The super-fit 29-year-old trainer, who is also the founder of The Healthy Hijab, says the bikini body ideal traditionally focuses on looks and sexualisation, but the burkini body is based on health, confidence and vitality. As her website states, ‘you don’t need to show your abs to know you got them!’

AS ZAHRA OBSERVES, "THE BIKINI BODY IS JUST ABOUT TRYING TO CREATE A GOOD FIGURE IN UNDERWEAR, SO THE WOMEN ARE THINKING 'HOW DO I LOOK IN A BIKINI?' RATHER THAN 'HOW DO I FEEL?

"The Healthy Hijab programme encourages women to stay healthy and fit while also knowing that they look good. Muslim women want to feel healthy and vibrant while also being attractive for their husband.

"Fitness training gives women confidence as they know that they are working on themselves. It also improves their health by increasing their strength and cardiovascular ability."

Zahra who has a mixed Danish and Moroccan heritage, said she instinctively understands the nuanced cultural and religious needs of Muslim women. ‘In Islam, modesty is such a big thing. Every Muslim woman aspires to be modest, and it’s difficult to be modest while doing burpees and squats in public or in front of men.’

Zahra discovered the rejuvenating powers of exercise after surviving Hodgkin’s lymphoma when she was a teenager. ‘I was later diagnosed with post-treatment depression and anxiety. It was during this period that I saw how powerful exercise can be.

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"I know where my clients are coming from because I have also lived with lifestyle issues, illness and weight problems. I know that changing your lifestyle can be a very personal and private journey. It helps to be trained by someone who not only knows the challenges of changing lifestyle but also understands the cultural differences."

Many clients of The Healthy Hijab are new to the world of exercising and like to work out at home for privacy reasons. Zahra makes her training more accessible to Muslim women by designing programmes that only use household items. In April she launched the monthly ‘Burkini Body’ online fitness programme, which encourages women to use everyday items, such as chairs and water bottles, for training.

"I WANT TO REACH THE AVERAGE WOMAN. I WANT TO SHOW THEM THAT THEY DON'T EVEN NEED EXPENSIVE EQUIPMENT. I TAKE AWAY ALL THE EXCUSES."

Zahra, whose clients range in age from 16 to 60 years old, said the Burkini Body programme is attracting interest from around the world. Next year, she plans to extend the Burkini Body programme and launch a wellness trip to Spain for her ‘Muslim sisters’.

Zahra explained: “There is such a need for it this service. It’s not just Muslim women who prefer to be modest; a lot of women have confidence issues and prefer to cover up their jiggling bits. The gym has become so sexualised, when often women just want to be comfortable and covered up.”