“Do you know Shams?”
“Oh you mean the big, tall and loud girl? Yeah I know her.”
Big, tall and loud – that has become my identifier since I can ever remember. I grew up larger than most of my peers, and even as a child, I was bound to stand out from the rest. I never let it get to my head that the way I looked was more important than the person I am – that is until I hit puberty.
At thirteen, I grew a lot taller all of a sudden. My body developed way too quickly for my mind to adapt to. Boys and peer acceptance started to change the way I looked at myself. I was more conscious of my body, particularly how much I weigh and why I had a bigger built than my friends. I began hating the way I looked and starved my body of the nutrients I needed. For a short period of my adolescence, I kept a secret from everyone I knew – I was bulimic.
For a year, I coped with my parents’ divorce by vomiting out whatever I ate. I would not finish my food and run to the washroom after each meal on the pretext that my teeth hurt from my newly fixed braces. Truth is, I wanted to fit in and look like pretty like my skinny friends in school. I wanted a size 2 figure and long legs that never seem to end. I wanted to look like the models that graced magazine covers. I wanted a 24-inch waist so I could buy that pair of jeans everyone else in school had. I wanted to be everyone else but myself.
It was only when I realized that my bulimia was affecting my canoeing training that I stopped depriving my body of the nutrients and calories I need. I began focusing on my training and working out, supposedly losing weight the healthy way. At fifteen, I was at my fittest and slimmest. Then again, I still had people calling me fat, thick and big behind my back. And I still wasn’t happy.
Then at seventeen, I emotionally ate my way through junior college. I gained back all the weight I lost, with no regrets at all. Life was at a stand still through out the two years because I was just focusing on getting over with the A level exams. It was only when I was due to enter university at nineteen that I realized; I need to start taking care of myself.
I began loving my body by loving myself. I started treating my body like a temple (a mosque, if you prefer that analogy) and ate good food that no calories could be wasted on. Jamie Oliver keeps saying that if you want to eat, waste your calories only on good food made out of the freshest ingredients. I frequented the gym and did all sorts of sports activities from rock climbing, to Muay Thai to yoga. I challenged myself to push my physical limits by participating in marathons and scaling mountains. All I wanted to do was to be healthy and feel good.
The past five years has had its fair share of ups and downs. I have had former partners telling me I was too fat for their liking so they had to leave me. I have had aunts and uncles telling me I did not fit in with the rest of the family because I was too tall and big. I have gotten my heart broken by people I loved because I did not fit the mould they call love.
The truth is, we live in a superficial world. We lust over beautiful images and we yearn for things that are almost impossible for us to achieve. We want to be surrounded by things that are only captivating to the eyes. We want to look like celebrities and wear what they are wearing. We so badly want to be accepted by society.
It took a long time to love myself but I had to. I want to empower women who were facing the same struggles as me. I want to let other women know that they were not fighting this battle themselves. I want them to know that the way they look does not matter, nor does the size of their dress or the number on the scale.
It is their heart that matters.
“Take advantage of five matters before five other matters: your youth, before you become old; and your health, before you fall sick; and your richness, before you become poor; and your free time before you become busy; and your life, before your death.”
– Narrated by Ibn Abbas and reported by Al Hakim
Battling with body image issues may be your jihad and the test Allah has given you to heighten your faith in Him. Take that step to improve your health for the His sake so that you can use your time wisely to be a useful member of the ummah.
This goes out to my fellow big and beautiful sisters who may or may not be heartbroken simply because of the way they look:
“A woman is married for four reasons, i.e., her wealth, her family status, her beauty and her piety. So you should marry the pious woman otherwise you will be losers.”
Narrated by Abu Huraira, in Sahih al-Bukhari & Muslim
Beauty is after all, in the eye of the beholder. Love yourself, and love will come to you, inshaAllah.
This article was first published on The Shawl Label’s Sisterhood Project.