Just because I wear hijab, doesn’t mean I have thicker skin: dealing with fat-shaming Muslims

I have always been overweight, for as long as I can remember. My earlier childhood photos all show me being a chubby thing and every photo since then leaves me cringing till this day. I don’t know when my problem with food began, but I know that my teen years were especially difficult. I used to depend on food to comfort me and to take me out of the misery of being permanently fat shamed. If that isn’t irony, I don’t know what is.

My teen years and early twenties saw me hating myself. If it wasn’t enough that the media told me I was a failure because of my body size, my entire community, family and some friends either directly or indirectly seconded that same idea. Even though I was someone who really enjoyed parties and weddings, I began to dread them. I would not only feel like I looked terrible, but would be told several times that I really needed to lose weight. It got to the extent that some ‘aunties’ would have the audacity to tell my mother that,

it’s such a shame that a beautiful, intelligent and pious young lady was so fat.

They would console her with a small rub of the shoulder, head tilted, as if consoling the mother of an ailing child. They would promise her that the moment I lost weight, they would be knocking our door with their sons, ready to propose and make a wife out of me.

Not only did it make me feel like I had been assigned to my deathbed and that they were consoling my mother, but I felt so objectified. It seemed as if my worth in the community and as a good spouse to their sons was limited to the shape of my body, rather than my characteristics, my knowledge, piety or anything else that people would usually base their spousal selection on. I knew that I needed to change myself, for myself, but I feel as though I had spiralled into a depression so deep, no one could save me, but me.

I had tried every diet in the world, spent hundreds on pills and shakes, meal replacements, gym memberships, dietician sessions and even took the drastic measure of privately doing a procedure that not only failed, but also dented my bank account even more. My parents were visibly upset, my friends would look at me pityingly and I felt lost. The friend of one sister even had the audacity to tell me that I had such beautiful features, “as soon as you lose the weight, they will become even more prominent, and everyone would be falling for me.”

I began to consider self-harm; maybe if I sawed at my flab, it would disappear. I knew it was a stupid notion, but it was my GP that came as my saviour. In one appointment, he asked if I would consider weight-loss surgery and for once, it didn’t seem like such a crazy notion. He helped me through all the steps and now, 10 months out of my surgery, I’m beginning to love myself once more. I’ve lost about 35kg/77pounds, and I’ve gained nothing but good health, self-confidence and a happier outlook at life.

I feel as though I have been reborn, and am learning to love my body, and myself, all over again. However, this is a plea rather than just a story to read. If there is someone that you know that is suffering with body confidence issues, help them. Listen to people; allow them to show you who you are before basing your entire judgement on them based on how they look. I learnt it the hard way and was left scarred, literally, through my journey, but I wish that people would think before they spoke. I’m learning to eat well, think well, and to forgive both myself and those around me for the past.

Your body has been entrusted to you by Allah (swt), it is an amaana, and so we need to learn how to look after it accordingly. That being said, it is never too late to learn that and we need to help those who need our help to realise that, without fat shaming and making them reassess the important things in life.

And to all those aunties, it’s all-good, our door was never open to you and your superficial family members anyway, and it never will be!