Trigger Warning: Eating disorder

I am fat.

Yes, I called myself fat. The fact that you are likely shocked right now is proof of how we view individuals who do not fit “standard” beauty ideals. Society (and by society, I mean white and Western societies) portrays fatness as something that is disgusting, that is a health hazard, that is something to turn our noses up at, as though those who “care about themselves” would not be anything over an “average” BMI. Fatness is seen as being against beauty.

But why can’t I be beautiful, too?

This culture of snobbery about beauty standards has wiggled its way into the Muslim community. If you go on almost any Muslim fashion site, Youtube, or Instagram, and are looking for a Muslim woman celebrity who is fat or even the average size for an American woman (debatable between a size 12 and 16), you are destined to fail. My search for images of Muslim women who even resemble my body type has been futile.

When I wore hijab for almost two years, I was frustrated that I would get sneers for wearing skinny jeans or a regular shirt because my derriere or my chest is not small and are revealed by wearing anything that isn’t an abaya, maxi dress, or long skirt, and even then it is visible. Searching for clothes that were considered modest and fit my body type was a challenge, and I constantly felt like I was othered because of it.

Hijab was a struggle in and of itself. I would watch hijab and turban tutorials, only to find women with strong jawlines and high cheekbones whose faces could work with almost any style. My face, however, chubby-cheeked and oval-shaped, restricted styles that were flattering these women.

When I was in high school, I had lost thirty pounds over the summer between my sophomore and junior year. I had lost the weight through exercise that I was able to do every day since I had no other obligations, but when I returned to school, I found myself afraid to gain weight. I began restricting how much I ate on a daily basis, counting pieces of cereal that I’d consume and using measuring cups to make sure I was eating exactly the serving size and staying within my restricted calorie diet.

Sometimes, if I went over the limit, I would panic, drink a gallon of water and workout in order to burn off those calories. This process was not healthy for me. I was fighting so hard to keep myself thin and continued to feel ugly. I felt like my thighs were too big, my stomach had a pooch, and my face wasn’t thin enough, even though I had gaunt cheeks and was being told by my doctor to gain some weight back.

After college, I had regained my weight and more. Much of this came after deciding to wear hijab, and I feel like, in some ways, I had allowed myself time to learn to love myself and my body, though the Muslim community did not reflect their support. It is still a struggle I face, and feel as though I am not welcome in a masjid because I don’t fit the ideals of what a Muslim woman is supposed to look like at my age.

I hope to one day be able to see Muslim women of all sizes, races, and ethnicities represented in the Muslim community and that our idolization of Western body standards – whether it be thinness or whiteness – ends. These societal norms are dangerous for women, Muslim or not, and while Muslims often preach about wanting to fight Western influences in many ways, we continue to worship these ideals without even regarding their implications that they have on Muslim women and will continue to effect coming generations if we do not un-learn these problematic concepts.

While I am struggling to lose weight due to personal health issues related to my weight, I have realized that I don’t need to weight x pounds to be happy and I’ve un-learned many of the stigmas put onto my body.

Through my struggles, I have come to learn to love myself.

  • Luca Alexander

    Luca Alexander was born and raised in Wisconsin and is currently in their final year of studies at Tufts University, pursuing degrees in both Religion and Middle Eastern studies. A “second generation” revert who took their shahada at nineteen, a decade after her mother, Luca hopes to pursue a graduate career in Religious or Islamic Studies with a focus on conversion, gender, and sexuality. Throughout their career at Tufts, they have been active in the university’s Muslim Student Association, Mixed Martial Arts Club, CAFE, the university’s interfaith dialogue group, and performed several spoken word pieces at various events. Luca is also currently a Case Management Intern at International Institute of New England, which provides resettlement assistance for refugees and asylees from all over the world. You can follow them on Twitter @LucaRNAlexander.