All my life I was told that only thin people were considered attractive. Those who had flawless skin, healthy hair, and perfect bodies were winning, while everyone else was stuck under their shadows. If you were skinny and tall- you had it all. That’s all I wanted to be. I wanted to be that perfect person, no matter the price. No matter what I did, I couldn’t fit into the categories. There was no way in this world I could be that person, and no matter how hard I craved it, it wasn’t going to happen. How could I be considered beautiful or even pretty if I looked like this? Plus-size clothes couldn’t cover my sadness. My array of hats and beanies couldn’t hide my white hair. Masks only covered a portion of my flawed face. I had thighs that touched and a stomach that poured out. I was nothing close to beautiful. When would I become beautiful, in the way the world would love me? Was it possible to find self-love for a person such as myself?
My family, extended relatives, random aunties, and the entire world had engraved the false definition of beautiful into my brain. Of course, I knew their definition of beauty was unrealistic, but how come I still wanted to fit their categories? Maybe it is because only pretty girls got a happy ending, while the rest of us were left with hopeless dreams. Take a look at most movies and shows, you do not see a two-hundred-pound female playing the part of a princess. People are still stuck with a mindset from over a hundred years ago. How come the ideal female must look like a plastic Barbie doll?
Within Desi culture, girls who are “healthy” are called overweight or fat. The double standard is very real and if you don’t believe in it then you probably have never experienced it. As someone who was always “bigger”, I was always treated differently, and it was so obvious. If there were sweets at a party, they were hidden from me to prevent me from becoming bigger. Which was ironic as I didn’t like most sweets. If I had too much on my plate or too little; it was questioned. I was always called “mota/moti” which means fat, even if the other person meant it in a joking way. If we were taking pictures, I was always told to be on the sidelines or in someone else’s shadow, as they didn’t want to capture me within the frame. I often felt ashamed of myself – like any of this was my fault. I would see other girls who were skinnier than me and my age being treated with love and acceptance. I realized that no matter how much weight I lost or how I looked it would never satisfy them. I was and would always be fat in their eyes.
As I got older, I assumed this toxic mindset would go away. However, it only got worse as I aged. I always got questioned on why I put so much energy and effort into my studies but never into managing my weight. The first round of the pandemic hit me harder than a train; it wasn’t my fault, binge-watching shows and eating was the way to go. After the lockdown was over, many older folks nicely and repetitively told me I was too big and needed to lose weight to be attractive. This was ironic to me; since I thought Allah looked more at our hearts and actions, as opposed to our appearances. I guess they cared more about what was on the outside than the inside. Growing up, I would see these same people praying and worshiping Allah so strongly and firmly. These were the people we wanted to be when we grew up. People who would volunteer consistently, read the Holy Quran nonstop, and went above and beyond their required prayers. As I got older, I realized these same people would talk badly about anyone for any reason. Nothing would satisfy these people, not even their children. It was as if you tried filling up a black hole- it simply would not be possible. How could these people and even ourselves casually talk badly about someone? Did they not see how it affected the other person? Did they forget their Lord was watching and listening? Did we forget that within the Holy Quran, it is mentioned that “Kind words and forgiveness are better than charity followed by injury. And Allah is Self-Sufficient, Most Forbearing” (Quran 2:263)?
I was the fat daughter, and the chubby one in the friend group for as long as I can remember. Yes- my friends and random people on the internet would comment on my pictures with heart-eyed emojis or cute comments. Of course, I liked them, but it wouldn’t be enough to heal my broken heart. I was so sick of myself, and no matter what I did, all I could see was the evil comments all over me. How could I ever be happy if I dreaded the way I looked? If I got liposuction, could I pretend to be happier? Maybe if I wore bigger-sized clothes, I could hide my figure underneath. Starving myself, taking pills, forceful diets- were there any halal methods I could do to make myself skinny right now?
After a long time of finding myself and understanding my relationship with Allah, I realized two very important things. One is that there is still more to building my relationship with Him and that He is the only one who understands me. If not Him, then who else? Even though some days I don’t like how I look or I’ll be miserable with what I wear, it’s okay because my Creator created me and loves me so dearly. Why couldn’t I find myself to love myself then?
I also noticed that the main problem of self-hate was coming from society and the self-comparison to the beauty standards made a million years ago. If my Creator loved me then why should I let these “standards” make me feel weak and ugly? Yes, it is hard to find self-love in a world where comparison and jealousy lurk everywhere, but the change starts with you. Understanding why you feel a certain way and going deep into its meaning will help you approach how it’s affecting you. This will allow you to accept it and take it by the handle and smash it to the ground. Overall, it is a long battle between yourself and Shaytan. Don’t let him win and get the satisfaction of feeling self-hate towards yourself. You know you do not deserve that, so why let it slowly kill you?
I know I am not the only one who struggles or feels pain regarding the unrealistic beauty standard. The big fat lies fed to us by cruel soulless people will eventually have to come to an end. Maybe not now, but in the future, it will. I hope one day, we all can learn to love ourselves because we are all so beautiful, no matter the shape, size, or color we are. No matter what we hear or what we tell ourselves, we deserve to feel loved. Just like the models on a runway show and the leading ladies in films and shows, we deserve a happier life. We don’t deserve these big fat lies.