TW: mention of eating disorders.
I remember looking in the mirror without my glasses on, and just seeing a big, blurry fuzz. I was happier like that. I was glad I couldn’t see my body — tree trunk arms, thighs that wobbled at any slight movement, and a stomach that hung grossly over the waistband of my leggings. I hated it. I was just so large.
I could blame my weight gain on any number of negative of traumatic events that happened in my life. Maybe I could even pin it on my genetics. My paternal aunts were big women; their weight was often the thing you first noticed when they walked into the room. Their daughters were the same. Despite all that, I knew, deep down, the only thing I could truthfully blame was myself. I had no self-control when it came to food.
As cliché as it sounds, the media really succeeded in building this idea that “thin” equates to “pretty” and “fat” equates to “ugly” in 13-year-old me’s head. I constantly watched fat girls be the punchline of jokes, and the ones that were bullied and ridiculed being the “ugly” character in every book, only to become miraculously “pretty” at the hands of some miracle worker, thus solving all their problems.
The thing that really stuck with me was the usual trope of a number of young adult novels. You know how it goes. I’m talking about the “man never paid attention to fat girl, so fat girl lost weight and took off her glasses, causing man to miraculously fall in love with her” storyline.
No one would ever be able to pick me up effortlessly. No one would be able to swing me around in a field of daisies, and no one would be able to romantically carry me when I was sleepy. So that begged the question, “Was I too big to be loved?”
I’m very grateful to say that although I had such toxic ideals surrounding the topic of weight, I lost it in a physically healthy way. I was able to avoid falling into the deep pit of eating disorders, mainly because I’d seen my best friend go through it, and I had a front row seat for how awful it really was. I started making healthier choices.
“No, I don’t want that chocolate bar.”
“Yes, I’m going to walk the long way round.”
I slowly introduced workouts and more frequent and healthier meals into my life. At no point, ever, was it easy. But it did become more bearable over time.
Slowly but surely, the compliments about my body started flooding in. The jeans I bought that were too small for me before, fit with extra room. My wardrobe started to accommodate labels that said “medium” and “small,” which wasn’t something I was used to. I was happy. Temporarily.
What I learnt is that it’s so difficult to shake the identity of “fat girl.” Technically, that label wasn’t part of me anymore, but I still struggled not to see myself that way. How can I have reached my goal weight, but still be so unsatisfied with my body?
Then the inevitable happened. As the compliments died down, so did my self-esteem. I realized that I had reached a point where I used those compliments to motivate me, to validate me. I didn’t feel authentically beautiful deep down, so I needed others to feel it for me.
I was thinner now, but I still wasn’t perfect. My stomach still got big after meals, because— obviously! My cheeks were still “too chubby,” and my arms weren’t toned enough.
I also found myself in a vicious cycle where I kept finding new things to hate about myself. These were things I’d never even paid attention to before! I hated my nose, my arms, my forehead. This time, these weren’t things I could change about myself, so was there ever going to be a time I actually liked my body?
Although losing weight benefited me health-wise, I realised that the problem wasn’t with my body. It was with my mind that was the problem. It was the way I saw myself. When I look at pictures from back then, although I was overweight, I realise I was nowhere near as big as I thought I was. I wasn’t anywhere close to being obese, yet I’d convinced myself that I was colossal.
The truth is, no one worth your time notices your flaws as much as you do. You’ll obsess over them, and they’ll become all you think about, therefore destroying your happiness for no good reason.
I know it’s easier said than done, but love yourself — Allah worked hard on you.