I grew up in the 90s where fashion was for the thin girl. For the girl who could wear short shorts and little camisoles. The girl with no cellulite, straight teeth and long hair. The girl who was allowed to talk to boys on her stoop and wouldn’t get in trouble for it.
Growing up Black, fat and Muslim as an adolescent in the ghetto of Detroit was like hell for me. At the time, we belonged to a mosque that was very conservative.
You either wore a black over-garment (abaya?) or an even blacker over-garment. Some even covered half their faces. I was a bit of a tomboy. I liked to ride my bike over rough terrain and venture into the hood forests.
Puberty put me in a chokehold and my weight rose. My 13-year-old mind couldn’t fathom why I was so much bigger than the other girls. I mean, I partook in candy bar and slurpee sessions just like the rest, but I wasn’t a “lazy” kid.
How do you bedazzle oversized menswear?
If you thought that part was bad, it gets worse. I was always into fashion and girly things despite my tomboyish ways with my bike. I loved pink and glitter and short-sleeve graphic tees. Mom had gotten her income tax, so it was time to buy some clothes.
We packed the minivan and headed over to Value City. Mom took my little sister into the girl’s section with the colors and the sparkles. I searched the racks for something, but everything was really small.
When it was my turn, mom led me to the men’s section. I asked her why we were there. I was a girl. Her response, “You need something you can grow into. Something that will cover your butt.” She pulled out a huge ugly man t-shirt that went past my knees. I was a respectful child and mom didn’t play games, so I kept my mouth shut. But inside, I died. She bought me huge shirts and boy pants that day.
I was a Muslim girl whose body needed to be draped in huge unattractive menswear. At the time, I thought I was being punished because I was a fat Muslim. In reality, we didn’t have the money or resources to find modest and stylish clothes for a big girl like myself. I know that now, but I resented her and the entire world for it. I didn’t want to be Muslim anymore if that was how I was going to live the rest of my life.
I put on the shorts…
The day I got asked if I was a boy was when life ended for my younger self. I went to my non-Muslim father’s house and told him that I no longer could be Muslim. Muslim girls had to cover their bodies and I couldn’t abide by that rule. He was elated (since he hated Muslims) and quickly found a pair of shorts for me to change into. I put them on and snatched my hijab off.
I was normal. Still fat. But normal. I remember the ride back to my house. I was so scared mom was going to beat me for being practically nude, but she didn’t. Long story short, I didn’t get spanked and I figured out something. While in mom’s house, I’d have to cover. But what I needed was to be a skinny Muslim instead of a fat one. In my mind, that’d alleviate all of my problems.
Diet drinks & pretzels: My halal menu to skinny Muslim chic
Weight always seemed to be a huge topic in our household. My mother had an eating disorder when she was younger, and those negative propensities grew on us girls. My older sister had run on the treadmill for a whole year and one day she was just skinny. I was 17 and still big. I was obsessed with models and pop stars. No one looked like me, and there were absolutely no fashionable Muslims. None.
So I looked up to the skinny, white, non-Muslim entertainers that I’d never, ever look like even if I did lose weight. But that didn’t deter me. I started starving myself, drinking only no-sugar diet drinks and eating a palm full of pretzels. I exercised like crazy. I hit 148 pounds. No matter how much I starved, I couldn’t get any smaller than that. I plateaued.
I was tired all the time, but I looked good. People told me that I was cute. Guys wanted to talk to me. Girls were jealous. I hit the jackpot! Here’s the funny thing. I still thought of myself as fat. I was small but not as small as the next girl. The dangerous weight loss hadn’t done what I thought it would: Make me happy on the inside.
The year limitations died and pink was revived
One day, I almost passed out at my grandma’s house. She asked me what was wrong. I told her that I was hungry. She fed me. I ate and never stopped eating. I gained all of my weight back plus some. I yo-yo dieted, I tried the one-meal-a-day thing, I tried the pills and I even considered weight loss surgery. My weight went up, up, down, but mostly up. Around this time, plus-size clothes were becoming more fashionable and affordable. Less granny-ish and more Va Va Voom.
I wasn’t 100 percent okay with my body, but I was going to try to dress nice. Since mom dressed me like a boy, I chose every girly thing I could get my hands on. One year, I only wore the color pink. People started to take notice. I was in two categories: the weird dressing Muslim girl or the best dressed Muslim girl. I was definitely fearless with my style as a teen, whether it was modest or not. I was finally feelin’ myself (Beyonce!).
Finding my voice through my journey
In the early 2000s, I wanted to take my fashion to a new level, so I started a vlog. I wasn’t ready for the work it demanded, so I shut it down. In 2013, I tried again and launched Beauty and the Muse.
I gained inspiration from this plus-size blogger named Essie Golden (she still blogs). She had on this amazing dress, a real photographer and she looked bomb! If she could do it, then so could I. Yeah, I was Muslim and I had my limitations, but why not be the first to try something different?
I learned fit, silhouette and attitude, once I mastered self-love. I had to love and accept myself before I expected others to love and accept me. I had to respect and celebrate my body. Why? Because it’s the only one I have. It carries me through the day; it experiences joy and sadness. It creates. My body is a work of art. And I appreciate it, no matter how it looks or how others feel about it when they see me walk into a room. My journey has brought me to this place of self-awareness. With that, I am compelled to deliver this message to you:
Learn to love the body you are in RIGHT NOW. You can’t love a body that you don’t have yet. You can only work on the present and hope for a better future. If you want to lose weight, then go to the gym.
If you want to gain weight, then seek out healthy alternatives to reaching your goal. As a body positive activist, I encourage women (and men) to start from within. I would’ve never been able to accomplish the feats that I have without working on me, from the inside. And the first step is love. When you can do that, the rest will fall into place.
Written By Leah V.
Check out her blog!