Hijab and Body Shaming and How I Overcame it by Jinan Shbat
Posted on May 17, 2015
It could be with emergence of social media, but I’ve noticed many posts regarding women’s bodies. Especially with summer just around the corner. Articles discussing body-shaming, diets for the “perfect summer body” and exercise accounts on Instagram are all I have been seeing lately. It seems that society wants us to be concerned with just one thing: how we look.
If I were any other person than myself, maybe these things would bother me. I also am aware that anything on social media or television is fake, doctored with lighting and Photoshop. So these things have never really bothered me. My female friends don’t believe me. They can’t fathom that I can look at a glossy magazine with images of perfectly sculpted models and not feel the tiniest bit jealous. But in reality, we could all look like that, if we starved ourselves (as some models are required to do; look at the VS models’ routine before the show each year), had personal trainers, and were photo shopped in every picture we took.
Countless people over the last 2 years have told me how much weight I’ve gained. Some people will even go as far to tell me I was “more beautiful” when I was thinner. Which to me speaks to a larger issue about how we perceive beauty in our society (and that’s another topic in itself). Body-shaming has become so typical in our society, especially on social media- where people feel confident to shame others freely from behind a screen. Most people don’t realize the awful effects that words have on someone’s self-esteem. I have seen body-shaming for women who are larger, and even some who are thin. Comments like “eat a cheeseburger” or “stop starving yourself” are just as hurtful. Some women are thin because that is just how their body is.
Here is the thing about body-shaming; what you are saying about others is ultimately what others are saying about you. Have you ever stopped to think that some women envy your body as much as you envy theirs? My best friend and I are always going back and forth on what we wish we had from each other’s bodies. I want her thighs; she wants my height. We always want what others have, but when are we ever going to happy with ourselves?
I started wearing hijab at the age of 14, so what I am about to say may not apply to all hijabis. Starting the hijab so young really gave me a long-term perspective on my body, and the relationship between what I wear and how I view my body. When I was younger, I was much, much thinner than I am right now. Clothes used to just hang off of me, and even when I tried to make things more fitted, they still hung like a sack. As I grew older and my body changed, my style stayed the same. I always made sure my shirts were long and fell at least to the tops of my thighs, and my pants were never too tight to the point I couldn’t close them. I started wearing more skirts and maxi dresses, because they felt the most comfortable (especially in the summer).
I had formed the habit of modest clothing long before I gained all that weight; before the curves of my body began to fill up. So I felt uncomfortable in too-tight clothing, or shirts that rode up when I raised my arms. And because I still dressed modestly, my body image stayed the same. People couldn’t tell I gained weight, and even though I knew I did, I would try and dress the best I could, since dressing up was a way for me to feel better about myself.
Maybe because I was always taught that it is what counts on the inside that matters most in a person, my weight gain and body changes never bothered me much. Of course, I get frustrated when clothes no longer fit. However, I never feel bad about myself, or wish that I was thinner. It has motivated me to learn more about my body, and how it changes as I continue to grow older. I maintain a healthy lifestyle with fresh food and moderate exercise. But most of all, I only point out my positive traits when I look in the mirror. It is so easy to point out our flaws: wide hips, extra fat around our middle, double chin…but there are ways to be positive. And that will benefit us more in the long run.
I’m not saying that I don’t have insecurities. That would be a lie. I just choose not to let them take over my life. If I dwelled on the pounds and inches I’ve gained, or the fact that I don’t look the way I did just 2 years ago, I would be miserable. And I choose not to be. I choose to be happy, and healthy, and to enjoy every day regardless of what I see in the media around me. Because those images do not define who I should be. I know my self-worth lies in who I am on the inside, which is what my hijab has taught me throughout all these years.