The whole culture of trying to get women to love themselves still tends to isolate and alienate women in some way (fat-shaming, skinny-shaming, colorism, etc.). The body image project is a series that highlights what real, everyday women (and some men) have done to develop a positive perception of their physical appearance thus far — how they’ve gotten to a healthy place, what they’ve done to get there, struggles and setbacks they still experience, and what they’re doing to get to a place where they feel the best about themselves and stay there.
With editing by Adwaa
Lulu is 23 years old, works as a librarian, and writes about Islam and relationships as well as the #DailyJihad column for MissMuslim. Her passions include history, culture, yoga, fashion, makeup, ice cream, travel, really good books, and chick flicks. She is currently obsessed with Planet Earth 2 and trying to up her Instagram game (@thousand_caminos). She admits to having struggled with body image issues her whole life, but is determined not to let it define who she is moving forward.
Being half Arab and half Indian made it hard growing up because she did not look like everyone else, but she recognizes this as a good thing in hindsight. She absolutely loves fashion and dressing up – the more glamorous, the better. She also feels that she definitely went through a glow-up transformation! She laughs, in good nature, at older photos of herself now. In her current photo, her hair is straight, but she is doing her favorite thing: eating ice cream. And finally, she states that she does have to keep reminding herself that life is too short to be so caught up in your own ego!
What issues have you had with your own body image that you’ve learned to love and appreciate about yourself?
If I looked in the mirror I could probably point out ten million and one things I hate about myself that I perceive is far from perfect that I know other people probably do not even notice. It is an unhealthy habit to even indulge in.
Growing up, I was always the bigger sister. My younger sister was super skinny (and she still is). I had to deal with the fact that I had baby fat and chubby cheeks and curly hair that was cut into a short triangle shape. What I hated, in particular, was the way my body looked in clothes. In grade 6, and well into junior high, I was at this awkward stage where young girl clothes didn’t fit me and neither did the women’s section! I felt humiliated and out of place and far from perfect. I remember I was in the fitting room of this store trying on women’s clothes and I broke down crying. I just looked at my body and hated it. I just told my mom I wanted to leave.
The biggest thing that pushed me to love my body was (and is) my mom. Even at my lowest low, she was always there to comfort me and tell me I was beautiful and encouraged me to love myself. In high school, I started working out (with my mom) and over time, the baby fat melted off and I felt better. Over time, I also went through a glow-up phase LOL.
I still struggle to accept that my tummy is not going to be flat like the girls I see on Instagram, and my hair won’t ever be as perfect like theirs. But what I have come to realize is that I am healthy and happy and I would not trade my health for anything. I just have to remind myself daily about the things I am grateful for and keep myself grounded and avoid getting caught up in my own ego.
What has been your experience with learning to be comfortable in your skin and love yourself?
“Comparison is the thief of joy.” There will always be someone who is prettier, smarter, skinnier, or richer than you. When you start to compare yourself (and especially in this day and age of Instagram) it is the most soul sucking thing you could do to yourself. So STOP!
It is hard, but I try and keep myself grounded by being grateful for what I have. I indulge in activities that make me feel good like Yoga or Pilates. When I sweat and see how hard my body can work, I feel great. To be brutally honest, I think coming to terms with being comfortable is something that comes with age. I reached this point where I have literally stopped (or at least reduced) caring about what other people think. In my experience, you reach this point of selfishness (which I see as enlightenment) where you realize YOU come first and your happiness comes first. If you can’t love yourself, how can you expect someone else to?
Ultimately, we are all going to die. Why waste time hating the vessel that is going to carry you through the journey of life and spend precious energy when you can focus on doing greater things?!
What comments have you heard over time about your weight, height, or other physical aspects of your appearance that have made it difficult to develop that self-love and acceptance?
LOL… damn. Well, my grandma has been my worst critic (but as I have gotten older, the comments become comical). She always made comments when I was younger about how fat I was and how dark my skin color is. I remember a couple of years ago, I told her I was going to go work out and she laughed and said, “You’re doing all this exercise but you’re still big!” However, I don’t think any of her comments directly impacted my self-esteem. They did not help, of course, but the biggest person that stood in the way of self-acceptance was myself. It was the comments that I made about my weight and body that really destroyed my ability to love myself. I remember critiquing every single feature about myself in great detail and always repeating the same mantra, “If you were thinner you’d be happier” or “If only my stomach wasn’t so fat!” When you think in that negative manner, it is going to impact your mentality.
“You’re doing all this exercise but you’re still big!”
What would you say to someone who came to you about their own struggles with self-love and acceptance?
Life is so fleetingly short. If you want to spend time preoccupied with hating yourself, then you are missing out on a whole world of opportunities. I am a firm believer that if you do not like something, then go change it. Change starts with yourself! And I am not even talking about physical change. It is important to change your thinking. Surround yourself with positive people, follow body positive campaigns on social media (I think they are fantastic), pick up a new hobby, exercise, and eat right. When it comes to the last two things, I am not saying to do those things to be skinny. Instead, develop a new relationship with it. Exercise to see how strong and capable your body is and eat to nourish yourself. And finally, you should know that you are so incredibly beautiful. You are more than your physical appearance. I understand how you are feeling, I have been there as well but I want you to know that you are perfect just the way you are.
Since these issues never disappear completely, what are some things you currently grapple with and what do you do to overcome them?
I hate the fact that my tummy isn’t flat like the girls I see on Instagram. How terrible is that? Instagram can really kill my self-esteem, so I am working on that. And right now, my hair is cut shorter because of a bad haircut I previously had, so I am struggling to find styles that work while my hair grows out. It is crazy how these two things impact my sense of self-worth and happiness! But when I work out really hard and eat right, I feel better about my tummy and my body (it could be a placebo affect). As for my hair… honestly, right now, I hate it – ha. I just put it up and I am praying it grows quickly (#AllahListenToMyPrayersPlease). And when all else fails, nothing makes me feel better than a killer dress, a sexy pair of heels, and when I do my makeup so its #fleeky. It’s a quick fix, though, and not permanent. But it does make me feel pretty damn perfect 😉.
In a short sentence or phrase, create and share your own personal mantra for positive and healthy body image.
Life is too short to focus on hating the only person who is going to be with you till the end. You are perfect – don’t forget that. And in the end everything is going to be OK and if it’s not OK, well then honey, it ain’t the end!