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
Mai is a media and advertising professional and editor/writer for MissMuslim. She’s an alumni to some of the monster media corporations in New York City such as Starcom MediaVest and Nickelodeon Networks. Mai was born and raised in New Jersey, deeply embedded in the largely tight-knit Arab-American community before recently moving to Dubai and exploring the city as an expat.
What issues have you had with your own body image that you’ve learned to love and appreciate about yourself?
For as long as I can remember, my weight has always fluctuated up and down. Not very drastically, but enough to go through multiple emotional highs and lows, as anyone would. I’m not super thin and I’m not overweight, so any extreme behavior in my eating habits could possibly sway me on either side of the spectrum. It probably wouldn’t bother me or pressure me as much if I didn’t hear the constant comments and critiques of others. Being part of a ridiculously big Arab family with a lot of females, naturally, we’re going to be compared to each other. Luckily, my mother never allowed my sisters and I to fall into the trap of feeling like our purpose in life should be to be thin. I’d be mad if I let every subtle or blatant comment about my physical appearance get to me. I know that if I’m doing what I can to maintain a healthy lifestyle, then it doesn’t matter how I’m perceived by others.
What has been your experience with learning to be comfortable in your skin and love yourself?
Once I began to understand that my health should be my priority before physical appearance, self-acceptance became effortlessly ingrained in me. When I’m taking care of my body internally without obsessively depriving myself, and knowing what habits work to make me feel my best, being super skinny didn’t matter anymore. I know for ME, there are certain unhealthy eating habits and lifestyle choices that physically make me feel like shit, so I stay away for that reason and not necessarily because I’m fixated on being stick thin. (Although, it would be nice to have the “I can eat whatever I want” genes.)
…My health should be my priority before physical appearance…
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?
Again, because I have, more or less, been in a constant cycle of fluctuation and because I’m not very tall, any weight gain or loss is obvious on me. I always feel like someone somewhere is commenting on whether or not they think I’m up or down, weight wise (as if I asked for anyone’s opinion). Just recently, the two nail technicians at the salon I go to were debating whether they think I’ve lost or gained weight since the last time they saw me. Being the bystander to that conversation was fun. I’ve even had someone tell me that if I lose just 5 more lbs, I’d be “perfect,” OR not to lose too much weight because being thin won’t suit me. Imagine hearing variations of those types of comments basically since I was a teenager.
What would you say to someone who came to you about their own struggles with self-love and acceptance?
First and foremost, it’s important to distinguish if someone’s struggles are coming from within or from the pressures of external and unrealistic expectations forced on us. As cliché as it sounds, when you are confident with your personal character, you are taking care of your health, and not neglecting your body’s needs, then you will easily learn that you are more in control of acceptance than you think. I encourage those that want to improve themselves for the right reasons. The journey to becoming your best self is different for everyone so long as you understand what YOUR body’s limits are. The most important thing to remember though is to STOP COMPARING yourself others.
Since these issues never disappear completely, what are some things you currently grapple with and what do you do to overcome them?
I think I had a pretty good handle on any insecurities I had since before moving to Dubai. It is literally the land of make believe. There are more juice cleanse programs, weight loss supplements, specialty gyms, and cosmetic surgery clinics than normal and every other person is striving for social media fame based mostly on their looks. It took being thrown into this scene and witnessing how some people can get completely carried away and become obsessed with projecting this image of perfection for me to feel like I did NOT need to be that way to feel worthy of anyone’s acceptance. I guess the environment ended up working to my benefit and having the opposite effect on me.
In a short sentence or phrase, create and share your own personal mantra for positive and healthy body image.
Conforming is weak. Being real defines your inner strength and character.