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 weekly 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
Meira is a 30 year old Palestinian-American global citizen who is a nurse practitioner and a nursing professor. She is passionate about mental health, global health, and helping people be empowered to make the world a better place. She was inspired to do this #BodyImageProject in order to share her experiences with those who are struggling with self-love and acceptance, to show them they are not alone. Meira wants people everywhere to feel loved and incredible the way they are, because nobody deserves to feel like they aren’t good enough to deserve love and humanity.
What issues have you had with your own body image that you’ve learned to love and appreciate about yourself?
I have always been on the fluffy side, since I was a little girl. I have had periods of time where I went on crazy diets and lost weight, and other times where I have been off track and gained the weight back. At times, it has been a struggle for me to stop valuing myself based on the number on the scale, the size of my pants, or any other superficial construct. I have always felt self-conscious about the way I look when I see myself in the mirror because I am not what most would consider the coveted “Arab Barbie Doll.” Most of the time, I love my curves and the fact that my fluffiness allows me to give better hugs. I have learned to embrace my Meiraness and the fact that I am never going to be petite, as I am almost 5’8.
I also have a big Arab nose, and have been told by people that I should get surgery for my nose to make it smaller because then I would be pretty (according to them). That never bothered me as much because I love my big Arab nose and have embraced it, even getting a nose ring because I think its cute. This is the way God created me, and He makes no mistakes.
What has been your experience with learning to be comfortable in your skin and love yourself?
The moment that I finally learned to stop being a bully to myself, in regards to feeling like I am not good enough because I’m not thin, happened when my friend asked me if I would ever say those mean things to other people. She asked me, “Would you ever call me fat or tell me I’m ugly or I’m not pretty enough or that no guy is ever going to find me attractive?” I told her, “Of course not.” She then asked me why I say those things to myself if I am not okay with saying that to other people? She told me to talk to myself the way I would talk to my best friend. That is when it finally clicked with me, and I had to apologize to Meira for being so mean to her all these years. No matter how much effort we put into eating healthy and exercising and trying to be our best size, we will never get to where we want to be if we aren’t mentally aligned also. I also really love Ashley Graham, because she has done a lot to empower curvy girls and make us feel like we are beautiful no matter what our size or shape.
What comments have you heard over time about your weight, height, or other physical aspects of your experience that have made it difficult to develop that self love and acceptance?
I have heard comments from people about how I would be prettier if I lost weight. One of the aunties in the community, whose daughter does matchmaking for Muslims who want to get married, told my mom and me, “Meira is so pretty, but if only she lost some weight, we could find her a husband!” This completely rubbed me the wrong way because I personally do not want to be with a guy who only likes me for my looks. Hearing these comments has made me even more determined to love myself and to find a partner who loves me for who I am and not for something as superficial as my looks or my size. Looks change over time and I want to love myself and be around people who would still see the true Meira if I was ever burned, or paralyzed, or lost a limb, or any other disfiguring situation, God forbid, la sama7 Allah.
What would you say to someone who came to you about their own struggles with self love and acceptance?
We are all our own worst enemies when it comes to being hard on ourselves, whether for our physical appearance or perceived character flaws. My best advice is to treat yourself as you would treat your best friends and be gentle and loving with yourself. I am learning to see myself through the eyes of my friends and family who see my inner beauty and my pure heart, which they notice more than what size I am or how much I weigh. Listen to those who love you when they tell you that you are beautiful and perfect. <3
Since these issues never disappear completely, what are some things you currently grapple with and what do you do to overcome them?
I do have moments where I don’t feel the best about myself or the fact that I feel like I look big next to my friends who are petite, but then I stop and remind myself: my legs have helped me run to codes as a nurse to save lives and to hike many beautiful mountains. My hands have wiped tears of people dealing with death and those who are displaced. My body has embraced in hugs those who are sick, those who are dying, and those who are in the deepest pits of despair. My body has helped me travel around the world doing the work I love. Most importantly, my heart is pure and kind, and my mind has helped me accomplish my goals in life. When I start to feel bad about my physical looks, I stop and remember that I can see, I can hear, I can breathe, I am healthy, and that none of the flaws that I see as big even are noticeable to those who truly love me. I exercise to feel the blood pumping and my muscles working to keep me healthy. I dance, and in dancing, I have learned to truly be free and accept the body that God gave me.
In a short sentence or phrase, create and share your own personal mantra for positive and healthy body image.
To disrespect yourself and your body is to disrespect God and the way He created you, so honor God and yourself.
If you’d like to participate in #thebodyimageproject and share your story, contact us at [email protected]