What’s your favorite cosmetic’s brand that I should try out next?
Black Muslims in America
What’s your favorite cosmetic’s brand that I should try out next?
Because I’ll be traveling all week, I just wanted to drop in and show you my latest work from the summer. I was flown to the UK, not once but twice, to shoot commercials for Simply Be UK.
Ya’ll know that I started my blog back in 2013 because I wanted to fill a gap. I wanted to show the world that beauty didn’t have a standard. It had no age, color, or religion.
I’ve always expressed my identity through fashion.
I was the Muslim girl who would wear black nail polish and black lipstick to prayer on Fridays and get shocked and disapproving looks from other Muslims. I was the girl who would cover her eye lids with glitter and stick flowers in her hijab while friends either made fun of me or told me that “big girls were always looking for attention”. I was the girl who always wore what she wanted on her face and body despite what people said.
I look back at all the people that talked shit about my makeup and clothing. Called me a clown and other discouraging names. They are either in my inbox asking for styling advice or now watching from the sidelines as I rise *sips tea*
Had I listened to their ridicule, had I wavered and changed who I truly was to please them, I surely wouldn’t be standing here shooting whole ass commercials 😂. I want to let you know that you don’t have to be an Instagram model to feel confident with your body. You don’t need a small waist, long weave with baby hairs laid, pale skin, clear skin, narrow nose, big booty, or long legs to feel beautiful.
You can start right now.
What makes your feel beautiful?
It’s my 5th year blogger-versary, y’all. *Tosses Confetti*
Damn, I’m old.
This week back in 2013, I decided to start another blog (the two previous ones had failed). I had no clue what I was doing. No fancy camera (just a grainy ass android). No experience in styling or makeup.
Drake said he started at the bottom, girl, I started way beneath the bottom.
I was married to a man who didn’t support what I was doing. He hadn’t understood my purpose, my vision. He wasn’t the cheering section that I thought and needed him to be. He did the bare minimum. I had to push myself and pick up the slack.
When I first hit the scene as a baby blogger, I was glared at by not only straight-sized bloggers, but the plus-size ones as well. I wasn’t good enough to be in their groups. I wasn’t good enough to be included in the photos with their fancy DSLR cameras. I was the newbie on their little turf and was underestimated. They hadn’t thought that I’d be the most successful blogger in Detroit, who’s not only been featured locally but nationally and internationally. If you are one of those people reading this, how does those apples taste?
I hadn’t told my family because they didn’t understand why I couldn’t ‘use my degrees’ to get a real job. Work a job I hated for 30 years and not ever make a difference. I couldn’t do that. Not for them, I couldn’t.
I was made fun of. Told by Muslims that I should blog about religion instead of fashion, that what I was doing would embarrass my husband and that it wasn’t fitting of a Muslim woman to ‘model’ and wear makeup. That I shouldn’t bring attention to myself. I did that shit anyway.
I was picked over for white bloggers with way less of a following just because ya know, I wasn’t white.
For some hardheaded ass reason, I persisted. I paused, but I never, ever stopped.
The reason I started Beauty and the Muse was because I needed an outlet for my creativity, my pain, my voice. I wanted to be what I never got growing up. I wanted to see proper representation that the media fails to acknowledge. I wanted to be the change I wished to see. Instead of talking, I chose to do.
So, here we are. Five years later. It’s been a helluva ride. So much has happened good and bad. But, mostly good.
I want to leave you with a bit of inspiration. If you want something, then go get it. Do not ask for permission. You will be your own biggest fan in your journey to creating the life that you want to live. Do not ask for permission for the reigns that control your life. It’s already there for the taking. So, what are you waiting for?
In celebration of my anniversary, I’m gifting you with a dope ass video with the song titled “Fuck They” by Sofi Tukker because who wouldn’t want to celebrate a carefree, Black, fat Muslim living in her truths.
Question, what year did you start following me and what made you follow?
***Shout out to Daniela Lisi for thuggin it out with me to make this video very late at night.
Know what it feels like to be silenced for your entire life? Feel as if you’re trapped inside of your own body? Never being able to live up to any of the standards that are set forth from society, religion, a parent, social media?
That was me.
It seemed as though because of my vast intersectionalities (being Black and female), right from the womb I was told to keep my mouth shut and that my feelings were invalid. I was told that I’d have to always play by the rules, come in second, sometimes third, and be content with that shit. Always smile although pain is right beneath the surface. No one wanted to hear one complain about how hard life was. No one wanted to hear about anxiety or depression or body dysmporphia. If you prayed harder, was a better person and Muslim, then you surely wouldn’t have those sorts of issues.
Seems like a lot of us are living in denial. And, that we have a ton of projection going on of insecurities. Seems like a lot of us play it too safe and become resentful when others break out of their shells.
Well, I’m here to tell you that no one gives a fuck about your feelings.
After decades of seeing thin white girls on movies stick their fingers down their throats after purging and so wanting to be that thin and that beautiful and acceptable and that white with a skinny tush, I ate and ate and ate then scrambled to the toilet to regurgitate all the ‘bad’ foods and to my dismay, my gag reflex was too strong, so I was forced to be more fat and absorb all the empty calories.
I was dressed like a boy growing up because a Muslim girl is supposed to be modest, chaste, virgin, and unscathed by the harsh, harsh world. Men wouldn’t want to look at me sexually because I had on a huge tee that covered me like a fuckin bed sheet. Always had to worry about where a man’s eyes were. That’s the main concern. Are you too sexy? Are you asking for it? Did she deserve it?
Fat folks don’t deserve to slay. Fat folks need to cut their stomach in half, so they can be thinner with body issues and not fat with body issues. Because fat is bad. And thin is good. Fat is bad. Thin is good. Fat is bad. And, thin is…
Ya know there is one day when a person is fed up, and everything just stops.
And, you come to the realization that nothing is real. Nothing is set in stone. That the sun could just come a centimeter closer to earth and we’d all be fried to extinction. So, if that’s the case, then why are you living to make other people comfortable with you? Why are you ‘waiting’ to start your life?
Discomfort is temporary.
Discomfort is growth.
Growth is necessary.
I make people uncomfortable with my mere presence. That fact tickles me. That my presence, my essence is that powerful.
I won’t be apologizing for my mere being. For being fat. For being Black af. For being Muslim. I’ve said sorry enough by assimilating. By keeping quiet. By accepting abuse and ridiculous requests. By wasting time thinking about how dumb I sound or if I’m dimming someone’s flame because mine blazes so fierce or if this is all an illusion and I fall flat on my face instead of soaring. Maybe I’ll soar.
Actually, I’m not sorry at all for being myself, I’m unapologetic, and it’s only gonna get better.
I really hate the internet sometimes. Seems like in every crack and crevice is a someone lurking in the shadows to call you out on a misplaced period or find a sliver of your ankle meat showing so they can immediately tell you that you are soooo not a Muslim and to immediately remove your hijab because you are disgracing Islam.
Last week, I had to block multiple Muslim sisters who felt the need to tell me that I’m haram (forbidden by Islamic law) and the things that I do are haram. Mind you, these are folks that have followed me. I’ve been called haram for the most part of my life. And, the things that I do are most likely looked down upon in a traditional sense. That’s totally fine. I get it. There are certain rules in Islam that I just don’t abide by. Modesty is one of them. My clothes are way too tight. I don’t cover my neck. Heck, you might even see some arm meat once in a while. My face is usually beat to the gawds *tongue pop*. I could lie and say that I’m working on it just to appease the Haram-Police, but I’m not. I’m not working on my level of modesty. Why? Because I don’t want to right now.
One girl direct messaged me saying that men could ‘see me’. That she was all for my Black Muslim empowerment but she thought I was taking my freedom too far and she hadn’t followed me for that purpose…
Another said that I was sinning so hard that I should just take my hijab off.
Leah V, you are such a bad Muslim that you should take your hijab off. Just throw the whole hijab away. It’s so sad and so funny simultaneously. I kinda want to make a parody of reasons why Muslims tell other Muslims to take their hijab off.
OMG. You’ve stepped into the mosque with your left foot. Take your hijab off!
You prayed way too fast. Take your hijab off!
You ordered a chicken sandwich on a Tuesday. You know what? Just take off your HIJAB!!!
It’s mind-boggling that someone would tell you to sin again because you already sinned once. So, basically, what they are saying is that when you do something wrong, there is no coming back. Just quit. Because you’ve failed. And, if that ideology is true then they are far less of a Muslim than I thought.
The reason why I’m writing about this is because I was triggered, and I know many other hijabis (and non-hijabis) who go through this daily.
For many years, my body has been heavily policed. I’ve never been Black enough. I wasn’t thin enough. And, I was never Muslim enough. Even when I tried to be super-holy Muslimah, it never was enough. During those times, I wasn’t even dressing modestly for Allah (swt) I was doing it so no one from the community could call me a whore or a slut. I was doing it so my mom would think I was a good and abiding Muslim girl. I did it so my ex could be proud of how outwardly Muslim I was.
Many of us miss the point of Islam. We aren’t doing ‘good’ things to please people. We do them because we love Allah (swt) and because good things boost our spiritual connections. And, your ‘good’ isn’t one size fits all. Your good can be so many things. Being a Muslim isn’t a one size fits all and it’s definitely not I-shame-you-into-submission.
The Muslims, people that like to shame others, the ones who circle around your head like a crow waiting for you to do something ‘haram’, and the ones who project their own insecurities onto you don’t deserve your or my time.
I’ve just gotten to a point where I’m okay with me.
My hijab, or lack of, is my business. I can wear the hijab, an abaya, and even a veil, and be Muslim. I can wear no scarf, shorts, and a tube top, and be Muslim, still.
And, if you don’t agree, then peace be unto you. But, your negativity won’t stop me from practicing.
Are Muslims supposed to cover, be modest? Yes. Do we do it all the time? No. Why? Cuz we’re human. And humans do what they want to do at the end of the day. Let my struggle be that, my struggle. Let my spirituality, be that. My spirituality.
I’m not obligated to share with you how close or far I am from my religion.
I find it odd that Muslim men never get policed as much as Muslim women do. They can go out into the world and be anonymous, when hijabis are visible and at risk. We’re the ones getting attacked and we still wear hijabs faithfully and rock our religion with poise and confidence.
I’m tired of people policing my faith and the faith of others and telling me to take off my hijab.
You think I’m not Muslim enough. Well, that’s your right and prerogative. Delete me. Think I’m not representing? Delete me. Think I’m a bad role model? Delete me. No hard feelings. Honestly. Why follow someone you don’t think is living right? I’m so shooketh, but also not really. LOL.
Who else has experienced such body policing? We need to put this all on the table. Let’s chat.
My body has done some pretty amazing things lately. I mean, some things that I’d never thought it would do. It breathes for me when I sleep. It’s able to do an hour of cardio without stopping. It has allowed me to successfully complete a five-city college speaking tour. And, yeah, in between those good times, it’s been achy, moody, and fatigue, but it still pushes even when I’ve given up.
Do you ever take the time to appreciate your body?
There was a time for me when I hadn’t. I fully underestimated my body, my self. I fully allowed others to dictate how I viewed it, how I treated it. I policed its every move to the point of self-harm and self-hatred. I loathed everything about it. The way it spoke, the way it awkwardly moved and hid itself in the shadows of beautiful, thin people. How the light drained from it once I stepped on a scale and saw that the first number started with a 3 instead of a 1. The ‘you shouldn’t eat that’ and the ‘you shouldn’t wear that’ crumbled me to the point of extinction.
I couldn’t find one part of me that was acceptable, beautiful, worthy. What a cruel life to live. Walking around like an insecure shell of a human. That was me. For many years. An empty vessel filled with worthlessness.
How many of us are walking around like that right now? With our heads down, scanning the internet for #Thinspo and #BodyGoals. In search of the next quick fix DIE-t plan and flat tummy tea. Scrolling aimlessly through a Kardashian’s feed, pinpointing all the spots of skin with no stretch marks and wishing our thigh gaps could be as wide. Adding seventeen different filters to a selfie that we took out of a hundred selfies that all look the same. Swipe left. Swipe right. Swipe left. Swipe right. That’s my better angle. Hiding double chins and smoothing out cellulite from an app we paid 2.99 for. Comparing ourselves to the perky-breasted super-model on the cover flap of a popular magazine without knowledge that she has an entire team to make her look so ‘picture perfect’.
Comparison is the thief of joy.
I, too, have fallen into the media trap where I’d fallen so deep that I couldn’t get up. One perfect page leads to the next perfect page and I’ve found myself comparing and contrasting my body to hers. Wishing I could have some of what she had. This perfect Insta-Model has got it all. And, I had nothing at all. Why had she been so lucky?
One day, I decided to not compare myself to others. Well, not completely, but much less. It’s humanly impossible to not compare. Less is better.
One day, I asked myself what if I loved and appreciated my body how it was in that exact moment? What if I worked on being healthy and strong and built my endurance, instead of weighing myself twice a day and starving to the point of migraines? What would it look like to accept my body as is?
I hadn’t known what it looked like because I’d never seen it before. But, I was willing to try.
I started with looking in the mirror instead of passing them by. Avoiding them. I started dancing in public. Instead of dancing on the sidelines, I moved to the middle where the action was. I became less aware of my jiggly parts. Thin bodies hadn’t jiggled. So, I was always conscious about my folds moving when I moved. That had to stop. I took selfies and I posted them. I tackled my insecurities head on and exploited them instead of hiding them. I told people to look at the parts that I tried so hard to hide. I claimed those parts, no matter how upsetting they were.
Why had they upset me so much in the first place? Because they hadn’t fit into the mold of traditional beauty? My jiggly parts, my spaced teeth, large forehead, wide-set toes, and hip pockets weren’t considered beautiful. They were very much so the opposite attributes of beauty that we seen growing up.
I hated myself because everyone told me to.
But, I had a choice. And, I chose to live life with my body as it was.
Many of times we go on these rants and raves about finding the answers to life’s questions. We go on these quests to figure out the root of our happiness. When the answer is always within us. It’s there the entire time. We just have to go through the process of internal self-discovery. And, that means making the choice to do something different. Making the choice to pull ourselves out of the loop. To view it from a different angle.
The first time I went to NYC was in 2013. I had just started blogging and planned to crash New York Fashion Week. My ex, at the time, worked for an airline. So the flight was free. I packed peanut butter crackers and waters on my carry-on bag. I had about 10$ to spend on food. The crackers and water was my breakfast.
I slept in a hostel, on the top bunk, in a room filled with drifters. Each night stay was 19$. I clutched my belongings to my chest as I slept.
But, I was in New York though, and I was humbly building my brand.
The next time I visited. I was still broke. But, this time, I had met someone who offered me lodging. After the fashion show, I went to her place only to find out that her home was infested with roaches. With no money, I found a clean spot on the couch upstairs and hoped for the best.
Five years later, I was flown to New York. I had shoots set up. Meetings with brands. And video collaborations. I was being paid. No uncomfortable bunk beds or roaches or water and crackers.
For some reason social media has made life look easy. They’ve caused people to see the accomplishments without the struggle. You can question where I’ve come from or how I’ve gotten to where I am, but you cannot deny that I’ve put the work in.
At the end of the day, like my friend, Madinah says: You will NOT outwork me!
Here’s a video, proof of a fat, Black, and very Muslim Girl from Detroit against all odds in New York making a fashion video on her terms. Just as unapologetic and carefree🤸🏾♀️
Share your struggle and tell me where you are now? Let’s chat.
Location: New York
I was flown to Columbia University in New York last week by the Muslim Protag Student Organization to speak on a panel about how body-positivity and fashion related to authenticity in today’s times. Although very nervous—as I always get with speaking engagements—I felt right at home as the mainly student filled room interacted positively when I advocated about being an ally for Black Muslims, Muslims who’d been hushed by the media, fat people, disabled people, and dark people.
I told them to feel free to snap their fingers or to whip their turban or hijab back and forth if they heard something that I said which resonated with them.
And, girl, there was a lot of whippin and snappin going on.
Someone asked me about being an openly Muslim blogger, who also happened to be Black and fat, and how I remained authentic in that space.
For some reason, all the ‘Perfect Hijabi’ bloggers popped into my head.
I responded, “Hmm, I’m not sure I want to say this here.”
The crowd gassed me up. Shouting, “Say it. Say it!”
“You know I’m really tired of the Hijabi bloggers being so damn perfect. Like, come on. They are all thin, usually white passing with the perfect wardrobe and the most perfect pastel Instagram aesthetic. They have the most perfect husband with the most luxurious and conditioned Muslim man beard. And they have like a ‘get into heaven’ free card because they are just the most perfect human beings.” I rolled my eyes and laced with sarcasm, I concluded, “I want to be like that one day.”
Eyes widened, jaws dropped, and laughs erupted. I heard claps and snaps. And, some even flew out of their seats.
No one had said it out loud until that moment. Said what we are all thinking in our petty little heads. Why do Muslimah influencers feel the need to push this oh-so-perfect agenda off on others?
And, I get that one could argue that being ‘too real’ can add to Islamophobia and that the world doesn’t need to see Muslims in a ‘bad light’. Ever since 9/11 occurred, Muslims have felt the need to put on this perfect persona so that others couldn’t stereotype them. Mistake them as aggressive or too Muslim or radical or oppressed. One of those Muslims that they saw on TV blowing up things and carrying curved swords and screaming ‘Death to all AMERICANS’.
On top of the pressures of remaining perfect in the public eye, we have community-rooted issues of how a Muslim woman should be within her family as well as the community. And these circumstances vary, not all situations are like this, but I guarantee that you have either witnessed or been in one or more of these situations.
You do not bring shame to your family under any circumstance. While your brother, Ahmad, is out living his best life, you are held to much higher standards. You look the part. Hijab is crucial. You don’t wear hijab, life is almost over and you have elders questioning your religion. Skinny jeans or leggings? Oh no. You are clearly on the path to destruction. Dating? While your brother, Muhammad A.K.A Mo, is bringing white chicks to the family functions. You on the other hand will fall straight into the pits of hell if you even ponder a hot guy before marriage.
Got a mental illness? Drop two rakats. You clearly aren’t praying enough. And, no, I’m not saying you shouldn’t pray when a calamity befalls you, but resources for anxiety and depression are available if you need them.
Other cliché topics that a lot of perfect hijabi bloggers don’t touch are sexual abuse, misogyny, racism, and body-shaming. Of course, because those kinds of topics don’t fit into their pastel social media aesthetic filled with fancy doughnuts and lavish trips to Dubai. Oh, yeah. I’m calling them out.
The reason why the perception of perfect, Instagram Muslimahs are so problematic is for several reasons.
You make your followers feel as if they aren’t good enough, that they aren’t Muslim enough. You create this bubble that just isn’t reality. What most influencers fail to understand is that there are other people on the opposite side of that screen. People place influencers on such high pedestals and will try to emulate whatever it is that they do. They don’t necessarily understand that these photos and blogs and projects are only curated snippets of an actual life.
Newsflash: Muslim girls aren’t perfect. And, we don’t need to be. Perfection doesn’t exist. So, why are we punishing ourselves to attain it? Stop allowing your mom, husband, society to dictate how you should or shouldn’t be. Stop wearing masks to make others feel comfortable in your presence.
Life is about making mistakes and learning from them. It’s about exploration and maintaining an identity. It’s about connecting with your creator and striving each day to be better than you were the day before.
Instead of pushing perfection, which is really lowkey fakeness, try promoting individuality. Let your platform know that this is how you present yourself, but that it’s nothing wrong with stepping outside of the box and creating your own unique path.
Original Post from REWIRE NEWS
We are not only Arab or Middle Eastern. We are not only hijabi. We are not only "straight-sized." Or submissive. We are African-American. Woke. Divorced. Fat. And more.
Muslims have become a hot commodity since 9/11—for better and worse. Our rise to “fame” started off rocky when a few bad men committed heinous acts of terrorism in the name of Islam. And some good ol’ Americans tore hijabs from women’s heads, beat and spat on Muslims, vandalized mosques, and left pig heads on porches—all in the name of trying to protect the United States from so-called “foreign invaders.”
Muslim coalitions, bloggers, interfaith organizations, and even celebrities such as Ashton Kutcher have banded together to change stereotypical narratives of Muslims: the bearded man with a curved sword, and veiled women who are either strapped with bombs or subordinated by their male relatives.
Their efforts have paid off in some ways and not in others (clearly, as in the Muslim ban and continued targeting of Muslims and our institutions). And Muslims, and specifically Muslim women, are trending; according to a March 2017 HuffPo article, the keyword search for “Muslim” on Getty Images increased by 107 percent from the year before. “Muslim women” was not far behind at 83 percent.
But what—or who—do people see in their minds when they think of Muslim women? There are notable hijab-wearing authors such as Tahereh Mafi, activists like Linda Sarsour, on-air personality Noor Tagouri, and bloggers including Dina Torkia.
These women have literally become the faces of Muslim women in the United States, the United Kingdom, and social media. And that’s a problem.
They are all what I call “straight-sized”—not plus-sized—Muslim women who appear European or Middle Eastern. And celebrating them—and them only—paints a narrow picture of the majority of Muslim-American women, just as media, the beauty industry, and countless other platforms exclude women of color.
Islam has deep roots in Black history as it swept through North and West Africa centuries ago. According to the Pew Research Center, only 14 percent of U.S. Muslims are from the Middle East. Forty-two percent were born in this country. Twenty percent of U.S. Muslims are Black, with large communities in many major cities such as Atlanta, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, and Philadelphia.
One day, I decided to Google “Muslim women.” Since Islam is such a diverse religion, I just knew the search would reflect that. On the first page, out of about 100 photos, there are only three African-American hijabis and one African hijabi among dozens of Middle Eastern or Arab women. I had a similar experience searching for articles on Muslim women, finding the blatant erasure of Muslims of color, too. Photos and quotes were from predominantly white or light-skinned Middle Eastern women. Even when HuffPo noted the growing online interest in Muslim women in one article, another featured seven women talking about faith, modesty, and fashion—and all of them were straight-sized women and most were fair-skinned.
The media and many Muslims love to focus on certain kinds of Muslims. Acceptable Muslimahs, I like to call them. For the media, it’s often the “oppressed Muslim.” She’s the Middle Eastern girl who is forced into an arranged marriage, isn’t allowed to drive, and covers in all-black with gloves. They also adore us the “good” and wholesome hijabi blogger. She’s usually a size small, wears pastels, and has about a million followers online. Her photos are perfect, and her husband makes fashionable cameos on her feed. The activist Muslim is usually draped in an abaya or loose-fitting clothes and always with hijab. She can be found making salat or praying on the grass at a rally for Trump’s latest Muslim ban. And, let’s not forget, she’s a fair-skinned woman with roots in the Middle East.
Prejudice and racism are a problem within Muslim communities. No one likes to talk about that because they don’t want to add to the rising Islamophobia since 9/11 and the Trump era. But it’s a sad truth.
Although it is totally against Islam to judge someone based on the color of their skin, it happens more than you think. I’ve experienced racism from Muslims. One time, I went into a hijab store in Dearborn, Michigan, and the owner completely ignored me; when a woman of Middle Eastern descent came in the store, he immediately greeted and assisted her. I’ve also gone to pray at predominantly Middle Eastern mosques and been stared at as if I didn’t belong. There are also countless stories of Muslims not allowing their children to marry a Black or African-descent Muslim solely based on their heritage.
As a Black Muslim woman, I have to fight for accurate representations of Muslim Americans. And I have to fight within my own religious community to hear the stories of Muslims who are African-American, Latina, or African.
The specific bias against African-American Muslims is evident. Since we are treated like second-class citizens in America by racists and “All Lives Matter” folk, others feel as if they can do the same. There’s a superiority complex that a Middle Eastern Muslim is better, more authentic, and that we are “copies.” In my experience, too many Muslims play into the stereotypes of African-Americans: that we are lazy, less educated, promiscuous, and aggressive.
Zeba Khan said it well: “Many Middle Eastern and South Asian Muslims view Arab culture as a proxy for Islamic authenticity, thereby denying the legitimate spiritual expressions of others. Against the racial context in the United States, it’s not difficult then to see how this intrafaith racism and implicit bias against Black Muslims persists. After all, as historian Vijay Prashad explains, ‘Since Blackness is reviled in the United States, why would an immigrant, of whatever skin color, want to associate with those who are racially oppressed?’”
We live in such a Eurocentric society that already tells young girls that they aren’t worthy unless they have light or white skin. Our fatphobic society tells us that we aren’t beautiful if we aren’t a certain weight. That if we decide to wear hijab, we are oppressed. We—Muslims and non-Muslims alike—need truthful representation of Muslim women, especially now as others define or denigrate us.
We are not only Arab or Middle Eastern. We are not only hijabi. We are not only straight-sized. Or submissive. We are African-American. White. Asian. African. Latina. Some of us are feminists. Tattoo artists. Queer. Woke. Divorced. Fat. Sexual assault survivors. Mentally ill. And we all have a story to tell.
All day, I’ve been blocking Muslims on Instagram. Men, women, and children. Most of them from the Middle-East.
Why? Because a modest instablog, Modestroute, that showcases Muslim women around the world decided to repost one of my photos.
In the photo, I am fully clothed. I have on all black. A faux leather jacket because I’m poor. A shirt and a pair of jeans. I also have on hijab and black lipstick. My fist is balled and in the air and my eyes are closed. I originally posted the photo back in the summer to bring awareness to racial and social injustice. It’s a dope photo. I got like fifteen mosquito bites from standing in the tall grass that day during the shoot.
Instead of people liking the photo or just scrolling past my Black face and my fat body, they went into attack mode. Swarming not only the photo on Modestroute’s page but on my personal page. “This is haram,” a Muslim man posted.
“Sorry, but how is this modest?” another user asked.
“She’s gorgeous, but she can cover up more,” said a Muslim girl who hadn’t worn hijab in her profile photo.
“Muslim??? Feminist??? Make up??? Wallahi end of times is NEAR!!!” one person exclaimed.
One user argued, “Her clothes are more modest than many other Muslim girls out there. Trust me.”
“She doesn’t represent Muslims,” a girl said. If I hadn’t represented a real Muslim woman then who was I at all?
On my personal page, the jabs were worse. Users sought out photos and trolled in the comment sections. They said: I should cover my body for the sake of Allah (swt), what I wore wasn’t proper hijab, I was even called a whore and shaitan (devil), and that I couldn’t possibly be Muslim. The last comment hurt most of all. That my Islam was so deeply rooted by what I chose to wear…or not wear.
I blocked so many folks that I lost count.
I’ve written about this before, but I am so very tired of having to validate my Islam. I’m tired of the ‘are you Muslim’ question when clearly ‘Muslim Feminist’ is stated in my bio. I’m tired of Arab-speaking Muslims treating me as if I don’t know the rules of Islam because I’m Black, asking me if I celebrate Ramadan or if I know the Al-Fatiha by heart. Clapping like I’m some kind of circus monkey when I reply yes. Why isn’t just me saying that I’m Muslim enough? When did we move into an era where we have to prove our closeness with Allah (swt) or spirituality? And, why do some Muslims feel the need to be super-Muslim and correct every wrong and cross every T? I feel like we are in a time where everyone is an internet mufti accredited by Sheik Google.
Guess what? I know the rules of proper hijab as stated in the holy book, but I choose not to do it. I choose to wear tight jeans and leggings and turbans and lipstick and nail polish. That’s what I choose to do. And that is my ultimate choice how outwardly Muslim I’d like to look. That choice doesn’t make me any less of a Muslim. I’m sorry to burst your Islamic bubble. I don’t go around harassing Muslims who choose to wear abayas or niqab just because I don’t wear it. Nor do I judge them solely based on what they wear or how they wear it. Newsflash: there are bad Muslims who wear modest clothing. There are bad Muslims who have full beards. There are bad Muslims all around the world. Just like there are bad people all around the world.
When we get down to the root of Islam, there is a way to guide a Muslim to the straight path or correct a wrong. Bashing someone on the internet is far, far away from it. You are not helping me dress more modestly. You are not helping me strengthen my spirituality or faith. You are harming yourself, because who knows, you may end up dealing with a similar situation.
We are so worried about appearances of Muslim women and girls that we forget what Islam is all about. The outer appearance is only a small portion of our belief system. Islam encompasses all levels of spirituality from low to high, and we all struggle with different trials. I may struggle with dress and another may struggle with speech and another with greed.
Should we all just start calling each other haram? Should we all begin trolling one another? Maybe we should check our intentions and understand that there is much more to a Muslim than his/her way of dress.
I can’t believe that I made it. For a long time, I hadn’t thought that I could.
Many of you who have followed my blog or my Instagram feed or even know me in real life understand that 2017 was filled with high highs and the lowest of lows. Having to navigate the world as a freshly divorced Muslim woman who was left with zero. Zilch. After ten years. Separating myself from toxic family members. Being dragged into bullshit by supposed friends, trolled by Muslims, and fatshamed by strange men who knew nothing of me when my dance video went semi-viral.
It has been an emotional rollercoaster to say the least.
As I sit on my bed with two pillows propped behind my back and under two old blankets, I am reminded of 2017 and all its adventures and struggles.
In January, I was severely depressed. Being only a few months post-divorce, no job or insurance, I had no prospects. It was winter, the sun was barely shining, and I fought to hang on. I was still blogging and trying to restart my YouTube page and look for a low-paying job with two masters. I tried to keep myself busy and took a shot at applying for an artist fellowship. It took me a month to complete the packet. But, I did and submitted it.
Maybe I’d get it and maybe I wouldn’t.
Things were quiet. I had to sit with myself. Figure out who I was and what I was made of.
During the silence, I’d cry when I thought about what was done to me. What I’d been through. I started to get spiritual because it was the only thing that was going to save me. My life was spiraling out of control.
I told myself that if I was to come into any money, I was going to book a trip somewhere in the world.
I’d hurt my knee in 2014 at work and the job treated me so badly, claiming because I was fat was the reason why I got hurt when clearly a patient attacked me on camera and I ended up falling over a chair.
My lawyer called me and after three years, they finally wanted to settle. Although they screwed me mostly and my lawyer took almost half, I had money to last five months. I decide to book my trip and live off the rest and try to pursue my creative career.
I was so scared to book the trip to London and Paris. I’d never been overseas by myself before. I called all my friends who traveled, just freaking out. They were just like book the damn tickets and stop trying to control everything. I booked the tickets and almost threw up. Every day, I regretted booking the flights, but there was no going back.
That trip was the most exhilarating thing I’d ever done in my life. I didn’t know what to expect and took everything moment by moment. Hell, I didn’t even have a working phone. I relied on strangers and my own intuition to get me through. I modeled (without an agent) for large companies, got my wallet stolen in Brixton, got lost a thousand times, I went on a date, I ate sushi, and semi-hitchhiked with a Russian. I made connections and I challenged myself like never before.
I came back refreshed and ready to take on the remainder of the year. During that time, I wrote another book. I’d written three books before this one, but they were all Sci-Fi. This was the first book about my life. I started with a story about being a poor fat kid growing up as the only Black Muslim in the neighborhood. Then the other stories began to spill out of me. The real story about my divorce, Mom’s mental illness, and my body image issues.
Musings of a Fat, Black Muslim was written in three months. I didn’t seek representation for it because I was running out of money and needed to look for a job. So, I put my project away. Many months were wasted filling out apps and sending my resume to hundreds of companies and not one responded.
I was being tested and failing miserably.
A few gigs rolled my way and I was able to work with Go Red for Women on a social media campaign about body positivity and health, flown to New York to do a video about Muslim women for Conde Nast, and then hosted the Allied Media Conference’s opening ceremony at the Detroit Institute of Arts.
June rolled around and although I was gaining momentum, I still hadn’t found a stable job.
I started to have very bad anxiety attacks. Like the ones that come out of nowhere. Like the kind where you think you’re going to die because your heart is beating so fast and it feels like a heart attack. And, usually they’d come every once in a while, but they started coming like several times a day. I tried all the techniques and they weren’t letting up. I became severely depressed.
I was quitting everything. The blogging. The modeling. The writing. I shouldn’t have gotten a divorce; I should’ve stayed with his emotionally abusive ass because I hadn’t deserved anything better. I wasn’t shit. My work wasn’t shit. I was a fraud. But, most of all, I was alone.
Withdrawing from close friends, they tried to call, and I ignored them. I was a dark cloud and didn’t want to be bothered. No one could help me, I thought. Finally, my friend called again. I answered. She invited me to the mosque for dinner, it was free, and it was Ramadan. I was broke, so I went.
I sat down at the table as they chatted, happily. The plate in front of me went cold. Their attention went to me. They asked if I was okay. I wasn’t. They tried to help, and I started crying. My one friend ushered me to the bathroom. I told her about the depression and anxiety attacks. She allowed me to cry on her shoulder. I asked her what was I supposed to do? What had God wanted me to do? I didn’t have anything left to give.
“You are not lazy. You put in the work. I see you putting in the work. You’ve gotta let go and give it to him. You’re not in control. Let it go,” she said.
Her words swirled around my head that night. The next morning, I woke up with the heaviness that had plagued me for the last few months gone.
A few days later, the Kresge Foundation emailed me and told me that I had won the Gilda Award, which came with a $5,000 grant, beating out 750 applicants.
I didn’t plan on crying on stage in front of a room full of white people when I accepted the award. I planned on gracefully showing how I appreciative I was. The tears I shed were ones of gratefulness. That for once, I’d been deemed as a prolific writer when not too long ago, I wouldn’t even dare to call myself a writer let alone a creative.
After the Gilda award, I bought a ticket to LA (where I hope to reside one day) and booked a few modeling gigs and met up with the Movers and Shakers. I went to the beach and laid there in a polka-dot two-piece and an Amber Rose cut. Listening to the waves as I soaked up the rays. I started crying again because my broke-ass had been blessed to make it to LA on a coach ticket and find a couch to sleep on.
As the summer winded down, I got a chance to work with Adidas Originals on their EQT launch, I was invited to do several video projects with the city of Detroit, I dropped a body-positive dance video that was viewed by over 200,000 folks and was featured nationally and internationally on CBS, CBS, Cosmopolitan, Buzzfeed, Bustle, and Teen Vogue (just to name a few). I was on local news! I was flown out to the University of Ottawa to talk about feminism and being Black and being fat. I was just featured in Elle Magazine. Yes, the hard copy.
And, the biggest accomplishment was that I was able to shop my memoir around. I sent my book proposal out to 100 agents in the matter of days. My fingers hurt from sending out all those emails. About twelve agents responded. Most of them offered me representation on the spot. On my 30th birthday, I was officially represented by a literary agency in New York. I one-day hope to see my fat ass face on the shelves of your local book store.
I never knew any of this was possible. And, I surely didn’t think my life would take this route, but I am so hopeful about the coming year.
Although, I’m still broke and figuring out how to make a living as an artist, a true artist that is transparent and raw and real, I know that my followers, my friends, and select family members will hold me down. I will hold me down.
My grandmother passed away last week, and we just laid her to rest. She was an avid reader, was photogenic, and loved makeup and fashion, like me. She was a pillar and the backbone of our family. Although, she had her quirks, like every other human, I’m here because of her. She even named me when I was born.
I have no choice but to go forward now. To push twice as hard as I have this year. To do the best I can to continue to show beauty where the media tries to hide it. To advocate for the little voices, the underrepresented, the folks that get shitted on daily. To push unconditional love and acceptance and equality of the sexes. Body positivity. Eradication of Islamaphobia and fatphobia.
To be the fattest, Blackest, Muslim with the loudest voice and the most contoured face you’d ever seen in your entire life.
2018 is gonna be litty.
This week has been very interesting. Well, this entire year has been interesting to say the least. I’ve learned much about setting boundaries, cutting off dead-weight friends and family who are clueless to that fact, not accountable for their actions, and high-key jealous. I’ve learned about drive, about pushing one’s self to the outer limits, where few people go. Fear of success and fear of loneliness. I’ve especially learned the two biggest lessons of them all: reclaiming my time and taking up space.
Last year, I remember asking myself, how can I top last year? How can I make my photoshoots better? My wardrobe fiercer? My voice louder? How can I be more authentic, raw, helpful? Although, I thought I was woke, I was only semi-woke because I hadn’t thought outside the box. Many of us think that we’re thinking so big, but are we really? Whatever you think could happen, could go so much farther, bigger. And, I hadn’t known this until I got to work with Adidas Originals and was flown to Canada by the University of Ottawa. All expenses paid.
I want to talk about reclaiming time (thanks Auntie Maxine!). Now, we all know that you can’t actually reclaim time. When time is up, it’s gone, and you can never, ever get it back. With this fact, why the fuck do people waste so much of it? And, why do folks allow others to waste theirs? We have women who stay with men who verbally abuse them, treat them like shit on a stick, and they stay. Wasting good, vital years on a human who doesn’t even value their time. We have people who allow their family to belittle them, offer surface conversation, hurt feelings, and steal more of their time. Same thing with a dead-end job, how much time are they claiming from you?
Unfortunately, we can’t maximize every moment of every second of the day, and we will have to, at some point, engage in time wasted, but it’s up to you as to how much of your time you waste.
“I’ve wasted almost a decade,” I complained to my sister when I got divorced. “Do you know what I could’ve done with all that time?”
She replied, “You didn’t waste any time. You learned a lesson.”
“What did I learn?” I whined.
“Well, you learned what you don’t want in life.”
And, she was right. I did learn a great deal about what I wanted, what I needed, and what I hadn’t wanted ever again.
Do you ever meet up with someone or go to an event, and wondered why you even wasted your time going? Stop doing that. Reclaim your time. Stop doing things that you feel are going to make other people happy. Stop indulging in activities that you don’t want to do. Stop being friends with that girl that you really don’t mesh with anymore or that dude you feel inclined to be with just because. You are not doing yourself a favor. You are merely passing time, wasting time that could be spent on developing you.
I, honestly, feel bad for people like that. People who only have connections just to say they do or only going because ABC, but have no real interest in it. They aren’t really living life. Life is living them.
I used to be that person. Outwardly, I’d have a hard smile plastered on my face, but inside I was bored, dead, unenthusiastic. Why was I trying to be someone that I wasn’t? Why was I wasting time on relationships that clearly weren’t going to develop into anything but surface shit?
After being hurt by individuals who I tried to please for many, many years, I made a pact with myself. I was going to reclaim my time and only speak to people I was interested in, who I vibed with and do things that I liked to do. No more pretending to fit into this group or be cool with that group. Fuck that! In addition to my ‘fuck that’ moment, I was going to allow myself to take up space. Which meant that I was going to shine at my brightest watt without a care as to who was blinded by it.
For most of my circle, they accepted the Leah V who was changing, being more comfortable in her skin. For others, they started to hold resentment and dropped off like flies, which is fine, because that frees up space for better people to occupy. And, it has.
Sometimes, I get weirded out by all the folks that support me. It takes time getting used to. I’m a traumatized Black girl from Detroit with a trash family and a messy divorce that gets me mad from time to time, so when someone reaches out and is like ‘I got you’, it never ceases to amaze me.
Give yourself the time and ability to reclaim your time and take up space.
It’s been nineteen years since I witnessed the first physical altercation between a man and a woman. Mom and my brother’s dad. Fifteen years since I saw my brother choke one of Mom’s temporary husbands because of yet another domestic dispute. Five years since I, myself, was incarcerated for domestic violence because that boy I used to be married to called me a ‘slut’ for wearing pants. Two and a half years since I was betrayed by him and a bitch at his job who stated he was a ‘good man’. Fourteen months since my messy divorce ended. And, four months since I saw him parading around the local mosque like an idiot, putting on a show for my family.
I counted in the dark last night before I drifted off to sleep.
“Men are trash,” I said to my two closest friends.
The phrase that I’ve been living by for the last year. I mean, I knew they were trash before, but I just couldn’t openly say it since I was married and all.
“I don’t think you should make ‘all men’ statements,” she said. “That’s just not the case since you haven’t met ‘all’ men.”
I rolled my eyes. I mean, I do hate ‘all’ statements because it’s just not possibly true. Buuuuuut, humans make assumptions and have valid reasons of feeling how they feel from past experiences. And, you can’t invalidate someone’s experience, even if it’s farfetched. All you can do, really, is redirect.
You know when you’re doing or saying something it doesn’t seem that bad? I don’t trash men as bad on the internet as I do in person. Like, if I’m chilling with my friends, I will go into my ‘trash men mode’. Why? Because it’s relevant and they do it sooooo much. Trump grabbing em by the pussy, girls overseas being forced to marry old men, female genital mutilation, sex-trafficking in my home state of Michigan. Every time I see a #MeToo post or hear a story about yet another executive pulling his little dick out and waving it at a young actress or witness a hyper masculine douchebag trolling a sexual assault victim on Facebook, it really traumatizes me.
As a woman, I am traumatized by men. To be truthful, I’ve been traumatized by them since I was a little girl. Men scare me. Even now. They could hit me in the face or rape me or pretend they love me then drop me for another girl, or guy. Shit, I don’t know.
I witnessed my first domestic violence fight at the tender age of six. It’s one of my earliest memories actually. I remember just standing there, watching as Mom tossed a computer at him and my brother’s father hitting her. Neither of them cared that I was there. Maybe I had become a fixture in their fucked-up world. What kills me now just thinking about it was that I never screamed or ran away or hid. I just stood there as if two adults throwing blows was a normal, everyday occurrence.
Mom had mental issues. Which didn’t help in her male selection process. We saw most of the dysfunction, if not all of it. In our home, men were disposable. If she didn’t like how they were, then she’d get rid of them and add another to the list. Mom was married about seven times before I’d turned seventeen, and I’m being modest by not including boyfriends or fiancées.
Mom taught her girls, in a nutshell, that men only wanted your body, they only wanted babies, and to use you, so to never, ever depend on them. Never tell them your finances, keep a secret savings because they weren’t to be trusted. Mom never trusted men. And, neither do I.
I’ve become her when I really never wanted to. Deep. I know.
I got married young because I loved him, I thought I could change him, and I was Muslim and hadn’t wanted to sin anymore. I wanted to be a good Muslim girl in the eyes of God.
He brought the worst out of me. He also brought the best, too. Unfortunately, he brought more of the worst than the best.
At first, I didn’t trust him. Slowly, I started to. Then I let go and trusted him wholeheartedly. It took a while, but I’d done it. Growing up the way I had, I never thought it was possible. Then he betrayed that trust, and I reverted back to my old ways. Just like that.
And like an idiot, to curb my pain, I entered the dating scene right after the divorce. Bumble. Tinder. Plenty of Fish. You name it. Trying to flex the muscle that hadn’t been flexed in over a decade. Bad idea! What I needed was time. Time to heal.
I got messages from randoms asking me to ‘sit on their faces’, propositioning me for threesomes, and polyamorous relationships. I’ve had white men objectify me, commenting on the thickness of my lips and thighs. How they’ve never been with a Black chick. I’ve had men fetishize my hijab. Body-shame me. Tell me how intimidating I am because I have two masters and that I might be ‘too smart’ for them.
“I’m a feminist,” I told one dude, while on a date.
“So, you must hate men, then.”
“I do now…” I replied, in my head.
Another guy told me that I hated men. I think he high-key wanted to call me bitter. And, that’s fine. If the shoe fits, right? Maybe it is me. Maybe I attract shit dudes because I’m a shit person.
“Maybe you should switch teams,” one friend suggested.
I cringed. “I’m not touching boobs.”
My other friend, who happened to be gay said, “Actually, same-sex relationships have many of the same problems as hetero relationships do.”
“Fuck,” I said. “Then it’s back to being asexual.”
And, who knows, maybe one day I will trust a dude again. Maybe all men aren’t trash. I’ve just come across some trashy ones.
Recently, I’ve been politely shunned because of the kinds of videos I make and the kinds of things I say aren’t ‘halal’ enough for Islamic audiences. I’ve also been outright told by another Islamic organization that I “don’t meet the needs for their current student body” and was denied a speaking engagement. Times like these I want to move further away from so-called Islamic organizations and communities.
Because I talk about bikini waxing, I’m not Muslim enough.
Because I talk about dating, I’m not Muslim enough.
Because I wear tight jeans and turbans, I’m not Muslim enough.
Ever since I was a young, Black Muslimah, I’ve always felt displaced. No matter how hard I tried to outwardly appear Muslim and fit in, it was never enough to just believe. To the Arab-speaking Muslims, I wasn’t Arab so I was immediately dismissed. They wouldn’t give me salaams even though I’d offer it first or embrace me like they would other Arabs. I was ignored, pushed to the side. When I was in the Black Muslim communities, I hadn’t covered my face with niqab or wore black all the time, so to them I wasn’t Muslim enough because I was chasing the Dunya.
I’d go to the mosque seeking spiritual cleansing just to be stared down for wearing pants or bright colors or nail polish. I’d been told that my prayers weren’t going to be accepted. Basically, why are you even praying was what I heard. I always thought that in Islam, you come as you are.
When I think of Islam, I imagine acceptance and openness and beauty and a sense of calming. Instead, I am met with opposition, fakeness, sexism, and criticism.
I’ve been invited to speak at the University of Ottawa next month about Islam and feminism. I was so shocked that Muslims at the collegiate level wanted me to speak about such a taboo topic. I thought that I’d reach out to other Islamic organizations as well and propose to lecture on topics like prejudice, sexism, and feminism within the communities.
It’s 2017 and with all the community based campaigns that have been going on about tolerance and acceptance, I thought that perhaps some change had occurred.
I’ve emailed about 60 organizations. Not one has accepted my invitation to speak. Will my Black face tarnish the other male speakers or the perfect Middle-eastern or Indian hijabi speakers? Will my turban, red lipstick, and nail polish create a frenzy at your panel discussion?
It’s funny how I’m too risqué for certain Muslims. What uproar do you see when DJ Khaled partners with Ciroc or when French Montana was dating a Kardashian but was openly fasting during the month of Ramadan or how Nouman Ali Khan was playing the field but still keeping it halal? How interesting that communities want perfect, virgin Muslim women to speak, be in the forefront, but men are judged on an entire different level.
The truth is, I don’t belong. And, I’m not sure if I should be sad about it or liberated. I’m too out there. Too opinionated. Too real for the organizations who like keep up appearances. How sad that we can’t include all Muslims in discussions. Include all Muslims in community campaigns and events. As a Muslim woman, why do other organizations welcome me with open arms? The LGBTQ community, the body positive community, random artists, and loners and the small amount of Muslim sisters who rock with me. With no judgment. They care about my character more than my appearance as a human being.
As for me, I’m going to reach out to other organizations that can handle and will celebrate a fierce, Black Muslim girl.
In the summer, i had the opportunity to shoot with host, Sheila Grant from the City of Detroit's new segment called 'Art Detroit'.
I was really nervous, but it turned out really, really good. This 9-min video will also air on Detroit Comcast Cable Network on channel 21 (if you live in the city and want the exact times just comment below).
I encourage you to watch and comment on the video. Let the City of Detroit know that they took a step in the right direction by highlighting a Muslim artist in the city!
Let me know what you think *Squeals*
I was an odd child. Of course, going through an identity crisis of how white I could act or how much percentage of black I was. In between that I was Muslim. During those times, who knew what that was supposed to mean…
I was heavy into makeup way before the makeup boom we see now was ‘in’. When I tell you no one I knew wore it, like no one wore it. You might have seen an occasional girl wearing a light wing line or some clear lip gloss, but nothing heavy. That wasn’t ‘in’. I wore foundation that was clearly too light for my caramel complexion and glitter on my cheeks like a mermaid. People thought I was weird. And, I was.
At that time, there wasn’t any dark eyeshadow palettes. I was a creative kid and had a dark lipstick palette. I was feeling mischievous so I dug my finger into the mixture and smeared it on my lids then on my lips. I was this deep, dark seductress. I think I might have been fourteen.
Mom called my name from the bottom of the stairs. I slowly crept into the light. She gasped. “Amerra, what is that on your face?”
“Makeup,” I said with my arms crossed.
Mom didn’t like the makeup I wore. She didn’t like that kind of expression. She just didn’t get it.
I wore black nail polish and lace gloves. I wore miniskirts over my jeans and heavy eyeliner. I was heavily insecure, but you’d never know. The kind of girl that’d cuss out your grandmother. I was driven and educated. Obnoxious and funny.
For those who didn’t know me, my style stood out. Many Muslims didn’t agree with it. I was deemed a ‘hoe’ because of the way I dressed; when in reality, I was much less of a hoe than their fully covered daughters…but that’s another story completely.
I don’t care what anybody says, the world has been stacked against me and my unparalleled uniqueness. This world, this society, the way it thinks and moves wasn’t built for people like me. And we already know why. We see it every day on the cover of magazines and plastered on billboards.
I’ve never fit into any specific categories of Muslim-ness. Of beauty. Of education. Of Black-ness. And, I don’t plan on it anytime soon.
For so long, I’ve taken my complexities and thought of them as hindrances.
I was tired. Angry. Mentally ill. People were tired of me and I tired of them.
I needed a change. And, in order to change, I had to rewire my entire mindset.
Instead of viewing my intersections as negatively as how others viewed them, I decided to try a different approach. What if I could embrace those differences? Create a path containing my truths instead of someone else’s version of what I should be?
Why is this world so obsessed with making people fall in line? Why aren’t we groomed to think outside the box and embrace differences? Well, for one, it’s easier to control individuals who don’t have their own opinions. Secondly, it’s easier to sell people things who constantly follow trends and feel the need to keep up with the “now”.
It’s so important to always, always embrace your differences, those quirks and idiosyncrasies. They make you original, one of a kind. You’ll have people trying to change your outlook. Change the way you dress and how you speak and how you view the world from your lens. Don’t let them.
People were uncomfortable with my differences then and certainly are uncomfortable now. I’ve chosen to take that core value of expression and exploit it. Scream it at the rooftops. Wear it as a badge. But being your true self doesn’t come without it’s downsides. I get attacked with every new feature that sprouts. I get called ‘fat’, ‘disgusting’, ‘gross’, ‘not Muslim’, among other harsh choice words and phrases.
What these trolls fail to understand is that I’ve been through a hell of a lot of shit in my life. The absence of parents. Friends that allowed jealousy to rip apart our relationships. Doors slammed in my face. Bill collectors on my line. A failed marriage. I’ve already been through hell and back. I’ve been through decades of self-doubt and loathing and hatred. I’m at a place where I can finally be secure with myself and a stupid comment from a faceless nut job from behind a computer screen won’t catapult me back to that insecure girl.
So, to all my weirdos, black girls who listen to 80’s rock, artists, unmarried Muslim girls being pestered by their families, trans, fatties, and dark-skinned individuals who are constantly teased, do not try to fit into a mold, allow your uniqueness to always carry you because the very people who are ‘making fun’ of you for these intersections want to secretly be you…
I use this world a lot. Visibility. Then I always add ‘proper representation’ to that. Not only do I want to be visible but I want to be properly represented in the world I live in.
“Leah V. you’re always complaining,” a troll on Instagram said underneath a photo. “So, I’m unfollowing you.”
And, sweetheart, you’re not complaining enough, which is why we are in a fucked situation right now.
See, here’s the thing. I might not be on the front lines. I may not hold a huge sign over my head that denounces Number 45. I don’t speak at pep rallies or organize sit-ins, but that doesn’t take away my voice. And, it certainly doesn’t mean that I’m any less of an ally than my counterparts. We all want the same thing, but we travel along different routes to make that happen.
Many of you know how it feels to walk into your favorite store. In the window is a huge advertisement. There are several statuesque models with wavy hair and white skin wearing the store’s new skinny jean. As you go farther in, there are more advertisements of beautiful models who look nothing like you. You will never be tall. Never be thin. Or white.
Go into your local Barnes & Noble. Scan through the magazine section. Tell me how many white or ambiguous looking thin people are on the covers. Tell me how many dark-skin Latinas or Asians are on the covers. Muslims? Fat people? People with disabilities?
And, the newest craze is showcasing, and sometimes even exploiting, Muslim women. We Rise PopSugar just made a video showcasing modest Muslim women in fashion. In the 3-minute video, there was not ONE Black Muslim woman. Not ONE Latina Muslim. Not ONE Indian woman. All the women showcased were straight-sized European hijabis and white-looking Middle-Easterners.
We Rise PopSugar isn’t the only magazine, website, and media outlet to ‘white-wash’ Muslim women.
I live in Detroit. Not too far from Dearborn. 1/3 of the Muslim population in Michigan are African-American. But when media outlets come to the city, they miraculously only find ‘acceptable’ Muslims to interview and highlight. We are buried and hidden once again.
Just like in White AmeriKKKa.
We can’t find acceptance in our homeland, but now we can’t find it in Islam either?
I’m 283 pounds.
There. I said it!
In my entire life, I’ve never, ever, ever told my actual weight. Like ever.
I hadn’t even felt comfortable telling people the size clothes I wore. They’d hassle me about it, wanting to buy me jeans or swap shirts, and I’d become enraged that they kept pestering me about my weight and size that I just shut down. “I’m not telling you, ok?” I’d scream.
Funny how life works. How we just up and change, if we want to and if we work really, really hard at it. Never in a million years would I have done this because growing up (and, still today) women and men are so obsessed with calories, portion sizes, and of course, the dreaded bathroom scale.
At my largest, I pushed 340lbs. At those heavier times, since my weight was up and down, but mostly up, I was still modeling and living life. Ayeeeee! But, I avoided scales. Like the plague. I’d go to my thinner friend’s bathroom, shut the door, and when I’d turn around to see a scale, I’d literally jump back into the wall like an alarmed cat. Once I calmed myself, I’d tiptoe around the flat creature and plop down on the toilet. While I peed, I kept my eye on it.
If I hadn’t known what my weight was then I’d be fiiiiiiine.
The lowest weight that I’d ever been as an adult was 143lbs. That was like almost ten years ago, but I can vividly recall everything that it took from me to become a ‘normal’ weight. To become acceptable to society. To get praised by the girls and hit on by the boys. Would you believe that at my lowest weight I still had a ‘fat girl’ mentality? That at my smallest, I felt that I was the hugest human being ever to walk the planet? The fact that I had weighed myself twice a day, had migraines from improper eating to no eating at all, and suffered from body dysmorphia just wasn’t enough to raise a red flag. As long as you looked good on the outside, who cares about the inside. Right?
I chose to be fat and happy, but even that came with its downsides. Unfortunately, as a grown woman, you have to get yearly checkups. That’s when I’d receive my daily dose of reality.
“Hop on the scale,” the nurse said.
I stepped on. The numbers started going up, up, up.
I closed my eyes. I hadn’t wanted to know.
“337,” the nurse announced with what seemed like an intercom for all the staff and patients to hear.
Damn, I had packed on hundreds of thousands of pounds, I thought as she led me to the exam room.
The doctor knocked then came in.
Time for the weight-loss talk.
“You see, you’re at risk for diabetes and high-cholesterol and joint problems.” He brought out a chart and pointed. “See, you’re 5”4 and you are in the morbidly obese realm right now. You should be around 140lbs.”
I sat there and thought about what he said. I was already around 140lbs and I almost killed myself mentally and physically trying to stay at that weight. I wasn’t going back there.
Years passed and I’d lose 50 here, gain 100 there, lose 40 and then gain back 70. I wasn’t very nice to my body. I’m surprised it still takes care of me today.
Although, I weigh myself now, I don’t make it a habit. My worth isn’t attached to the numbers that calculate then pop up. I’m not a chart and I won’t be confined to a category of what’s healthy and not. I don’t complain about my weight. I do not obsess over it and I don’t expect others to. My weight. My body is my business. I decide whether it goes up and up, or down and down.
I’m not focusing on the scale anymore. I’m focusing on being a healthier and stronger me—mentally and physically.
I hurt my knee at work back in 2013. I could barely walk. Then I got surgery. Oh, man, I was in a ton of pain and wasn’t able to be physical for almost two years. After physical therapy was done, I decided to start swimming. My therapist thought it’d be a good idea to get active because I had anxiety and depression over the accident, my marriage, and just my life in general. Winter hit and I didn’t want to catch a cold, so I enrolled at a small gym. I couldn’t even do ten minutes on the elliptical machine. It was a sad day. After, I had done 30 minutes of exercise, my muscles and bones hurt super bad. I was sore for a week, but I went back. I noticed that I had more energy, I was less angry, and more productive.
The following year, I was going through a divorce. That’s when I started going to the gym twice a day to keep from hurting him and myself. To sweat out all the frustration and embarrassment I felt. The gym and lifting weights became a habit, a healthy habit. I’ve been going five to six days a week for over a year and a half now. And, although, I’m still morbidly obese (as the chart states), I am stronger than I’ve ever been. I can lift 80lbs, I can hold my own body weight up, and I can do an hour of cardio without breaks. I’m flexible, I have energy, and the doctor just gave me a clean bill of health (minus the IBS, ugh!).
I have lost weight, but I will not glamourize it. We have enough before and after photos to make us feel bad about how we don’t look. What I wanted to share are the accomplishments I’ve made once I gave up trying to fit into an acceptable weight category. Once, the power of the scale held not an ounce of power any longer.
If you're no longer held back by what's on the scale, I challenge you to share how much you weigh! It'll be like one of those cool 'burning ceremonies' where we collectively release the (figuritive) weight we put on ourselves.
Religion Vs. Spirituality
Depending on what type of guy my mother was married to dictated how religious she was going to be. Which trickled down to how religious us kids were going to be. Or pretended to be.
I can remember a time where Mom was married to this dude that I hadn’t cared for. He just gave me a bad vibe and even as I grew older, I still hadn’t liked him. But it was Mom’s 2nd marriage and fourth serious relationship and as children living in the 90’s, we had no voice or say so.
To the community, he was so Islamic. People looked up to him because he was knowledgeable and knew ayahs (verses) from the Quran like the back of his hand. He traveled in the name of Allah (swt) and never missed Jum’ah (congregational prayer on Fridays). He fasted and didn’t listen to music. He wore traditional garb and had a huge sunnah beard. During Ramadan, he fasted and went to make the nightly prayers.
In the home, he told us that TV was forbidden and because Mom wanted to play the religious role for her new hubby, she agreed. Now, Mom already limited the amount of TV time we had in the first place. They packed both black and white TV’s and the color one that was in the living room and placed them in the basement. We were mortified. No Xena the Warrior Princess. No Hercules, SailorMoon, Bobby’s World, or Power Rangers.
I hated him even more.
Of course, we figured out new things to do in order to occupy our time.
A few months later, I’d come home to see the color TV back upstairs in the small family room. He sat in front of it, cross-legged, dipping incense that he sold into fragrant oils.
I ran to Mom. “We can watch TV again?”
She side-eyed me, then said, “Yes, but not all day. Same rules apply.”
I heard him croaking with laughter in the background. And although, I was happy to reclaim my TV rights, I couldn’t help but wonder why the TV was now un-forbidden…
Mom used to read us the Quran twice a day. Once before homeschooling and then again before bed.
“What’s hypocrite?” My little brother asked during our nightly session.
Mom thought about it. “It’s kinda like when someone says don’t do something and then they do it themselves.”
“Like stepdad,” I said. “With the TV?”
She shot me the evil, mama eye, and I shrank into my seat.
Mom was crying. In front of her sat a hard, gray box where she kept all her credit cards and money for bills. She shook her head. “He took my money,” she said. “He took all of it!”
She hadn’t had to say who because I already knew.
Not only had he took Mom’s money. Our money. But he cheated on Mom as well. Then ended up marrying the lady. Mom divorced him shortly after.
How could a man who was such an outwardly devout Muslim be so scandalous?
I’m not going to even lie to you, I’ve had very traumatizing experiences with the Muslims in my community. And, although, I’ve met some really amazing and beautiful Muslims, I’m still weary. And my guard stays up. I believe I shared in a past post about why I’ve been traumatized and the highs and lows of my iman (faith).
And, before I get into my sort of analysis, I’m not a mufti or a scholar on the issue. This is all clearly an opinion based off my own personal, life experiences. I’m quite sure some of you have amazing and welcoming communities that never have any issues. *Thumbs up*
At one point, I tried very, very hard to fit in with the ‘good’ Muslims. I was doing stuff for other Muslims to deem me a ‘good’ Muslim and not doing it for my creator. The community had pumped our heads with always looking the part that they failed to add the part where we are all humans and we were created to make mistakes and repent. And that we should try to please our lord and not so much one another. On the flipside, if you are pleasing Allah (swt) then others will see it, feel it, and that would/should also please them.
What I got (and many others) from the community was if you pretend to be good and holy then you should be okay. If a sister makes salat five times a day (but in her head, she’s humming tunes to Rihanna’a foulest song) at least she’s doing the movements. If a brother goes to the club and its shots, shots, shots, shots, shots with Lil John, at least he never misses Jum’ah prayer. Oh, and this one is my favorite. He’s an imam (or religious leader) whose gives talks, panel discussions, and marital advice, but he’s in the mosque chasing around girls waaaay younger than he is or sliding into those DM’s. Things that make you go, hmmmm.
And, by no means am I saying that being an oxymoron Muslim is a bad thing, an unforgivable thing, the question I’m posing is where does spirituality come into play?
A lot of my friends are non-Muslim, atheist, or just floating around certain beliefs.
I had a deep conversation with an atheist. He’s a good buddy of mine. He told me why he hadn’t ascribed to an organized religion. And he had some valid points, which I totally agreed with: people use religion to control others and evil people hide behind religion.
We have women in Islamic countries being raped then married off to their rapists in the name of religion.
Slaves were controlled by white men (and women) by introducing Christianity.
Young boys are being forced into being sex slaves in the name of religion.
Female genital mutilation. Cults. Honor killings. Modern day slave trades. The list goes on and on.
We both agreed that the real meanings behind modern day religions can be a bad thing. Especially when the wrong person controls it.
Being a visibly Muslim woman, here was my response to him: Islam is a perfect religion. With all the rules and intentions set out to make our lives easier. Better. Unfortunately, the people are not perfect, and if we were created perfect then we’d be angels. I’m Muslim. I believe in my practice wholeheartedly. And, insha’allah (if Allah wills), I’ll never be anything other than a believing Muslim. Although, I wouldn’t say that I’m religious (meaning that I don’t do all the things it takes to be a devout or practicing Muslim) I’m very much so a spiritual person.
I’m more spiritual in my late 20’s than I’ve even been in my entire life, pretending to pray five times a day or agreeing with what a sexist imam said during a khutbah (Islamic sermon). I actually do less physically and have more of a spiritual connection to my creator. And, with the last two years, I’ve had to heavily rely on Allah’s guidance and mercy.
I knew that I’d become more spiritual when the outer mattered much less to me. When I’d cry and pray in my bed that Allah (swt) would lessen my burdens. When I’d look at the sky and say SubhanAllah (glory be to God). When I stopped judging others for not being what I thought they should be.
With that said, I want you, the reader, to really reflect on your own personal religious and spiritual journey and beliefs. Are you wearing hijab for your husband? Are you praying, doing the movement only to appease others? Or are you really praying to Allah (swt) with conviction in your heart? Are you giving charity so that others can see it and praise you? Are you saying certain things on the internet so people can think you are holier than thou?
I just had an epiphany.
By just being little, old me, by being a voice, using my voice, not giving two flying fucks about what a hater gotta say, I’m threatening people with my very existence.
I’ll repeat that for the ones in the back. The ones that are hard of hearing.
By being unapologetically me, I’m threatening Muslim men who are clearly sexist, Muslim women who are oppressed and don’t even know it or fail to see it, people from local Islamic communities who are stuck in their archaic and rigid ways of thinking, fatphobic individuals, and white women and men who don’t see color with my mere existence.
That’s crazy. Powerful. Odd.
I’ve been hearing things. Noticing things. Taking in the comments, sly remarks, and whispers of those around me. I’d like to think that I’m a pretty objective person when I’m not being completely one-sided. And, honestly, I have no problem with constructive criticism. Stuff that’ll actually help me, I don’t know, grow in some way. But some of the things that I’ve been experiencing lately has been ridiculous. If you’d like to paint a picture of me, then you better damn well make that shit accurate, or as close to it as possible.
I’ll give you a bit of insight without going into too much detail because I’m trying to get to a bigger point here and not dwell in the bullshit of others. A few things I’ve noticed are people either blatantly lying about my character, taking slick shots over the internet when they have nooooo business talking, and attacking me (my content) over social media.
“Leah V.” My friend told me, “As you get bigger, more people are gonna come harder with the faux-ness. It’s the name of the game. People are going to make you out to be some kind of villain. Talk shit about you. Hell, even try to ruin your career. Those people have no life. They are just jealous. You gotta let it go in one ear and out the other. Be the bigger person.”
A lot of stuff I agreed with but I’m a human being and letting negative words or comments just pass through without being affected at some point takes its toll. I also have feelings. Feelings that I try my hardest to protect. What does one do when they take the high-road but other people go low? Take the cheap shots as you sit there and block, play defense? And in most of these cases, you can’t even speak up for yourself because a web of lies has already tarnished your name.
Things like this really makes you wonder why people hide, shield themselves with the strongest of walls, and never put themselves or their work out there. It’s hard, man. This shit ain’t easy. Divulging my life. Admitting my faults. Placing my body out in the open for heavy criticism by strangers. By Muslims. Islamaphobes. This isn’t what I signed up for…
In between rants and angry outbursts and curse words of frustration and sadness, I figured out something. When you have problems or issues or you want to figure anything out, you go straight to the source. So, that’s what I did with one question: what does Leah V stand for?
I stand for equality for girls to be able to do the same as boys. I stand for people being comfortable in their own skin. I stand for having the right to decide how you view your body. I stand for one having the right to practice religion or spirituality freely and without the restraints of man or groups of so-called religious communities. I stand for doing what the fuck you want to do when you want to do it. Being you without rules. Twerking. Getting divorced. Wearing hijab. Being proud. Getting an education. Equal pay. Creating art. Exploring your sexuality. Figuring shit out on YOUR own terms.
The last question was why would something I stand for openly make someone else so uncomfortable?
When I started sharing my work, blogging. I told many, many people that I wasn’t a role model. I didn’t want the heaviness of that title to weigh on my shoulders. That I wasn’t a good person and that no woman, man, or child should follow me. That I wrote for me. And if it helped other people then cool. If not, then I wasn’t going to force it down anyone’s throat. You dig me or you don’t. I keep it 100%
But, see, that’s how they wanted me to think. They wanted me think so negatively of myself that I couldn’t successfully push my work, my stories, my narrative. I was told no, no, no. Write this way. Look that way. Don’t be that. You’ll go to hell with the rest of the rebel women. The ones who don’t listen. I just knew that I was going to hell for the way I looked, the thoughts I had, and my inability to please the other Muslims in my community.
They are threatened by me because I embody everything that they are against. They spew lies because they want everyone to know that I’m not worthy of the attention. That what I’m saying has no merit. Who had I thought I was? Breaking down barriers. Telling little Muslim girls that they absolutely do not have to get married at the age of 14, 15 to an old ass man. Telling them that they could be something other than a mother or a housewife. That they could travel alone and not ask for permission.
When I post a photo. Post a bomb caption. Telling girls to leave that shell behind. I’m doing what they don’t want me to do: empower. Empowering girls. Empowering women. Allowing them the power to make their own decisions about religion, free of constraints, makes them uncontrollable. Free. And the oppressor never wants you to be free. They always want control. And tearing me down and others like me who preach about feminism and equality threatens the control they have over their wives, sisters, and daughters.
I’m here to tell you that although I’m human, I’m also part unicorn. Which means I’m rare, resilient, and easy on the eyes. Trolls, butt-hurt Muslim men, and Islamaphobes won’t silence me. I’ve come too far in my personal life and career to be scared off by some very mean yet personal comments. There’s a girl right now, sitting at home, perhaps sneaking and reading this post or has seen my Instagram feed. Probably hopeless before, she might be empowered, inspired to ask questions, be less conforming, be more herself.
My job as a writer, an influencer is to create a spark, and it’s up to you to turn it into a flame.