What’s your favorite cosmetic’s brand that I should try out next?
What’s your favorite cosmetic’s brand that I should try out next?
I’ve been looking at my blog and it is a disaster to say the least. Ever since the summer came and went, I have been skipping my weekly blog posts. Having less and less time to spend on long form pieces. Overwhelmed by social media and speaking engagements and trying to juggle the gym and my mom’s hip replacement surgery. Etc. Etc. Etc. I’ve had some really good ideas, but they just never panned out to me actually writing them.
I’ve been writing, but not in the ways that I want to…
I had this amazing idea to get an intern. Maybe they could help me whip it (as well as other things) back into shape. The deadline has past, and no one has responded to my little ad. And, most likely because I can’t pay them at the moment. Which I completely get because who wants to work for free?
But, that’s not why I dropped in, to tell you all about my failed intern search but to talk about some of the issues plaguing me for the entire month of January.
On January 1st, New Years Day, I felt so optimistic about life. The air even seemed different than that of 2018, otherwise cold but still hopeful. All these things were going to happen. Since it is my downtime from modeling and from speaking gigs, I’d have time to get to know me. Do a bit of fat girl yoga. Re-strategize my year and my brand and my life. I was even going to start dating again. Shit was about to be lit!
January was not lit in the least bit. It was bad, so very bad. So low and un-lit and cold and harsh.
It began with some anxiety sprinkled with seasonal depression after coming back from NYC. I was excited to get started on plotting out my business and making it legit, instead of being that artist who hadn’t known how much she made last year or hadn’t had business models in place. Because I am that person. I can’t be 100% creator and 100% business person at the same time. That’s like two whole ass people, when I am only one whole ass but a kinda sorta partial ass person.
I started to freak out. How was I going to do all the shit in addition to creating content? How was I going to plan shoots and send out emails and eat regularly and still have a social life? How, Sway? The answers never came. In fact, more things started to happen.
I was rejected from two major campaigns. One in LA and the other in New York. Man, how amazing would it have been to have some kind of income and also landing a gig, maybe two!
Then I got scared because if those two retailers said no, then how many other no’s would I get? Was my time as a model done? Had I dried up like leftovers in a container that you forgot in the backseat of your car in the summer time? These gigs equate payment. Payments so that I can pay my bills and pay more bills and then maybe get ice cream later on. If I don’t work, then I don’t eat. Then I can’t create.
I might look like I have it all together, but clearly, I do not.
I fell into this whirlwind of doubt. Imposter Syndrome. Other lowliness.
I will never have a year as awesome as last year.
No one wants to work with me because I am not the right kind of fat. Because I am Muslim and I refuse to show my tits.
I am done. My ride is over.
I am not cut out for this. Why had I started this? Delete the whole fuckin’ Instagram app!
I wanted to hide. I wasn’t worthy of being seen. I started writing cryptic posts. I felt like no one cared. Of course, that isn’t true, but it was for me—is for me still.
You’d think that once you start to blow up and get the likes and get the shares and the comments that you’d never be lonely, but that’s not true sometimes. I am the loneliest I’ve felt in a long time.
I’ve had to sit with myself in these last few weeks. In my body dysmorphia. In my insecurities. In my pain. In my awkwardness. In my failures and in those rejections. I’ve had to cry it out. I feel like I’ve cried more times in this month than I have in the entire previous year. I’ve cried because my feelings were hurt or because someone said something so nice to me or just because I watched something sad on my period and just balled for no fuckin reason.
It’s so hard to see the light when you are in too deep. It is hard to have faith when you don’t even believe in yourself. It’s so hard to make lemonade out of lemons. Kinda sorta.
I’m not trying to get all religious on you, but I do believe that signs are sent to us in the form of people or things to give us a little push to keep going.
Mine came at my friend’s going away party. It had been a rough day. People were being shady, and I had to ask my friend after dinner to talk to me because I was out of it and struggling to feel normal. Feel like the fierce Leah V that we have all grown to love. He talked with me in the car for a good hour. Reading me to filth but with love. He made me feel a bit better. I went to the party afterwards and this woman grabbed my arm, gently, looked me deep in my eyes and told me that she could see that I had a good spirit and there was a uniqueness there that she hadn’t seen in a long time. She said it more eloquently, but I damn near started bursting out crying. It has been a long time that someone complimented me on something deeper than looks and makeup and outfits. Her compliment hit me inside. In my core right where my black heart is. It began to beat a little. It softened.
I’m not sure she knew how much of an impact she made on me that night.
Although, I am not fully out of my funk it is better than it was initially. I can finally see some of the light that people be talking about.
And, I know that I am not the only one going through some shit right now and that shit could definitely be so much worse and that we should be counting our blessings and being grateful, but it’s still a time where lack of Vitamin D and sun and increase of just being in the house because it’s cold af is weighing on all of us.
Here’s a few things I’ve done to lessen my mental illness episodes:
1. The “one thing a day rule”. I know many of us—when depression hits—want to stay in bed and wallow and think about that shit incessantly, but you cant only just do that. You gotta do one thing, whether that is showering, sending an email, reading a book, brushing your teeth. Focus on one thing to accomplish.
2. Sit in your own mess. A lot of times we don’t like the discomfort of sitting in our own mental shit that we try to fill those voids with things that aren’t healthy for us. Could be unprotected sex, drugs, abuse of others, whatever. Sit in that shit! It’s okay to experience all the emotions, even the not so cool ones.
3. Reach out. I know a lot of folks are private and don’t want their business out in the street but hey, you gotta let it out. The ramifications to keeping things bottled up is worse when it comes out later and you have no control of it.
4. Be gentle with yourself. You are allowed to cry. (I am talking to myself because I hate crying. It makes me feel like a punk). You are not no damn punk for crying. You are a human being with feelings. A good cry ain’t never hurt nobody.
5. Count the good things that have happened. Life is not all bad. Life has good moments, too. Are you being cognizant of those good moments or are you harping on the bad?
6. Physical things. Yoga. Dancing. Any crazy movements. Arts and crafts. Lifting that ice cream cone to and from your mouth. Anything to get those endorphins up.
So, that’s all I wanted to say. My little update. I don’t have the answers to never having manic episodes or mental health crises. I don’t know how to stop my own. I’m just sharing with you what’s been going on with me, my absence, my life.
I have no clue what I am doing or where I am going. I am trying to learn how to enjoy the process more than the outcome. To be vulnerable even though it scares the shit out of me. To take risks and know that everything is going to work out in the end, exactly how its supposed to.
And, that neither I or you control that.
What’s the best advice you would give someone whose going “through it”? Let’s chat.
A woman put pig emojis under my exercise video last week. Another person commented: “I didn’t know land whales exercised.”
I find these two comments ironic. Don’t most people who care about how heavy fat people are encourage them to go to the gym? Don’t they encourage them to get active? And, then—and only then—can they live a fit and free and thin life. I was exercising for health, and still I was body shamed. Guess large people can’t do anything right. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
So, if this is the case, then why do we try so hard to fit that mold of the “good fatty”? The “agreeable fatty”. The fatty who is always trying to show others that they are indeed trying their hardest to be smaller. Shrink themselves into an oblivion. Accept Susan’s excruciating diet plan once and for all.
Seems like people who are deemed the outliers—body wise, ability wise, color wise—are always being made to feel like they could always do more to “fit in”. And, if they aren’t striving to fit the status quo then they should be made to feel shamed at every waking moment.
A revolution has begun. Where the shame has been shed like the emergence of a fat ass, bomb ass butterfly. I made a decision to stop carrying other people’s shame on my back, on my chest. I stopped cradling it like it was my newborn baby who needed to be nurtured. I plucked that shame bare, chopped it up, seasoned it, dropped that bitch in some batter and fried it.
I’m not carrying the shame others feel about my body being big and not having a thigh gap or not being able to squeeze my fat into designer fits.
This is me. Like it or not. But shame is something I will no longer carry.
With that said, I’ve found power in eating publicly. And, not just eating healthy in public, diet coke and a nice cut of salmon with greens but eating anything in public: pizza, cake, ice cream, a bucket of chicken. Whatever.
I hadn’t always been able to do that. I remember going out to eat with my thinner friends and sitting as tall as I could and making it a habit to suck my stomach in. As they ordered burgers and fries, I’d sit there starving, slowly and deliberately sipping on a diet coke with light ice. Proclaiming to the foodie universe that I was not hungry. I was not hungry. Not hungry. At all. Hunger is a mindset. A mindset that you could rewire.
I’ll never forget this thin white woman giving me unsolicited diet advice on Facebook: “The longer you just sit with your hunger, the faster it’ll just go away. Like you won’t even be hungry anymore if you just let those hunger pangs past.”
Sounds like an eating disorder to me. But, what do I know? *Hunches shoulders*
And, she’s passing it on down, spreading it just like other nasty habits that are unhealthy and degrading and problematic.
I’ve been told to eat salads instead. To not go back for seconds. To cut out sugar and cut out dairy and cut out air. LOL. I’ve been told that fat people eating makes them want to vomit. That it’s unattractive. Unappealing. Been called pigs and cows and pig-cows and fat bitches.
So, what do I do? I create a high-fashion spread…including food. McDonalds to be exact. Even though McDonald’s is eh. Fat people have been associated with this particular fast food restaurant for decades. I dive head first into any and all stigmas in order to challenge the way our minds are set up.
Some big people eat unhealthily. While others eat healthy. Some of us are in-betweenies and eat very balanced. Some thin people eat unhealthily and remain thin. Some eat healthy. Some are in-betweenies. Gasps. Just like big people! Everyone deserves to be able to nourish their bodies how they see fit. Without the shame of other’s gazes. Without having to become closet eaters. Without having to starve and wait till they get home. Without developing eating disorders.
If you feel disgusted by someone eating, then turn your face in the opposite direction. If you feel the need to degrade someone who is eating, then pinch your lips together and mind your own business. If you feel the need to spew unsolicited diet advice, then don’t.
Worry about your health and your lifestyle and your 9-5. Okurrrrrr. *Tongue pop*
That is all.
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 been a while since we’ve got deep. I mean real deep. I’ve been in this reflective phase for the last few weeks because several important days have passed. And, it got to me to thinking about how everything that has happened which has led me to be right here, right now. I think we all have those questions floating around our heads. Especially as we age. Why am I here? What the fuck am I doing? Is this the right path to take?!?
I remember constantly asking people: can you tell me what I need to do? The good ones, the best ones, and most knowledgeable ones would tell me that they indeed cannot tell me to go right or left. That I’d have to use my skills and talents to figure that shit out. I’d sulk in my own misery. Wondering if they were indeed so great and knowledgeable, if so, then why couldn’t they just give me a straight answer and tell me WHAT I NEEDED TO DO TO GET MY LIFE TOGETHER!
Now, now, I know the answer to the question I so desperately was seeking from others. I had those answers all along. And, so do you. You just haven’t discovered it yet.
The two days in question that have me thinking so deeply was my 31st birthday and the 2nd year divorce anniversary. Which are only two weeks apart.
Because, I didn’t have any money left over and still waiting for checks to clear from my awesome yet tiring European travels, I rented a cheap hot tub and pondered what life was as a newly 31-year-old fat, Black, and Muslim woman living in the states.
It was deep. Because last year, only twelve months prior to that day, I was very down. My face in an overly spicy bowl of chili. I was more broke than I am now but also with no prospects. Everything I did seemed to fail. I threatened to quit modeling. Quit blogging. Quit it all. Just like my marriage went down. That’s how the rest of my life would follow.
The ‘You’ll never be anything without me” was finally coming into fruition.
I was afraid. But, I accepted my faith. I was going to be another soul-less professor locked in, teaching eight courses, and making student’s lives a living hell because I was unhappy. I was prepared to live life as an overly educated person working a dead-end job that hadn’t offered benefits. I mean, I still don’t have benefits but that’s another story.
What I noticed that in my own ignorance I was living comfortably in my misery and self-doubt. The world had pumped so much negativity into me that I couldn’t even see beyond it, see what others had seen in me. I was stuck in between a rock and another rock. It’s hard to be uncomfortable. Experience rejection. It’s hard to be vulnerable and to put yourself out there for everyone to dissect and gawk at.
Whoever said success, personal or financial or spiritually was easy? This shit is hard. It’s hard to look at yourself and be like: yeah, the world is fucked up, but you are your own worst critic. You are the one that’s stopping yourself from progress and greatness.
A lot of us are. And, so was I. That hurts. I know it hurt me.
Because doesn’t society already do that? Why would we want to dim our own light?
September 1, 2018. The 2nd year anniversary of our 10-year relationship. On that day, I had a podcast interview.
The interviewer asked me when was the moment that I just didn’t give a fuck anymore about people’s opinions where I’ve truly been able to become my best and true unapologetic self.
Honestly, I had many moments throughout my life where I was just like nope. I’m tired of being stereotyped and placed into these boxes. But, I thought about the end of my marriage. That was the epiphany, that ‘light bulb over the head’ moment.
“I’m afraid to leave you because you might be somebody one day,” he said. The ex. I will never, ever forget that. Ever.
That is something that I hold onto and use to push when I can’t push anymore. When I get too comfortable when in my head I know I can be greater. To prove to myself that on the other side of fear is greatness and that there is nothing behind that wall, that door, that barrier that I can’t take on.
By looking at me, you’d never know my story. You’d never imagine the things I’ve seen or the abuse I went through that still stick with me today. How much of the abuse was from myself at times.
Just in this year alone, I’ve made leaps. I’ve jumped across mountains, mentally and metaphorically. I’ve done the impossible. Without the people that I thought would, should’ve been there. I’ve broke down several times because of Imposter Syndrome and recovered. I’ve allowed myself to sit in those feelings of lowness but understand that it’s temporary.
I always get asked, “Leah V, how are so comfortable with being transparent with your life?”
Growing up, I went from being very outspoken to quiet and withdrawn to being kinda sorta outspoken to shutting up and only saying the ‘right’ things to where I am now. And, even then, I still don’t say everything that’s on my mind. I’m getting more and more comfortable with each passing day.
The reason that I’ve been through these waves of shutting up vs. not shutting up was because people always told me to be quiet.
My father, ahem, my sperm donor, because real fathers raise their children, used to always call me a ‘broken record”. Yes, he was an adult and I was a kid, but he was a liar and I knew that early on. So, in order to keep him in check, make him have accountabilty, I’d remind him of the things he promised to do. I’d give him follow up calls like a damn office assistant at the age of 8.
“You ain’t nothin but a broken record,” he said to me over the phone one day. “You always repeatin yoself.”
I was young. I didn’t have a response. But, my feelings had been hurt.
So, I stopped talking.
I noticed that when I expressed my feelings or dislike of something, people would get angry, offended, and say, “You talk too much.”
So, I stopped expressing myself and kept it all inside.
No one wanted to hear what I had to say. Nothing I had to say was of importance. And, honestly, no one cared.
I ran away to books. That way I could communicate more effectively. I could live vicariously. No, they weren’t real people, but real people sucked.
Men hated me the most. Especially Muslim men. They still do actually. HA! Before I knew what feminism was and the women’s rights movements, I was an advocate and hadn’t even known. When, I’d see something foul or oppressive towards girls or women, I’d speak out. I’d be called names like “hoe” or would hear phrases like “She doing too much” and the best, “she needs to shut up because she don’t know what she’s talking about”. And, because I was married and didn’t want to rock the boat or embarrass him, I pick and chose my battles.
Again, I was quiet.
If you think about it, for hundreds of years, people have always wanted women to shut their mouths. To be quiet. To stop complaining. To disregard their truths and traumas. To get over it. The truth is a hard pill to swallow. And, it’s easier to control someone who is willing to bury the truth. Lock it in a nice fancy box.
Other than women, do you know who the world usually loves to have shut up? Women of color. It is ingrained in us to not speak up. Out of fear that we won’t be believed anyway, because we are less than. Out of fear that there will be retaliation if we dare to open our mouths. We are called liars. We are dismissed. Even by our own.
When other people’s truths are celebrated, called brave, our voices and stories go unheard. Our truths remain silenced and bottled.
There comes a certain point where a person gets fed up. Fed up of being called a ‘broken record”. Fed up of being told that you don’t know what you are talking about. Fed up of not being believed and afraid of repercussion.
After twenty-nine years of being silenced, something marvelous happened. I got divorced and the hypothetical tape was ripped from my mouth. It hurt like hell, don’t get me wrong, but the sting was only temporary. On the other side of fear is greatness. And, my fear was being told to shut up.
I made a decision: not anymore. Not one more day will pass that I fear to speak my mind. I might not have all the answers, none of us do, but I know what I am talking about. I am not crazy, like some of them like to call women who speak their minds. We are not crazy. We’ve just transcended the oppressive societal norms that seek to silence girls.
Let’s keep the conversation going: has someone ever tried to silence you? How’d you get over your fear and start living in your truths?
We are always told what not to wear.
Bikinis. Short Sleeves. Stripes. Florals. Bright colors are certainly out of the question for a lot of us.
There are tons of articles and listicles of what women over 40 shouldn’t wear or what someone with a big stomach should avoid. We are a society of trying to hide, conceal, and alter what we don’t like. We are becoming less and less human and more plastic by the second with the influx of doggie filters and smoothing apps to make us Instagram acceptable.
We are afraid to try anything new out of fear of what others will think of our bodies. We fear the backlash of someone noticing that we aren’t wearing a body-shaper or that good ole’ girdle. The stretch marks on our arms or the sag of our boobs. Our real bodies are unacceptable.
We’re so worried about fitting in that we toss away all of the uniqueness that makes us so much more interesting. This may be cliché, but if we all looked like a Barbie wouldn’t the world be such a boring place?
I have a lot of conversations with my platform about body image. And, the stories that I hear are heartbreaking and shocking. Self-hate for many of us stems from childhood abuse by parents, bullying at school, and the media.
Can you imagine what would happen if we just loved ourselves without stipulations? Like if you loved yourself prior to losing ten pounds? Or if you loved yourself before the nose job? Before the makeup?
That’s why it’s so important to have conversations. Like, honest conversations about our bodies. No matter how weird or embarrassing. We learn so much more about ourselves when we share our stories, our struggles, and triumphant moments.
It’s kinda funny that as a plus-size model and body-positive activist, I still have my days. I still have that little voice in the back of my head that says, hmmm you shouldn’t wear that. You can’t wear that. YOU DON’T HAVE THE BODY FOR IT.
Fashion Nova Curve sent me this mustard jumper type deal and I was like oh that super cute n whateva. I kinda thought the material would be unforgiving, but I was feeling confident. I can do this!
When it arrived, I tried it on with excitement. I immediately noticed that it literally showed every dip and dimple of my thighs. My thighs and legs have always been problematic and it’s taken me a long time to come to terms with them. They always seem to garner attention that I don’t care for, making me feel like some kind of object. And, they are riddled with fat and cellulite.
I looked in the mirror. This would look much better with a pair of Spanx, I thought. They’d smooth out the cellulite. Smooth out my stomach and fupa. It’d make everything look good.
I love my body and learning to love it more each day, but I have my days where I get sucked into the ideal of imitating unrealistic beauty standards. Then I start ridiculing myself and blaming what I ate yesterday on my ‘today’ fatness. If only I ate less and exercised more then I wouldn’t have to wear Spanx. If only I could lose a few pounds I’d be able to wear this or that with confidence. The age-old question: why not be confident right now, in the body I already got?
When does only losing a few pounds ever satisfy us? We then get caught up in the idea that thin automatically means happy and spiral into diet culture. And as ya’ll know, it’s hard to recoup and bounce back from eating disorders and the negative effects of unhealthy dieting.
I almost didn’t post a lot of these photos because my cellulite is screaming hello! Because we don’t ever see cellulite on models or on magazines. Cellulite isn’t normal. But, every human being has stretch marks and cellulite to some extent. But, you’d never know because everyone smooths and edits now.
I’ve gotten so many compliments on this jumper without the Spanx. With the cellulite full view. And I felt good in it. And, because I feel good, that’s the only thing that matters.
My cellulite or stretch marks don’t define me. And neither should it for you.
There’s no such thing as what not to wear. Don’t ever listen to those anti-body love articles that box you into only wearing things that tuck and flatter. Just put it on and see how you feel. Let your body and mind guide you to what you wear.
Did you ever grow up wanting to change a part of your body? Have you come to terms with that part or are you still struggling? 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.
Last week, I was asked to be on a panel discussion for Lululemon for International Women’s Day. It was entitled Worth 100, aiming to highlight the idea that all women should feel worthy and valued, no matter what. I was a bit skeptical about being on the panel, not because it scares the fuck out of me to publicly speak, but because it was hosted by Lululemon. None of their workout gear or t-shirts fit me. Their merchandise doesn’t include people like me. I am not their audience.
I am too fat.
I thought about it and ultimately accepted because if I hadn’t showed my fat face, then who would? Perhaps they’d replace me with a smaller, less Black, and less Muslim counterpart.
I was surprised that among myself were other plus-size women on the panel. There’s a first step for everything, right? Perhaps corporate at Lululemon will see our curvy bodies, hear our plus-size voices, and get the idea that fat women also workout and become a size-inclusive company.
The room was filled. All 100 seats. And, a standing room in the back. The moderator asked each one of us to say three words that described us. There were two people before me. I had a bit of time to possibly change my answer if need be. My initial words were fat, Black, and unapologetic. I looked at the audience. It was mostly filled with straight-size white women. I contemplated switching out ‘fat’ for ‘Muslim’. I knew the word ‘fat’ would cause a Caucasian unrest as it does for many other kinds of people.
I stood up. My stomach churning with IBS issues as I prayed that I wouldn’t shit myself (because that’s a legit fear). I said, “My name is Leah V. And, my three words are fat, Black, and unapologetic.”
I heard scattered claps. Some faces remained stoic as their minds scrambled to figure out why in the world would this chick use such negative word to describe herself. I heard one ‘WOO HOO’, which I’m quite sure was my friend, as I smiled and took my seat.
I was going to blow their minds later on.
When people used to call me fat, I’d melt into a puddle. I’d crumble into a million particles and blew away with the wind. The word held so much weight—no pun intended—that it riddled me worthless, not valuable. I’d used to want to crawl into a hole and never emerge until I was perfect and thin. I hurt myself trying to be thin. I was almost thin only once in my life. And it wasn’t as perfect as I thought it was going to be.
Why? Because in my mind, I thought that thin people had more fun. I thought that they frolicked around in daisy fields and were debt-free and could pull any man they wanted. I thought that they were outgoing and smart and nice. That they didn’t have body image issues. That it was just fat people who hated themselves and their bodies.
And, was I ever wrong.
At my smallest weight, I believe I hated myself more during that time than at my heaviest weights. Mind blowing! Yes, I know.
Fast forward back to the panel. Stay with me. LOL.
It was my turn to speak. I told them a little story about why I reclaimed the word ‘fat’. Words only carry as much importance as we allow them to. And, I was tired of people having that much power over how I viewed my body. People—bad people—get off on disarming folks, making them think lowly of themselves. But, what if we could reclaim our power? Take that shit back?
By claiming fat-ness, I am taking back what is mine, rightfully. I am turning a negative into a positive. I am, hopefully, educating people about the word and about our bodies and how we view them.
Fat is a descriptor. Just like smart. Short. Tall. Busty. Brown. Pale.
Yes, I may be fat, but I am so much more. I am Black. Muslim. Obnoxious and impulsive. Loud. Loyal. Cute AF.
Fat isn’t a bad word. Its not forbidden or evil. It doesn’t mean worthlessness or ugliness. It means what it means. Extra rolls, curves, lumps and bumps, plump, and soft.
And, if someone does try to use it on you, or someone you know, negatively, then flip that shit around like I do. Tell em: I am fat, and so much more.
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.
Get ready with me as I take you through how I get my face ready for a photo shoot.
Here's what's in my makeup bag:
Foundation: @imancosmetics Concealing Foundation
Pressed Powder: @lorealmakeup True Match
Highlighter: Sonia Kashuk Luminosity Bronzer
Cheek: @maccosmetics Powder Blush
Lip: @wetnwildbeauty and @rimmellondonus Lip Velvet
Tell me what three items in your makeup bag that you can NOT absolutely live without?
Don't Forget to Follow ME @ Lvernon2000
Song: "Say It" by @RVXMendoza
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.
The Neighborhoods Detroit is highlighting Detroiters in 60 seconds in a new video series:The Reason Why.
Leah V. (IG: @lvernon2000) is a body positive activist, model and founder of Beauty and the Muse, a blog she created to spread style and self-love to underrepresented groups and provide representation of real beauty in the media.
There’s been many, many fat activists and body-positive folks responding to the topics of dating, finding love, and intimacy while being fat. And, let me tell you, the responses have been ridiculous and the backlash agonizing. Anytime, I post commentary about plus-size dating, the conversation grows long and weary. I mean, dating in general has become trash since the boom of internet faux-ness, where you can get anything and everything in the matter of a few clicks, but dating for straight-size versus plus-size is very different.
When I got divorced, I went on a dating frenzy. Like, I had something to prove. I had never been boy-crazy prior to my marriage, but something about asserting my sexuality after years of being repressed was attractive to me. It became a sick obsession.
I had four dating apps in rotation. I’d spend hours swiping to the left or swiping to the right. I was on them so much, that I started to see some of the same guys on different apps. At a few points, I came upon the profiles of a friend’s ex and dudes I worked with in real life. So, if I saw them then they had to have seen me. And although embarrassing, it hadn’t deterred me from having seventeen separate conversations with different dudes in the city.
I was born in an era with one foot in the age of online dating and one foot out. Basically, I was still a bit clueless on how to navigate them. I thought the guys on the other end were like me. Just wanting to test the waters and perhaps find real companionship. Boy was I wrong.
On my dating profile, I was covered. Like if you were to go on my Instagram account, you’d see the same photos. I mixed in face shots with full body photos. I wasn’t trying to catfish anyone because I wouldn’t want anyone to catfish my ass. I wanted the possible suitor to know that I was, indeed, a fat woman.
The first message I got was a couple trying to have me as their third, as in third wheel, as in a threesome. I politely declined. The following messages would start off with men requesting that I ‘sit on their face’. No hi, hello, or how are you? They’d make disgusting comments about my hips and butt. Some of the white dudes, especially, would objectify my Black body, highlighting the size of my lips and what they’d do to them. I was sent unsolicited dick pics by the dozens. Being asking to send nudes was a common request. I was also fat-shamed by angry users who I wasn’t interested in.
I would tell my smaller friends who were using the same dating apps my stories. They’d shake their heads and tell me that they weren’t getting the same messages. They weren’t having men ask them to sit on their faces or make comments about how big their butt was or any body shaming comments.
I decided to delete every dating app because I was tired of being reduced to the curves on my body or the thickness of my lips. I decided to do some research on dating while fat and found so much stuff. I was not alone in my struggle. Women shared stories about being hidden away by their boyfriends because of their weight, being oversexualized and objectified based on the shape of their body, being fat-shamed, called names like pig and fat bitch when they declined sex or dates.
For women online who were plus-sized bloggers who dated or married a muscular or a socially ‘attractive’ man, trolls would leave nasty comments about how could someone so fat be with a fit guy, or he’s only using you for sex, or that’s impossible for him to actually love her.
So, according to the census, fat women don’t deserve love, their bodies are only reduced to an object only used for pleasing sexually, and no one who is socially attractive should ever want a fattie.
Before, I go any further I want to give folks who indulge in fatphobia a few facts:
Fat people are human beings. Stop asking fat people to hide themselves. We are allowed to take up as much space as we want. Don’t worry about why fat people are fat. Do you worry about why skinny people are skinny? You are not a physician. Clearly, you aren’t smart enough. Fat people deserve love. Fat people deserve intimacy. If you like fat women, that’s okay. Stop allowing your friends to dictate who you love. Stop being a coward and enjoining in fatphobic rhetoric when you truly don’t feel that way. And, lastly fat people aren’t fetishes.
By no means am I saying that smaller women and men don’t get picked on or objectified, but we don’t experience mass skinny-phobia were a model has loads of trolls under her photos saying things like omg, she’s just so small, is she even healthy? Is she anorexic? Why doesn’t she just eat a sandwich? She’s so ugly, who’d want to be that thin?
Instead we see comments praising her, we say that her body is bodygoals, we demean our own bodies, and skip a meal, we show our little girls that skinny is good and fat is bad. That if she is thin, she will be deserving of intimacy and love and money and beauty, but if she is big that she should go hide behind ill-fitting clothes and shrink herself. That she should just be happy with any man who deals her any ole kind of attention. That she shouldn’t strive for better because of the shape of her natural hips or the hugeness of her breasts and stomach.
Stop allowing men to body-shame you. Nip it in the bud every time, so that the next time he approaches a big girl he’ll know what’s up. Stop allowing thin privilege to shrink you. You do not have to be skinny to live your best life. Stop teaching your little boys and girls that they don’t deserve to take up space. Teach them to be healthy and confident at any size.
It’s time we nipped fatphobia in the bud.
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.
It really kills me how Muslims can be so judgmental. And, I’m not saying that ‘other’ people aren’t. Trust me they are, but because I’m very much so Muslim, we’re going to speak about that demographic right now.
Do you know how I know that the ‘haram police’ is so judgy? I used to be on the payroll. I was the girl who still maintained her virginity past the age of 13, never took off my hijab, never dated, smoked weed. Ha! Heck no. Weed was wack. And, if you smoked it you clearly were destined to dwell within the fiery pits of hell.
We grew up in a family where my mother only fed us halal meats, read the holy book to us when we woke up and right before we went to sleep (yup, the devil had to be creeping somewhere in the closet), and we weren’t allowed to watch anything over a PG-13 rating and even that was pushing it. We had to close our eyes if there were kissing scenes, and she’d fast forward any music with curse words in it. A man dressed in women’s clothing on TV? She’d turn it off completely. Magazines with Britney Spears in short-shorts, a no-no. She bought us magazines like National Geographic instead, stating it was more ‘educational’.
When I turned 19, I moved out. Her world had become overbearing and controlling.
Society had quickly let me know that the world was not as it was back at home and that judgmental shit had to be tossed immediately.
Although, I was out of Mom’s house, I still hung around a lot of Muslims and their parents. Their parents were judgmental in the wrong kinds of ways. Most of the parents were hypercritical when it came to other people’s kids and their daughters. If they had a son, they could basically be spotted in a strip club making it rain on someone’s ass and it’d be given 99 excuses plus one. But, let it be a daughter and she’s damned to hell forever.
Of course, this trickled down to the Muslim children. They ranged from middle-grade judgy to Muslim parent judgy.
Shortly after moving on my own, I went to the doctor and requested birth control. I knew for a fact that I didn’t want to have a trillion kids like a lot of the Muslim women had in the community. Most of those women hadn’t held a job, was overly-dependent on their cheating ass husbands to pay the bills, hadn’t had anything past a high-school diploma (if that), they weren’t traveling to faraway lands or experiencing the wonders of life. A lot of them became career mothers, usually pregnant every other year.
Cheers to people who loooooooove having buckets of kids…that just wasn’t me.
My friends are I were chatting on the couch and pregnancy came up. Someone had gotten pregnant. Again.
“I’m 99.9 percent sure that I’m covered,” I joked.
“What do you mean?” Someone asked.
“Well, I’m on birth control now.”
By the facial expressions, you’d think I just tossed a cat out the window.
I got everything from ‘that’s not permissible in Islam’, ‘That’s unnatural’, ‘You won’t ever be able to have a child’, and ‘that’s what women are made for’.
I sat there and took the verbal abuse because that’s exactly what it was. Why was I selfish because I wanted to take control of my body? I mean, God gave me MY body. Not them or not my husband at the time. Why were they so adamant on policing my reproductive system in the name of Islam?
Years passed and I was still regularly on birth control. I’d get asked, “Why don’t you have any kids yet?”
My usual responses: because I don’t want to be a mom or I have no money or I’m pursing an education.
None of which were the correct answers for men and women alike. Every time the topic came up, I’d get shunned, told that it wasn’t Islamic, that I was poisoning my body. I’d go to my gynecologist in fear of infertility. And every time, she’d assure me that I’d be fine.
There was one time in particular this older Muslim lady asked my husband (ex) why we hadn’t had kids. He said something clever as to not expose me.
“Because I’m on birth control and when God wants us to have one, we’ll have one,” I said loudly. "Maybe I'll have a Jesus baby..."
She cut her eyes at me and pulled him away. I was shocked when I heard her telling him that she could help find him a wife that’d give him a child…
The last straw was when a friend told me that I was selfish for being on birth control because lots of women are infertile.
“Those pills are poison,” she huffed.
At that point, I’d had it. “So, the prescribed painkillers that you asked me for yesterday aren’t poison?”
Vicodin is okay but birth control is not… Things that make you go hmmm.
Over the years, I’ve gotten shit from both sides for my responsible decision to protect my body from multiple foreign invaders. Babies. I can barely afford rent or my car note. Ugh? How much does a kid cost again? *Counts loose change*
The very people that sit around shaming women for utilizing birth control are men who have multiple kids that they barely take care of, women who have used abortion as their form of birth control instead of just getting on actual birth control, and closed-minded individuals who like to hear themselves talk. Everybody wants to be a Google Gynecologist instead of focusing on themselves.
You are not selfish for wanting to be on birth control. Or not to be on it. You are not less than another Muslim. It’s your body, your choice.
And, I really believe that this is a topic that should be more openly discussed in the Muslim community and not just shunned and told not to do. And, no I don’t mean a panel of Muslim men ‘man-splaining’ it, but women talking to other women and discussing the choices that Muslim women and girls have the right to have and make.
I can’t sit here and tell you that it’s permissible in Islam. But, Muslims like to pick and choose what they go against. They like to pick and choose what sin is worse than another. Which sin is more ‘acceptable’. That’s not how this works.
As a Muslim, my goal is to please Allah (swt) not man.
So, I’m sorry but not really sorry. I’m a firm believer in birth control as well as my right to make that decision, and I’ll stay on it until I feel the time is right to have (or not have) children.
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’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.
This is the most scared I've ever been releasing a project. Ahhh! Like, seriously, y'all. This is the teaser/trailer to a new series of visual art pieces called #BodyProject brought to you by myself and the brilliant team of Reel Clever Films
I used to hide behind ill-fitting clothes. Makeup. A man. My thin girlfriends. I wanted to hide because I was told that a fat girl's only place was behind-the-scenes. A Muslim girl's only role was to be a wife, a mother. A Black girl's only role was to conform. Straighten her hair. Talk proper. To never offend.
I'm here to smash all of the one-dimensional, stereotypes of what a fat, Black, and very Muslim girl should be with one question: Do I make you uncomfortable? GOOD.
Full Video Drops 7/8/17!!!
MUA: Madinah Muhammad
MUSIC: Comer Dorris
LIKE. SHARE. COMMENT. AND SHOW SOME LOVE.
***Use the hashtag #BodyProject
Social Media: Stop Allowing it to Define Your Self-Worth
I’m slacking on my blog posts. *bites nails* My intimate essays that I share with you at least once a week. I’ve been trying to break into making more videos (ya know, since people barely read anymore) and that’s time-consuming. Unfortunately, I don’t have a team (I’m a one-lady show) and my time is being stretched super thin. Obligations here and there and everywhere. You get the idea.
But, today, I want to talk a bit about the influence of social media.
Last night, I was in a discussion group of local artists. A researcher asked us tons of stuff about living in Detroit and the ‘creative’ lifestyle. One of the questions that popped up was about millennials, social media, and interaction. How does it affect one’s psyche?
I thought about how people treat me before they see my Instagram account. The difference is astonishing…
Before I go into my answer, I want to give you a little history. I started out as a style blogger in 2013 with the hopes that people would read my other works. I’ve always been a writer, but no one paid any attention to ‘Leah the Writer’. In order to bring people in, I started adding visuals to the blog posts. At that moment, I became a plus-size, Muslim model. I fell into it, but it was never my intent. I just wanted people to read my shit. I started getting attention for my photos and not really my writing. Which frustrated me, but it worked out in the end because now people actually read and appreciate my stuff.
Over the years, my followers tripled, and now I have—on Instagram alone—over 14k followers.
Now, there are bloggers with waaaaaaay more followers than me. I’m middle-grade compared to them. Which is fine, but when I meet people in real-life and they stumble upon my account, it’s the first thing that latch onto. The numbers.
“Errrrmagawd,” one guy said scanning my feed. “You’re like insta-famous.”
“How’d you get so many followers?” A girl asked. “I can’t even break a thousand.”
And, I always get someone who asks, “Did you like buy your followers?”
I neeeeever tell people or flaunt the fact that I have a fan base or a semi-medium following. Because you can see the difference in how they look at me. It’s more like I’m a reality star to them and not a human being. I’ve become some sort of object, a trophy to flaunt about. Oh yeah, I know her. Smh.
Not gonna lie. Was it important at a certain point? Hell yeah. Because unfortunately, in the current climate, numbers seem to define a lot of our self-worth. And, that’s where the problem lies.
“I kinda hate the heavy importance people put on social media appearances and numbers. I’ve often seen people blatantly lie about how great their husband is to them, how amazing their job is, and how much fun their having at a party they hadn’t wanted to go to and hated everyone in attendance just to save face for colleagues or friends and sometimes, even strangers on the internet. Why is everyone so obsessed with appearing to be someone they’re not? It’s okay to have a shitty day. We all have shitty days. But, what I really need is for people to stop defining their entire existence on how many people like their selfie!”
Social media is like Catfishing on steroids. You can be whoever you want to be. Lay 17 different filters on you face, blur that double chin, and cinch in that waist… Giiiiirrrrrrl, you’ve become a 2-second Kardashian but without the Kardashian money. But, is that all life is about though? Being a carbon-copy of another person to feel some sort of false validation?
Stop allowing likes, comments, stats, and selfie angles to define your worth. Stop flipping back and forth from the same thirty photos to see which one makes you look taller. Stop pretending that perfection can ever be attained. It can’t be; no matter if you get a trillion likes. Outside of social media, you have real-life friends that see your double chin and watch you swallow an entire burger without even chewing.