She’s too fat to marry him. Rejection in First Meeting for Arranged Marriage Hurts Deeply….They ended the proposal because of my weight and the issues surrounding it. I spent my life hiding away and not talking to many people because of this stigma.
War Against Eating Disorders/Islam and Eating Disorders is supporting BEDA’s
Weight Stigma Awareness Week 2014
Weight discrimination is prevalent in our society. We are lucky that our Media in Muslim World is not too focused on promoting malnourished looks, (as a sufferer from Egypt pointed out, Western Media is doing a very good job of that) If I switch on Al Arabiya, Royal Tv, Al-Hiwar, Rotana, or even some of the Pakistani channels, I feel immense relief at seeing women of all shapes and sizes. This week, I would like to focus on weight stigma that people in our culture face. I can speak for my country, Pakistan and for some countries in Middle East where bias, stigma, and discrimination due to weight are frequent experiences for many individuals especially women, which have serious consequences for their personal and social well being and overall health. We often overlook how this stigmatization threatens individuals’ psychological and physical health by increasing the risk for depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and body dissatisfaction. I interviewed this fabulous lady from Lahore on her experience with weight stigma. She very generously contributed her story to support BEDA’s Weight Stigma Awareness Campaign. Thank you so much and God Bless you.
In an enlightening hadith (prophetic narration), the Prophet ﷺ tells us that no one with an ounce of arrogance in his heart will enter Paradise. In seeking to understand what arrogance means, the companions asked “O Prophet of Allah, what if a person likes to dress well?” The Prophet ﷺ responded, “Allah is beautiful and loves beauty. Arrogance is rejecting truth and looking down on people” [Muslim]
My Weight Stigmatization Nightmare
I don’t know whether My story is about discrimination or not (I leave you a judge for that), but I do feel like I have to put the whole thing out there, maybe it will help to relieve some of my pain and may get some people to think deeply about their words and their actions.
Even to this Day I feel perplexed about my inability to keep weight off. I wasn’t overweight as a child, but I steadily put on weight throughout my teens and things got gradually worse . I was 17, when my father passed away. We are a Shiite family. In my family there was no concept of women going out and earning a living. But due to circumstances, I was forced to bid good-bye to my education and find work. I found a job as a Maths teacher at a local government school. I was only 19 at that time. My aim was to make enough money to support my mother, my father’s widow sister who lived with us and my three siblings.
Time flew by and soon I was crossing 25. My mother became worried and started looking for suitable proposals. Each time a proposal came, I would rush home with butterflies in my stomach. My mother, aunt and sisters would be busy cleaning the house and I would make all the delicious dishes to welcome the guests. I would wear my nicest clothes and then after a long wait my mother would call me into the living room area where guests would be seated. As I would sit through the tea, a complete interview would take place. I never ever failed to miss that flicker of surprise in their eyes. My mother and sisters are all very slender and to come across someone who was overweight was very shocking for them. A popular reaction I would always get was: ‘She looked different in the picture! She looked younger and not very fat in the picture, why is she so fat in reality?’. Displeased, shocked, feeling cheated they would leave. Another refusal, another insult, another injury. I would suffer, My mother would suffer, and my family would suffer but then we would start the process again with the next family.
I wanted to get married, in our culture marriage and family dominate the lives of women, so I went to see a Doctor for my weight problem. He diagnosed me with hypothyroidism. He said I’ll lose weight Once I started on my thyroid hormone replacement treatment program. When I came home that day, me and my mother were giddy with relief. All night, I kept on looking at that magic bottle of pills. I was so naive to believe that after finishing that bottle weight will come off. So I took and took my thyroid hormone tablets and weight didn’t come off.
How sad, we reject people because of their colour, their features or their weight.
This continued and I turned 30 and the numbers on the scale also began to move up. It was during those times that a proposal came for me, and they picked my sister who was 22. They said, I looked 40+ and their son wanted a younger wife. This is a sad fact, in most Asian cultures a man in his mid to late twenties who is planning a family and kids is more likely to go for a younger woman if he can, rather than an older woman.
When my brother got married, I was 32. He had a love/arrange marriage. I had tried many diets in those times. I tried Chinese slimming oils, homeopathic treatments. But then within weeks, almost without exception, the weight would begin to creep back. I was also far more hungry and preoccupied with food than before I lost the weight. Anyone who has ever dieted knows that lost pounds often return, and most of us assume the reason is a lack of discipline or a failure of willpower, but what is clear is that some people appear to be prone to accumulating extra fat while others seem to be protected against it.
I saw the worry in my mother’s eye. She speeded up her efforts to look for a husband for me. It is quite difficult, especially in a traditional Shiite family, to find a partner who is suitable and belongs to the same sect.
And now whispers grew louder. Why isn’t she married? Why doesn’t she lose weight? I think she likes her freedom? She’s a working woman, these women love their freedom, they can never settle down and start a family. All these marks would cut at my heart. At work, I always felt a sense of rejection, when I was passed over for promotion. Can you just not lose weight? were the echoes of my fellow teachers, who were all married with children. ‘I think you should remove this scarf you wear on your head’, a fellow teacher told me. ‘I can’t do that, I told them, my mother has never crossed the threshold without her chaddor, how can I do that, I’ll feel exposed’. I felt so small in front of them.
And then it was time for my youngest sibling to get married, who was only 20. One of the popular belief was, a woman is considered less youthful once she crosses her twenties.
The atmosphere at my home was deteriorating. My sister-in-law was expecting her third child and felt house was too small for all of us. My brother is very easygoing, and always wants to keep his immediate family happy and therefore does not intervene when things are difficult.
Over 40, I started suffering from severe headaches, my ankles started swelling like crazy, and then I got a kidney stone. I also developed sores on my legs. With all those diets I fluctuated in weight, in a range of 50 pounds or so.
In a desperate bid, I tried to change my appearance. my flat shoes were replaced by 1 1/2 inch heel. I tried to wear more bright colors and added some color to my face to no avail. Some white hair started to appear and I would dye my hair several times a year.
So what is the 45-year-old single Pakistani woman, stuck in this situation to do? I had no other option but to marry a man 25 years older than me, who lost his wife to illness several years back and needed someone to take care of him. Today as I near 50, I am content with my life But as I sometimes reflect upon my life, I realize that I was discriminated even far more than I had originally thought. Much of that caused me to lose a great deal of self-confidence and caused me to have numerous social problems. I take care of my husband, who suffers from various health problems. I still teach and now I am seen as a most senior member of the school team. Now I no longer dress to please others. I simply dress for myself, my husband has given me that much confidence in myself and I thank him for that.
The common wisdom is that for someone to hurt us, we have to let someone “get inside our head.” and these comments on weight and this weight stigmatization does hurt and at times cuts deep at one’s heart.
My message is that bear in mind we all are humans, wounds heal but not ill words. Don’t discriminate people, don’t stigmatize people, this causes harm and pain to the individual. Be Kind and noble.
“As a mother would risk her life to protect her child, her only child, even so should one cultivate a limitless heart with regard to all beings. So with a boundless heart should one cherish all living beings; radiating kindness over the entire world.”