Please find below our interview with renowned multi-award winning journalist and writer Salma Haidrani. She wrote about The Unspoken Challenges of Having an Eating Disorder During Ramadan for Broadly, Vice’s female-focused channel and ‘we must stop thinking that Eating Disorders don’t affect people of Color’ . Salma Haidrani recently won Young Journalist of the Year at the GG2 Awards: https://twitter.com/its_me_salma/status/923659095235813376. We spoke to her about her experiences and challenges of working on the topic of eating Disorders in the Muslim community as well as any advice/tips to people struggling with eating disorders and body image issues.
It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from. The ability to triumph begins with you. Always.
You can read the articles Salma Haidrani Wrote Here:
Interview with Salma Haidrani
Thank you so much Salma for joining us and for your time. We are excited to have you here and thank you for raising awareness on such a timely subject.
Maha Khan (MK): Please tell us where you seeked courage and open mindedness about the work you do?
Salma Haidrani (SH): I’m not afraid to take risks with my work! A lot of my work is of public interest. People do want to read interesting things. I’m passionate about raising awareness of issues that often tend to get marginalised in the press so I’m often fighting for their voices to be heard.
MK: What in your life has contributed to this open speech and this self-belief that your opinion matters and you need to be heard?
I’m very lucky to have a really liberal dad who encourages me to sees beyond what we usually see and hear. I also did Sociology as my undergrad at Sheffield Uni, which was a great privilege.
MK: Please tell us bit more about this incredible journey of yours, from a blog for Huff post to your recent win.
SH: At my university, I saw a lot of sexism on campus, such as in student elections. I felt that the best outlet was write about it and raise awareness. It received a lot of attention and when people read it, it created a lot of dialogue and debate. That was a fantastic response. I even won ‘Best Online Blog’ in 2013 as a result of that, which was a real honour.
But after university I felt it didn’t need to end there. So I started to freelance on similar topics for lots of national magazines and newspapers, who took my ideas on board. This was my stepping stone.
Now about Eating Disorders
MK: Please tell us what made you interested in this silent issue of Eating Disorders in Muslim community?
SH: Eating disorders are incredibly synonymous with whiteness despite the fact it affects those of all nationalities, races and genders. Inevitably, it might make those with an ED feel they don’t ‘fit’ the idea of who we’ve come to expect has an ED, such as making them feel like they won’t be ‘believed’ or worse, that it might not be something that doesn’t affect them. It’s time we change the narrative of Eating Disorders.
MK: What is your opinion on ED? Is it media or is really something more deep, more disturbing?
SH: The whole media narrative that it’s a white, Western ‘problem’ doesn’t help. As I mentioned, EDs don’t affect one nationality, faith, race or gender. I do feel that journalists have a responsibility to rectify this.
MK: You interviewed few people, please tell me bit more about your experience.
SH: Not many Muslim women tend to be vocal about EDs but I did get very lucky. All the experience of the women I featured were incredibly diverse even though all women belonged to the same faith. Thankfully, I felt the piece offered an insight into the diversity of eating disorders.
MK: We learn from people, what did you learn from your subjects?
SH: How shocking it is that there’s lack of support for certain communities. And how women of colour and those from marginalised backgrounds need specialist and tailored support. A one size fits all approach isn’t working.
MK: Why do you feel there’s so much focus on Eating Disorders just during the month of Ramadan, is media implying Eating Disorders only happen in Ramadan?
SH: It is problematic that we only profile Muslim women during this particular period. We only seem to remember they have eating disorders during Ramadan, rather than something that happens all year round. On the flip side, though, it’s great that there is some increased visibility on the topic but it’s important to try to steer the conversation for the remainder of the year.
MK: About your subjects, did you feel they were in recovery or merely surviving?
SH: I feel like for many of the women I spoke to, they take each day as it comes. I feel like while they’re in recovery, they’re thriving and surviving. I’m so proud that they shared their story with me, which I know wasn’t easy to a complete stranger.
MK: Has this been an eye opening reality for you?
SH: Of course and what’s more eye opening is how the illness is so secretive and so guarded.
MK: What more can we do to spread awareness of Eating Disorders?
SH: To try to raise awareness of the multiplicities of people’s experiences with EDs – it can affect men, Muslims, those who identify as trans. There’s no ‘one’ person who is affected by eating disorders. It’s essential that journalists should take this into account when reporting on eating disorders.
MK: How can the media be used?
SH: The media is a fantastic tool of raising awareness. In 2016, when my piece was published on Broadly, it had a fantastic response with people discussing how they never considered Muslim women had eating disorders. This year’s Ramadan, it received a similar response from people all over the globe. The piece even got nominated for a national award, with the judges discussing how they thought eating disorders had been fully explored, until they’d read my piece, which I was really touched by.
MK: You carry yourself really well, you exude confidence, self-belief and you come across as a woman who is very comfortable in her own skin. You have a beautiful features.
SH: Thank you so much! As a freelancer, you do need a lot of self-belief! You’re quite literally selling ideas to editors, after all. But I try not to let anyone box me into neat labels so I feel like it comes from there.
MK: What tips can you give to struggling people who struggle with body image and feel they don’t fit in?
SH: Muslim women are already sadly isolated from the mainstream– in fact, a report from the Women and Equalities Commission found that they’re three times less likely to be in work than British women. But don’t let anyone’s perceptions of you deter you from doing what you want in life. We can achieve anything so don’t let anyone label you.
In my career, I felt there was no one I could really look up to or saw someone who looked or had a similar background to myself. That pushed me to work really hard and very hard to be the change I wanted to see. Hopefully, some Muslim girls or women of colour will feel that writing about issues that they’re passionate about is within their reach.