The hardest struggle of all is to be something different from what the average man is.
– Charles M Schwab
Please find below a very courageous account of battling Eating Disorders in the Muslim Community. This story was covered by Beat and the brave contributor is Ameena. She talks about her childhood and her journey into world of disordered eating, pain and healing. We hope you’ll find the post below helpful in understanding the complexity of battling Eating Disorder in the Muslim Community.
I’m a Muslim. Let’s talk about my eating disorder
I didn’t talk until the age of five. Somehow my mouth didn’t let me speak, as the words were clinging on too tight, as if they were scared to fall from my brain. Because of this I was sent to a school where they would basically teach me how to talk. It wasn’t until I started high school that I was put with the ‘mainstream kids’ – one of the hardest times of my life. Throughout the school years, the real me was hidden from everyone.
It was around this time I became extremely concerned about my body. Voices were telling me if I didn’t lose weight on time, I would get bullied by all the “skinny” kids. Unfortunately, that time came, when I started high school – and my body was still the same as before. I enjoyed food. Food was sort of a friend to me. Whenever I was really sad, I turned to food. It was the only thing that seemed to cheer me up when something traumatic happened.
Before high school, I was bullied for being “too fat” when I started attending madrasah (school) at the local mosque. There were girls who had the ideal body I wanted and that made me really depressed. Apparently, I was an embarrassment, and being fat was the catalyst for people to pick on me. I felt even the teachers wanted to get rid of me, because I was a “baby” due to my previous verbal difficulties. I cannot fully explain how difficult mosque was for me. If anyone said or did something, I literally combusted into tears. One time, I was suspended for almost half a year because I told my teacher, “I hate you.” Another day at madrasah, I ran out and wanted to go home, because I was tired of the bullying. I was fed up with everyone, including my teacher, for not helping to stop it. I was deeply in trouble when I got home for disrespecting my teacher. Unfortunately, I never managed to escape.
That was one factor that made me apprehensive towards anyone. I mean, I still am, but not as much as before. When I started high school, I just wanted to be in my own world. I did make nice friends, but it was an on and off thing. I was bullied at school – not as extreme as when I was at the mosque; there were just a few harmful boys and girls that thought they were better than anyone else. I was constantly reminded of my features and the two main things I was most insecure about – my “fish lips” and my weight. Especially because I wore the hijab.
As a hijabi, it was definitely a challenge to fit into society’s standards. I felt ugly, fat and I was really depressed. The only way to hide how I was exactly feeling was being funny (I mean, I thought I was, but looking back, I think: ‘what the hell was I doing’?)
When I was in my second year of high school, this was when things with body image escalated and my eating disorder developed. I was constantly referred to hospital because I had a “stomach and vomiting problem”. It came to the point I was prescribed with a lot of medications, as they did not realise I had bulimia, a mental illness, rather than a physical ailment. I did not think anything of it at the time, taking the medication addictively whilst purging, but eventually I became scared of the medication and so I managed manipulate doctors into thinking that I was better.
After that period, my disorder was focused on restricting. I was into drugstore magazines and I tried comparing my body to models like Jordan Dunn. I used to adore the way she looked and that was my goal to looking great at school. They were also “Islamic” magazines that portray the perfect figure for a Muslim woman. This definitely encouraged me to keep doing what I was doing. I craved to be complimented as I was losing weight. That’s what made me keep going. My family, at the time, also didn’t think of anything like an eating disorder, because it is believed part of my religion is being blessed with what god has given you. They did notice I was losing weight, but it was simply thought of as a normal thing, because I was “growing”.
Later on, I was introduced to laxatives, and started abusing them alongside other negative behaviours. I do think because I am Muslim and I fast for Ramadan, I was used to not eating for long periods of time. That definitely had an impact in triggering me to starve myself, because it made me feel “healthy”. Things really escalated when I was in fifth year, because I started to realise what I was doing isn’t normal. However, I didn’t think I was ill and I agreed with anyone that assumed I was “attention-seeking”. Deep inside though, I knew it was much more than this. I was constantly walking out of lessons and going home early because I felt done with school. I hated everyone. I hated myself. It came to a point where I wanted to end my life, because I couldn’t relate to anyone and the fact I was the only hijabi in my year. I was made fun of and made to look like the unwanted one. I felt like an alien.
After years of fallouts, crying and the endless cycle of torture, I managed to recover from bulimia with the help of CAHMS, the people who I love and my RMPS teacher as a huge support.
The past still haunts me; however, you eventually find ways to combat it – like doing what you love and being in a good support network. I definitely would say to everyone out there, especially those in the Muslim community, that your mental health does not define who you are or your faith. In fact, nobody has the right to assume your faith. Just being there for somebody or being with someone can really help with recovery. Even if it’s silent, that support is so helpful.