A Dubai-based model and blogger is leading a movement to push for greater body acceptance in the Muslim world — starting by asking retailers to offer more options for plus-sized women who want to dress modestly. Model Arfa Shahid, who was born in Pakistan, told the BBC that she has dealt with body shaming since she was a child.
“Growing up I was always a heavier kid, and I used to hear a lot of mean comments,” she explained. “Even at the age of 4, people would come up to me and tell me I need to lose weight. You have to understand the cultural background behind it. They think it’s OK to tell you how you look and what you should be like.”
Despite the negative comments, Shahid soon discovered that she had a keen fashion sense. But even as she began to come into her own, she found that very few clothing stores offered fashionable clothing that wouldn’t be deemed immodest for women of her body type. As she talked with other Muslim women, she found that they too had encountered the same problem.
“When I grew up and discovered my own style people kept asking me about my fashion sense and fashion tips,” Shahid recalled. “I think it’s so frustrating to walk into a shop and not be able to find modest plus-size clothing. As a Muslim woman you’re supposed to dress modestly and have clothes that are of a looser fit and don’t really show off your body shape.”
As an adult, she added, people still feel the need to comment on her weight. But Shahid said she that one of the most important lessons she’s learned was not to let others control how she thinks of herself.
“People still get shocked when you tell them you’re a model,” she admitted. “They don’t think that someone who is plus size or heavier could actually model. Words hurt. They made me feel really down. But I also had this hope at the back of my mind. What people define me as does not make me who I am. How I define myself is what I am.”
Watch Shahid’s interview with BBC News below.