A Body Image Journey // Tasneem Iqbal

Tasneem Iqbal is five foot tall, and has a love/ hate relationship with that. She has been a vegetarian for almost four years. Most of her go-to beauty products are animal cruelty free. She loves long walks on the beach at sunset and she loves her dog Nikko Nut (Left) more than Ryan Gosling.

 

 

 

Alwaysm: Tell me about a time you had a negative thought about your appearance.

Tasneem Ibqal: “I started developing really early. Like, really early. I must have been like ten or eleven when I started having to wear bras and stuff, and I hated it. It almost felt like a punishment. My clothes wouldn’t fit me right. I was a child, and I was wearing teenage clothing. I guess that was my first negative experience.”

Alwaysm: How did you respond to that at the time?

Tasneem: “Well... I was a bit of a tomboy, so I stuck on sports bras and strapped my chest down. I guess after a while I started embracing it, but that’s how I dealt with it at first. Wearing looser fitting clothing, and things that didn’t reveal too much of me. That was my response.”

So, you were uncomfortable with growing into a woman.

“Yeah, basically. I was raised by a single father and it was awkward.”

Yeah. Tell me about that. Can you tell me where that insecurity came from? And the feelings that made you want to cover yourself?

“I was taught that if a man looked at me, it was my fault because of the way I was dressed. It didn’t necessarily come from my father, but I interpreted it that way. As a young girl, I was blaming myself for the actions of others. As an eleven year old, and being more fully developed, people would stare at me and it was awkward. Instead of giving hugs to my old friends, I was expected to only shake hands. Because, I had a chest. I was a woman and this is what women do. Mentally, it gave me a sort of stigma. I was a woman, and I didn’t think it was fair. I didn’t think it was fun.”

So you didn’t like the restrictions put on you from a pretty young age. Actually, I had a similar experience. How did that affect your general fashion sense? Women especially are expected to ‘look nice’. Fashion is a big thing for women. How did not having the freedom to wear what you chose to look pretty, or look nice affect your life?

“I was always a chubby teenager. When I started wearing more conservative clothing I started wondering, ‘What’s the point? Why would I want to make my hair look pretty?’ This was me at eleven, though. I was pretty young. That mentality changed when I hit like, thirteen. But at eleven I just thought, ‘What’s the point?’ I was in soccer but I didn’t really exercise. The only point to being a girl was to cover up and protect yourself so there was no point in trying anything. I was into boy bands at that age and I loved to paint my nails, but I never really did much because it was a very religious household. I just tried to stay modest and didn’t get into fashion, really.”

How did growing up in that environment affect your own self-confidence, and the way that you viewed yourself?

“I was unsure of myself for the longest time. I felt like a pretty insecure teenager, and it affected my teen years that way. The way I dressed and the way I felt about being a women, I was very insecure about it. It felt like I got the short end of the stick. I remember going to mosque, for example, and other girls wore hijabs and modest clothing and they wore it fashionably. These girls looked gorgeous in them. They were rocking their scarves, they were rocking their clothing and here I was with some odd clothing choices. These looked ill-fitting and just not well kept. Confidence wise, I had pretty low confidence, low self-esteem...being chubby and not dressing properly, and not looking like the other girls.”

Do you think maybe the expectation of modesty and having to cover up yourself played a role in the low confidence?

“It did, for me. For the other girls my age who were at the same religious schools as me, attended the same mosque that I did, I guess they had a positive experience with embracing the scarf. These girls knew exactly how to wear it and I was honestly clueless. My mom is white, and my dad is Pakistani. I was just a confused kid. I was wasn’t fully accepted by the Muslim crowd, and I wasn’t fully accepted by the white crowd. So having to learn about my culture and embrace it, and try to be a “good girl”, I knew that some fashion was unacceptable. Like wearing short sleeves. I was uncomfortable in my own skin. For me I definitely internalized it negatively, whereas if I had a little more awareness I would have embraced it differently.”

Now having been through this, what have you learned to really like about yourself? And how have you moved past all of this?

“So now, I love everything about me. I think that everything about me is what makes me, me. In high school I became friends with these two girls I went to mosque with. They were the sweetest girls. They both were in track and cross country. They were so in shape, and told me, ‘You know if you just eat right and love your body, and love you for yourself everything will change. You just have to have confidence in your own decisions, and trust yourself.’ It was literally that tiny, small conversation that really changed it. I woke up the next morning and I was like, “Oh my gosh. It’s literally what I put in my body that makes me feel like crap. It’s literally my diet that needs to change and maybe the chemicals in my brain will change, and that will change the way I feel and how I look. It turned out, that’s exactly what needed to be done. It just took me a while to figure it out. After highschool I started doing yoga and eating healthy. It really did change everything.”

Awesome. It’s funny how one little comment from someone can actually change your life sometimes. I feel like there are a lot of women who have come from the same ‘modesty’ background. What would you say to women, or even young ladies, who are still feeling like it’s their responsibility to make sure nobody looks at them inappropriately?

“Well, for the expectation part, I feel like you need to have a conversation with yourself and figure out what you personally value. I understand that as a child living in your parents household you’re going to have to obey their rules. But you should reflect on why they are asking you to cover up. It should come from within. If you feel like you want to cover up, then by all means. But it has to come from within. If you’re doing it for all the wrong reasons, you need to speak to your parents about it. Tell them, ‘You know, I appreciate you guys trying to protect me…..’ There’s also a line, though. Unfortunately we live in a man’s society. You can’t exactly walk around in a bikini every single day, even though that’d be awesome, you’re going to have some people looking at you. It’s unfortunate, sickening, and upsetting. Expose your body how you want to, but within reason I guess. There are always limits to everything. When people ask you to cover up they aren’t like, ‘Here. Put this sheet over your head. Cover your whole body. Put two eye holes in the front.’ When people say wear modest clothing they’re saying, ‘Don’t wear scandalous clothing. Or see-through clothing.’”

For me it’s more of a self-respect thing. If I go out and wear a bikini to Walmart, that doesn’t show that I care about myself very much. And sometimes people might look at you, not even in a sexual way, they might just be like, “What is this person doing?”

“Yeah. I think the way that you dress is like the first conversation you have with somebody. If you can’t take yourself seriously, then why would anybody else take you seriously?”

Yeah, and I think there’s really no set modestly rules. Who’s to say what is modest, and what isn’t. The point is the heart behind it. If you’re dressing a certain way so that you will get attention from men, it’s just different. On the subject of modesty, you said you grew up in a primarily Muslim household.

“Yes.”

So, tell me about that as far as modesty goes.

“Growing up in a Muslim household, culture kind of goes hand in hand with religion. So, basically because my dad is Pakistani, it’s kind of like the Liberals in the modesty world. So, my dad enrolled me in an Islamic private school to help introduce me to the religion, not just the culture. It was obvious who was from Indonesia and who was Palestinian or Jordanian, and who was Pakistani. It was very obvious. You could tell by modesty, even. It was just interesting seeing all of that. What was the question?”

Umm… the question was………Do you like donuts?

“That was not the question.”

Just kidding.

*laughter*

“I go nuts for donuts.”

Tell me about living in a society that’s not primarily Muslim, in America, how that affected you.

“It was always kind of different for us. People always know, it’s kind of shouted. It’s always kind of an ‘us versus them’ scenario. Muslims definitely stand out, and they become subjugated, especially after 9/11 that it became really scary. I used to think that I would be a target for wearing a scarf. We used to have fire drills for the Mosques in case somebody came and attacked the mosque. There were a ton of Muslim men and women wearing the exact same things, so we felt in danger. Part of that time, it was quite nice. People would ask questions. They wouldn’t be scared of us. I wouldn’t be scared. It’s kind of funny, though, how fast things changed.”

Yeah. Did that play a factor in your decision whether or not to wear a scarf?

“I grew up half Italian, and my mom was never religious. My parents were divorced so I would spend so much time with her, and holidays with her. My dad was primarily my caregiver. I never wore a scarf except to school. It was part of the uniform. I didn’t wear one until the fourth grade, where it became part of the uniform. They started training you early there. In kindergarten, first, second, and third grade it was optional. But the minute you hit fourth grade, it is required. And it’s not fun being forced to wear something. It just isn’t. I understand uniforms, yes. But I don’t believe you should force anyone to wear something they don’t want to wear. And I never wanted to wear the headscarf. I only wore it to mosque, sunday school, sounds like I wore it all the time, but no. I took if off when I got home, I took it off when I got in the car even. I think the hijab, that’s what it’s called by the way, is a beautiful thing to wear. It is beautiful. If it comes from the heart, that what makes it more beautiful. That’s what makes it extraordinary. So if that’s how someone wants to show themselves, then that’s awesome.”

Yeah, but you feel like when you wore it, it wasn’t really an expression of who….

“Of who I was. No. With my friends all wearing it, and they wanted to wear it. They felt passionate about it, and that’s great. I don’t know why, but it never clicked with me. It just never was me. And that’s okay. You don’t have to be a good person to wear a hijab, and it doesn’t make you a bad person if you do. I really hate how that is. People think that if you don’t wear a scarf, you must be crazy, you must be loose, you must be not modest, which is not true. I want to be clear though. Wearing the hijab was never forced on me, it was just expected. My dad took me to my private school. He said, ‘This is what a hijab is. People of our religion wear it.’ That’s what the school taught us. ‘Isn’t it nice wearing one and following the religion? If you don’t want to, it’s cool too! God says you can’t be forced to do it, it has to come from you.’ What’s the point of wearing it if you’re not going to follow it? It’s not just a scarf, it’s a lifestyle. I didn’t really get it. My friends did and I didn’t. But I did it, unwillingly just so I could fit in. Just to hang out with them.” 

*This interview was lightly edited for clarity and brevity

A Body Image Journey // Luane Davis

 Luane Davis is Mommy to Emery, and wife to Chris. Luane, also known as LuLu, is also an ex-bartender. Anyone who knows her knows she loves to cook and spend insane amounts of time with her family. She also enjoys anything DIY. LuLu grew up with very little control of her surroundings and very little stability. Because of this, she takes great pride in herself, her home, and her family.

Alwaysm: Tell me about a time that you felt negatively about your body, or yourself in general.

 LuLu: “One time? Because, it has been my whole life. Not since I had Emery did I start to actually like the skin that I’m in. Even when I was really, really skinny in high school looking back at how skinny I was, when I was in that moment, it still was not good enough. I wouldn’t wear a two-piece, I would still wear a t-shirt over my bathing suit all of the time. Then years later, I started getting more confident and it came from having Emery. I was like, ‘Yeah, I got stretch marks now. So? This *points to hipis because I like to cook. This is because I had a child. This is because I’m happy. But before it was like, ‘I want to look like this person. I want to look like that. I want my clothes to fit me the way they fit that person.’ Now it’s just…. Chris loves me, Emery loves me, I love me. That’s all that matters.”

Alwaysm: Cool. So you said you covered up a lot when you were younger? Was that something that was expected of you, or that you chose to do?

 LuLu: “No, well… I put my step-dad in prison for forty years for raping myself and my sisters at a very young age for years and years. It stopped when I was around nine, and that’s right when I was coming into being a young woman. I always had misconceptions of what beauty was. I looked at myself differently than most nine year old girls would look at themselves because I was used in a different way. I never use it as an excuse, but I knew deep down that my perception of beauty was skewed because I was so screwed up from such a young age, literally from two to nine years old. And that’s when you’re soaking everything up. Some people never get over that stuff. It took me about twenty-eight years. I have to retrain myself basically. I had to be a toddler again. When someone gives me a compliment instead of saying, ‘Oh, no no’ I have to tell myself, ‘Just say thank you, Luane.’ My sister’s are older, so I think it affected me more than them. I took it out on all the people around me, I looked for love in all the wrong places, in makeup and in hair. Now, it’s a healthy thing, but then it was a cover up. I couldn’t be without any of the makeup, the cool hair, the cool clothes, I could never just be me and be comfortable with that.”

Tell me what sort of thoughts did you have to fight, and how did you get through that?

“I think the biggest part was what I saw when I looked in the mirror. There was a point in my life when I was seventeen I stopped taking all of the medications I had been prescribed by all of these different doctors. My step-dad's trial was when I was thirteen, so after that it was therapist upon therapist, doctor upon doctor, and everyone was prescribing me things for something that probably wasn’t even there. Nobody wanted to get to the root of the problem which was how I perceived beauty and love. Everybody just wanted to cover it up with another medication. So when I was seventeen I didn’t know what it felt like to just be normal-- to not have to take something to just be normal. I was having to take something to get out of bed, and to go back to bed. To take something in the middle of the day to keep going. Take something to not be depressed. I didn’t know how people do it, so I just quit taking everything. It was summer when I was seventeen and I was in California with my dad. I stayed in my room for about two weeks, and basically detoxing off of all that sh*t. Adderall, Dezoral, Prozac, Paxil. All this sh*t that should not have been given to a child my age. Or even a teenager.”

How long were you on all of these?

 “My whole adolescence. The whole time. So, I detoxed myself and I felt really really good but my body went into shock and within the span of about six months I went from 120 lbs to almost 200 lbs. When I was eighteen I weighed 220 lbs, that was my largest size. I never really noticed it because I was so happy. My mom pulled me out of school early because kids started bullying me because I got big. But I didn’t see it. I didn’t feel any different The stuff that I would normally eat was affecting my body differently now because I didn’t have all of the chemicals inside of me. But, I didn’t have an eating disorder until later. I didn’t notice my weight until I started dating again when I was nineteen years old. Then, I was on a mission to get skinny again. I don’t have patience, even to this day, so I just started trying to find ways to lose the weight fast. That’s when I became bulimic. I lost weight really fast. I got skinny. I felt great about myself, at least I thought I did. When I was fat I would walk by a window and see my reflection and think, ‘That’s not me. That’s not who I am. That person I see in the reflection ate me. I’m in there somewhere.’ Then later I would see my reflection and think, ‘Oh, I’m skinny again.’ But something was always missing. I was never fully satisfied with how I looked. On a daily basis I would look for other things to make myself look pretty, like makeup and hair. I would look for it in other things as well, like hook-ups. When I was bartending, I can’t tell you how many times I woke up and didn’t know where I was. It doesn’t last long. It’s very temporary, the high that you get off of that. It wasn’t until I met Chris that the things I never had growing up started happening; like stability, security, he respects me, he supports me. Those things I never really had no matter how hard people tried to give them to me, I just didn’t want them. But this time it was coming from somebody who didn’t know me, and didn’t owe me anything. That’s when I started to see myself differently. Literally, the day I had Emery and I held her in my arms everything else just fell off, like dead weight. I just didn’t care anymore. I didn’t care if it took five years to lose my baby weight, I didn’t care if I never did. I mean I did want to, but my priorities completely shifted. I wish I had been someone’s priority when I was growing up so they would have given me the affection and attention that I needed to get there quicker. But, I just had to wait a little longer. Chris came along and got me there. I mean, suicide… there are so many things that came into play when it comes to body image.”

How do you think that time you spent being overweight would have been different for you, had there not been an outside pressure to be skinny?

 “I think, honestly, it was a blessing. I was a chunky kid, and I didn’t grow into my teeth until I was a teenager. Looking back at childhood pictures I was chunky, dark haired, white freckles, buck teeth, I just looked like… nobody wanted to be my friend, right? Then I started doing makeup and started losing weight because I started taking all of these medications. I wasn’t meant to be fat person. All of the sudden when I got thin, everybody wanted to be my friend. I knew how to do my makeup, my hair. People that knew me when I was seven, were like, ‘Oh my gosh. You’re LuLu?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m cool now.’ It was a blessing that I got fat, really. Because now when I meet people, I almost step out of my body for a moment and put myself back in my fat body. I ask myself, ‘Would this person be talking to me and want to spend time with me if I was in my fat body? Are you talking to me because I’m pretty, and you want a pretty friend? Or do you think I’m fun? Be real.’ I never had thought about that stuff until I got big, because ninety percent of the people I thought were my friends, wanted nothing to do with me when I got fat. And the friends I had when I was fat, they were real friends. I was never popular because I was friends with everybody, I was friends with the goths and the geeks and the jocks, because I wanted everybody to like me. I never cared about what anyone else looked like, but I realized when I got bigger that most people are very shallow.”

Let me ask you a final question. You said that you loved these tights you’re wearing. What makes you like them so much?

 “I love them because they are different, unique. I bought these online. I love, love, love funky patterns. Every time I put them on, I just feel so confident. When I walk into Kroger, I can know that no one else is going to be wearing these things. And if they are, then we are probably soul mates.”

 

*This interview was lightly edited for clarity and brevity

A Body Image Journey // Rosanna Durst

 This is Rosanna! She is a full time private music teacher, recreational hockey player, and Trekkie. She lives with two cats, Joey and Eagle. Rosanna enjoys board games, and loves spending time with her family.

 

Alwaysm: Tell me about a time that you had a negative thought about your body.

Rosanna Durst: “Well, I’ve had a lot of times like that throughout my life. I recently went through a divorce, and that really wrecked a lot of things. I was just not good enough in any way, especially with what I looked like.”

 Alwaysm: How have you responded, in the past, to negative self talk?

Rosanna: “The first thing I do is put on something I really like to wear. I make a real effort to put on things that look good, and that I enjoy wearing and that make me feel good about myself. I was taught from a young age that everybody is beautiful. I repeat those things back to myself, things that my mom taught me.”

 Awesome. Tell me more about that.

“I’ve heard my mom say negative things about her body, but then she would always turn it around and say, ‘It’s not a good thing to think those things. They aren’t really true.’ She would tell me I was beautiful all the time when I was younger, and I always thought that she was. So when she would say something negative about herself she’d say, 'Wait. No, that’s not true.' And she always had good things to say about other women of all different shapes, sizes, races, everything. Even when she wouldn’t conform to what they were wearing or have the same kind of style, she would always notice what is beautiful out there.”

 That’s awesome. I love that. Would you say, then, that you grew up with a pretty positive self image?

“I think I have for the most part. We all go through the negatives, especially going through puberty, everybody goes through that. For most of my life, I’ve been pretty positive about myself.”

 Awesome. Tell me more about dressing up and going out of your way to look nice when you feel negatively about yourself (Which is awesome, by the way). How do you go about that?

“Well, you saw how many clothes I have. *laughs* I am  constantly turning over my wardrobe. When I notice something that I love, I like to see if it looks good on me first. If it doesn’t, then it’s not going to happen. I choose to flatter the things that I love most about myself. I do like very flowy things, that cover up some of the weight. Most days I put on makeup nicely, and I do it for myself. I look in the mirror and think, 'This looks nice. I’m going to play this up and then I can take on the world.'”

 Yes! Love that. So how did you come about discovering what you love best about yourself?

“It was really in the last couple of years in my personal life. My husband made me feel very beautiful in the beginning. The way I reconciled that with happened was to see truth in what he had said and recognizing that it was still true; trying to look at it objectively. I think we all see ourselves as less than other people see us.”

 For you getting dressed is empowering. I love that, I am all about it. What are you thinking about most when you get dressed in the mornings?

“Well, I teach young girls music lessons. I see them every week. So, how I feel about myself is going to send messages to them. I always have that in my mind, as well as trying to look professional. I try to look upbeat and happy to send positive messages.”

recite-pcxbp1.jpg

 Funny how kids pick up those things, and when we feel good about ourselves it can rub off on them. It sets an example.

 Do you have any advice for young women struggling with their self-image?

“One of the biggest things, especially with me being plus-size, is believing that beauty isn’t directly tied to your weight or any features at all. All women are beautiful in some way or another. There are standards that society puts out there like, ‘If you have more of these things, you are more beautiful.’ I don’t think that’s true at all. Beauty has to do with what type of attitude you have, much more than if you’re the right size or shape. I don’t think beauty is even necessarily related to health, or status in life, or what you do. It has everything to do with how you see yourself and how you present yourself.”

 Good advice! Every single woman on the planet is built differently, it doesn’t make sense to compare anyone to another.  

 What do you like about this outfit that we chose for your cousin’s wedding in New Orleans in November? How does it represent you well?

“It represents me well because it’s not over the top. It’s going to be really cute. I love those red shoes. I wear them any chance I get. I can’t walk in them very long, but I really love the heels. Also, the way we cinched it at the waist, playing that up is a good thing. I also like the sleeves, they are in the perfect spot; I have a little flab up there on my arms. I like the neckline, it’s going to be really nice for November.”

Yeah, it’ll be a great look! It’s slightly edgy and funky, but also very professional and polished.

 

*This interview was lightly edited for clarity and brevity