The Stigma of Being Plus Size in the Egyptian Society

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Most people in Egypt don’t even know what plus size is, and they don’t know if they fit into this category or not. I don’t really blame them since I myself didn’t know what plus size meant either, until I heard it from someone. Me being me, I decided to find out what it meant, so I started my research. According to the Oxford Dictionary, the definition of the word ‘plus size’ is: “Denoting or relating to clothes of a size larger than those found in standard ranges.” I still did not understand; what did they mean by standard ranges? If I wear an XL or XXL, does that make me plus size?

So I started my research again. This time I asked, “When am I considered plus size? The answer I found came from a modeling website; saying, “According to PLUS, the term 'Plus Size' is an industry standard that applies to any woman who is over a size 12. To be even more specific, the fashion industry identifies plus size as sizes 12-24, super-size as sizes 4X-6X and extended size as 7X and up.” Size 12 in the European chart (which most stores in Egypt use) is a 40, so if you’re a size 40 and up, you’re considered plus size.

Now that I’ve established the meaning of plus size, let’s get back to the topic at hand, shall we? The topic of plus size in Egypt is not really discussed, just like the concept of fat shaming. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a ‘taboo’ topic like the LGBTQIA+ community or sex. It is, however, a topic that has been socially accepted for so long that it became okay to some extent. When I was younger, I was taught that pretty girls are skinny girls. Sadly this wasn’t an exception; every other young girl was probably taught the same. Curvy and ‘big’ girls weren’t (and sometimes still aren’t) socially accepted; they were made fun of or made an example of: “If you don’t stop candy ya habeebty, you’ll turn out like her,“ or “Do you want to be fat like that girl on TV?” I mean, the media wasn’t necessarily helping either.

This is really evident in most current and older Egyptian shows, films and series. The plus size actor/actress is usually the punchline of most of the jokes. They’re almost always portrayed AS overeating, even though most plus size people don’t necessarily eat that much; some people are plus size because of their hormones or so many other reasons. As a young girl, I don’t really remember any actor/actress saying, “This is my body, let me be happy with it,” or “I’m curvy and I love being curvy.” This has made my experience growing up especially hard. You see, I was the fat kid. I never felt accepted in my society because I looked different than other girls in my school. It’s sad to think that it took me such a long time to be able to say and think, “I’m curvy, that’s my body and I slay everyday“ -but that was my experience. I don’t know how it has been for other girls; maybe they got bullied, maybe they stopped eating -hell, maybe some of them got seriously hurt. I was lucky to have my friends who never made me feel weird because of my looks or weight.

Some people tell you that you must lose weight out of concern for your health, and in my opinion, I see nothing wrong with that. I mean, that just shows how much they care about you, doesn’t it? I would rather have someone tell me that I’m overweight out of their own concern than make fun of me or how heavy I am by saying, “Bas yabny la tebatatak” (translating to “stop, or she’ll flatten you down [by sitting on you]”), “Shaklek ba2a 3amel zay el feel” (translating to “you look like an elephant”), or “Ya dabdouba” (you bear).

When you’re plus size, people love to tell you to lose weight, or that “you’re going to look so much better when you lose weight.” I don’t want to sound too dramatic, but that sentence used to kill me. I hated hearing it, not because I was in denial or anything, but because of the way people said it. They didn’t say it out of concern; they said it out of pity or criticism. To a younger girl, a teenager who is still finding her confidence, her spark, this is horrible. You start at that point to eat more and more, in your teenage mind (which is very melodramatic), there is no point; you’ll always be fat. Others may take this as motivation, but you never know what type of person you’re talking to.

I understand that making fun of people or as we so pleasantly call it ‘el saff’ is part of the Egyptian culture, but that doesn’t necessarily make it okay. I respect my Egyptian culture but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I should hold on to every part of it, the good and the bad.

People, please stop trolling your friends and stop body shaming them. I know that it might not be your intention to body shame them, that you’re just having ‘fun’ -but sometimes ‘fun’ does immense damage. Self-confidence is not unachievable. I mean, look at me; I’m as confident as ever, but it takes time to be confident, to love yourself. So for the sake of everything that is holy, find new punchlines for your jokes. If you’ve got an overweight friend, encourage them to pursue a healthy lifestyle, or just let them be.

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