By Humna Salman
Mirror (noun): A surface, typically of glass coated with a metal amalgam, which reflects a clear image.
It boils down to pure physics – a shiny glass surface bends incident light, reflecting it into the viewer’s eye. Yet, mirrors bring a unique set of emotions to each person.
For an orator, it is where speeches and lines are rehearsed. For an ambitious student, it is a site of pep talks, and reassurances to one’s own self, meant to calm nerves before an exam. For others, however, the mirror is a cruel reminder of what they consider flaws in themselves.
Too short, or too tall. Too skinny, or not skinny enough. Too dark, or too pale. But never just right. Unnatural beauty standards, the advent of social media, and seeking validation through fickle, superficial means all contributes to a rising problem in our society – body insecurity.
Off-hand comments, often said thoughtlessly or in jest are a trigger body insecurity. Unfortunately, young girls of pre-teen or teen years are the most affected. Unsolicited advice on losing/gaining weight has a significant impact on these young minds, and it negatively impacts their self-esteem by altering their self-perception. Plagued by self-doubt, they undermine their own intellect, emotional quotient and self-worth.
A sentence or two might be forgotten by the speaker within a few seconds of being uttered, but words hold weight. For someone struggling with their body image, these words remain fresh in memory for a long, long time – sometimes, even for years.
This is precisely why comments about someone’s body – even with the best of intentions- should be avoided at all costs. There is no telling what a person experiences behind closed doors, or how he will internalize them.
Having a healthy body:
Maintaining a fit and healthy body is essential. From both a worldly, as well as a religious outlook, a healthy individual is more likely to excel than someone who is not.
Our bodies are an “Amanah” from Allah (swt), and taking care of them is our duty. Muslims are encouraged to take care of their diet and eat food that is close to nature and “Tayyab” (meaning pure). The Prophet (sa) encouraged sports, and an active lifestyle among the Sahabah who were as fit as a fiddle.
A fit Muslim can worship Allah (swt) to the fullest. Such an individual can offer voluntary Nawafil Salah effortlessly, and devote his energies towards active community service that require physical exertion. A healthy believer is most likely to be mentally sharp, a keen learner and efficient worker too.
An unfit person at a disadvantage in terms of being able to actively participate in different acts of worship. They are also susceptible to a plethora of diseases such as high cholesterol levels, diabetes, kwashiorkor (a disease caused by undernourishment), or anemia.
Therefore, maintaining a healthy diet is important, and avoiding gluttony and impulsive-eating is imperative, but it should be done for the right reasons. Focus on a healthy diet and lifestyle not because of societal pressures and/or standards, but because a fully-functioning body is a blessing from Allah (swt). Preserving this body well is a form of gratitude to Allah.
Healthy relationships with food:
Often, unhealthy relationships begin from childhood. From their early years, parents’ ought to portray food as a means of nutrition, the means to keep a body up and running.
“If you finish your plate, you get a slice of cake.”
“There’s a treat for dinner, but you must finish these veggies first.”
“If you behave well this week, we can go get your favorite food this weekend.”
However, these are oft-uttered sentences by parents, where children are shown food as a reward. While it is effective in making children eat without fussing, it gives the child a sense of food being a source of enjoyment. Ultimately, this might even give rise to habitual binge-eating in the later years of one’s life, which brings a whole host of problems.
When eating becomes a coping mechanism, the real objective of food gets lost.
The concept of “guilty pleasures” continues to add fuel to the fire. Fast-food adverts are tempting but that is where our self-control comes into play. Is our long-term health better than those few minutes of satisfaction while the flavors remain in fresh on our taste-buds?
Brick-by-brick, a whole wall is made. By changing ourselves, inculcating better eating habits in our children, and leading by example, we will help everyone on a communal level. Even though altering the mindset and lifestyle of a whole society is difficult, slowly, but surely, progress can be made. There is just a strong need to join hands and eradicate the problem of seeing food as reward and body image as the ultimate goal.