Fat-shaming for Arab women, body positivity for the West

Yousra Samir Imran argues that The Economist’s article on Arab women and obesity is another example of Western hypocrisy regarding the standards it imposes on Arab women compared to European women.

The Economist used a photograph of famous Iraqi actress Enas Taleb for their article on “Why women are fatter than men in the Arab world”.

Weekly British current affairs newspaper The Economist caused a stir earlier this month by posting an article title, Why women are fatter than men in the Arab world, using a photograph of famous Iraqi actress Enas Taleb from the Babylon International Festival last year. Taleb therefore decided to sue for what she calls personal defamation, calling the article an “insult to Arab women”. And she is right.

The article cites that poverty, high carbohydrate diets, higher female unemployment, security concerns, social norms that disapprove of women exercising outside the home, and finally the “preference “Arab men for curvy women as the reasons for the obesity gap. in the Middle East which is at 26% against 16% for men. While some of these reasons are true to some extent, the article is simplistic and lacking in nuance, displaying a homogenous picture of Arab countries by focusing only on Iraq and Egypt, and using this to paint a full picture of the Middle East.

The reality is that the level of security concerns varies from country to country, with some still in the midst of war, such as Yemen and Syria, while others are still trying to recover from conflict. , such as Iraq, Lebanon and Libya. And then there are the countries that are relatively stable like the Gulf States, Morocco, Tunisia and Jordan.

”The statement made by The Economist is in stark contrast to the body positivity the Western media celebrates when it comes to curvy European or American women, with the body positivity movement emphasizing that body shape is not an indication or a measure of good health or happiness. But when it comes to curvy Arab women, it’s suddenly an indicator that UMs aren’t educated enough or know what’s good for them, reiterating all those age-old orientalist tropes.’

The idea that it is not socially acceptable to exercise outside the home still varies from country to country in the Arab world, and the scene is constantly changing, making the general statement of the article lazy at best.

As a former personal trainer who worked in the Gulf with a predominantly female Arab clientele, as well as a former fitness columnist for Grazia ArabiaI can tell you that the Middle East, just like the rest of the world, has been bitten by the fitness bug and Arab women from all walks of life are hitting the gym.

It would be naive not to recognize that for many women in the region going to the gym is a luxury, but from my experience as a coach in Qatar and from what I have seen in the country My father’s birthplace, Egypt, there are a growing number of gyms that cater to different budgets. From the most basic gyms with second-hand equipment that have opened up in the rooms and hallways of old buildings, to the more luxurious ones with spas that overlook the sea – I’ve seen them all, and they tend to be separated by gender.

The Egyptian Documentary lift like a girl is a prime example of changing social attitudes towards women going to the gym to work out, with a particular focus on the working class.

For the few Arab women I met in Qatar who didn’t go to the gym (out of fear of others judging them, which women all over the world experience), they often had exercise machines at home. Arab women’s magazines are full of articles on rashaqah or fitness.

The truth is that The EconomistThe article is another example of the hypocrisy of Western media regarding the standards they impose on Arab women compared to European or American women. The article ends by stating that due to the fact that Arab men have a “preference” for their women to be “Ruben-esque”, Arab women are serious about trying to gain weight or maintain their curves. It ends with indicating“Alas in the Arab world or elsewhere, this is hardly the path to good health, let alone happiness.”

This statement is in stark contrast to the body positivity the Western media celebrates when it comes to curvy European or American women, with the body positivity movement emphasizing that body shape is not an indication or measure of good health. nor happiness. But when it comes to curvy Arab women, it’s suddenly an indicator that UMs aren’t educated enough or know what’s good for them, reiterating all those age-old Orientalist tropes.

Another recent example of this hypocrisy took place during the Olympics last summer, when many European women’s athletics teams challenged sexualization in sport by wearing unitards and other more “modest” attire. Their actions were celebrated, called powerful and feminist, but how many female athletes from Middle Eastern countries have been disqualified to try to wear modest sportswear?

Fashion lovers clamor to wear the latest oversized coats, flowy kimonos and patterned scarves they see modeled during Fashion Week, but when it comes to Middle Eastern women who have worn the layered look and oversized since the day and who wear beautifully embroidered abayas, it is suddenly oppression. As Mariam Khan, editor-in-chief of It’s Not About the Burqa, said at the time, what is the empowerment of white women is the oppression of Muslim women.

As Arab women, we are subject to endless criticism from the Western media. The EconomistThe article is further proof of how the West believes it has the right to make our bodies a subject of discussion and interest, a quieter form of the fetishization that our ancestors were forced into. endured by male French and British Orientalist artists and photographers during the 19th and 20th centuries. It’s hard enough being a woman and being judged by men, society and the media, but it’s a double whammy when you’re an Arab woman, and your body is used as an argument and a kind of distorted image by western media. , as if our BMIs were proof of the evils perceived by the West on Arab societies.

Yousra Samir Imran is an Egyptian British writer and author based in Yorkshire. She is the author of Hijab and Red Lipstick, published by Hashtag Press.

Follow her on Twitter: @UNDERYOURABAYA

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The views expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or its staff.

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