Wasat Girl: The Fat Side of LifePosted: June 12, 2013
A “Wasat Girl” embraces being in-between multiple cultures, because this transcultured space is globalism living out loud. It was where culture happens, the place of power, that middle space – “wasat” culture.
Being a wasat girl is a cultural force, but there is a unique type of Third Space reserved for the overweight, the fat girls. If you grow up large, your life may be like crouching in a crevice, like in a fat roll, where you assume a type of invisibility even while knowing that people notice far more of you than they do the smaller folk. You are both inside and outside of public space: there is the sexual invisibility, the social biases, and sometimes, there is internal self-loathing because you feel that you will never measure up to Pretty Girl Space. You know that your girth enters the room before you do.
During the first few years of my marriage, there was a trip to Nairobi for an international conference. A large Maasai woman came up to me during an evening reception. She had remembered our first meeting at another reception in Washington, D.C., a few years prior.
On this African night, the Maasai woman, a Kenyan landmine activist, approached me and said hello again. She recalled that I was freshly married the last we met.
As she took my arm, she proclaimed, “Oh my! You’ve gotten so fat!”
(Hear Deonna read this post!)
Of course, she read my mind. I felt fat. I was fat, and I felt even heavier while in Kenya in the only nice outfit I had, already worn once and in need of another use before washing.
Here I was in an elegant location, a room filled with the politically elite, being called out for my obesity by an African lady. (Incidentally, the same room appears in the 2005 movie, The Constant Gardner, in an eerily similar diplomatic reception scene featuring Rachel Weisz and Ralph Fiennes. You can imagine the glamour.) I was hoping that observers wouldn’t notice my weight. This imagined invisibility was a type of wasat-like mechanism I often employed; a desperate attempt to project thinness into some fictional Third Space. On that night, I walked around literally thinking, maybe people won’t really notice that I’m fat.
Then, this woman materialized and poked at the largest self-loathing scab I had.
“Well,” I stumbled, “I had a baby, you know. I haven’t lost the weight.”
She squeezed my arm tighter, her own being even fleshier than mine, and said, “Yes, you have definitely gotten fatter since the last time I saw you!” There was that lovely, wide, African smile moving across her face.
Who does something like this? Who comes up to a woman in public to decree that she has fleshed up and expanded? This Maasai woman, already tall like the rest of her kin, weighed twice as much as I did. Who was she to call me fat?
Yet, she was so beautiful; absolutely regal. She commanded such a presence that the particles in the air bent down in her honor.
My face reddened and I stood woefully embarrassed in this crowd of diplomats and international aid workers. I struggled to find excuses for my circumference, to make amends for the abundance of white, American flesh. This woman looked me up and down, patted me left and right, before saying in her cheery Swahili-Maasai tilt “Your husband must be making you very hap-py!”
In parts of Africa, a fat woman is a happy one. It means life is keeping well with her. This Maasai sister did not see deficiency or weakness when she canvased my benevolent, physical topography. What she saw was a vibrant, complete woman.
I’m single now, and one of the biggest fears I faced upon deciding to leave my marriage was the feeling that I was too large for any man to ever love. Oh, Deonna, my friends bellowed, you are just chubby. You are healthy. Your diet is better than most Americans, and you exercise. Really, most men don’t care as much about this as we think they do.
My mother called me up one day after reading a Facebook post about the matter and said, “Get over it.”
It is hard to get over a lifetime of apologizing for how a body inhabits space. These apologies become demons that are hard to expunge. One potential relationship I ruined because I felt too inadequate. As I bid him farewell, he said, “But you are so cool!”
Yeah, I thought, but don’t get too close because I’m still so fat.
I sabotaged another relationship, someone whom I love deeply, by flaying my insecurities at stealth speed. I undermined his presence in my life because, in part, I felt my weight flawed me so deeply that I was impossible to love. There is a real likelihood that because of my insecurity, I seek men who will never show up for me in the first place. So yes, if I want to move forward to a full complete life, I have to take my mother’s advice and just get over it.
Over dinner recently, I mentioned to my son that I needed a new life story. Not one to miss a chance to be witty, he promptly declared, “You need to stop thinking that you aren’t skinny and realize that you are skinner than you think.” He is eleven-years-old and has yet to deconstruct the relationship between language and power, but I appreciated how he did not use the word fat once that sentence; he used skinny twice, as if to make some sort of point about the liminal space of my body.
I have great friends in a small writing group who recently bitched-slapped me for hanging on to the old fatness script. They combed through the rough drafts of my memoir — prose disproportionately swelled in favor of my perceived inadequacies — and they said things like: Do you realize how strong you are? Your story is one of a woman who has done things most other women couldn’t do, and yet you don’t tell that story because you are too focused on perceived weaknesses. Stop it. You are a better writer when you aren’t allowing your insecurities to be your voice.
Change the script and you change the self.
One friend introduced me to a hadith by Imam Sadiq:
Verily, the servant has certain stations near God that cannot be realized without one of these two attributes: either the loss of his wealth or affliction in his body.
Perhaps this issue with my weight is a struggle that I need for an internal spiritual journey to realize my intrinsic value. Maybe, just maybe, it is like a crack for the light to shine through.
Another friend once said that writing is invocation. What these things in mind, I am beginning to write a new story, indeed. I am getting over it. I am starting to see myself as this regal, complete woman who doesn’t merely take up space in a room, but someone who bends the particles of the air when she enters. If I am going to be a wasat girl in mind, culture, and body, then I claiming this space as my homeland.
I am writing myself beautiful.
Deonna Kelli Sayed is a Love, Inshallah contributor and author of Paranormal Obsession: America’s Fascination with Ghosts & Hauntings, Spooks & Spirits. She has also contributes to altmuslimah.com and Muslimah Media Watch. Deonna is currently working on her memoir, The Way Will Be Made Clear, with support from the North Carolina United Arts Council Regional Artists’ Grant. To learn more, visit her website, and join her on Facebook and Twitter.