This is the story of a young man who weighed 67kg and yet perceived himself to be 110kg.
So this is how it all started: since the day I was born, I've had a thick bone structure; everyone thought I was a cute, chubby baby. Conversely, my eldest sister has a model-type body and everyone praised her for it. And so, at the age of four, I asked my mother if we could buy diet chips that would help me lose weight - this was the beginning of a pattern of disordered eating.
When I turned six, a kid at school made fun of me saying I was the fattest kid there, and many other kids supported him by laughing at me. Around that time, my cousins and neighbours created a fat-shaming song in Arabic about me - little did they know that at that age, a seemingly innocent song would scar me for life.
During my teenage years, girls would complement me by saying 'your facial features are beautiful but too bad you're too short and fat'. Once, my elder sister pranked her friend by telling him that her brother was a tall, muscled man with a red car, then, when I walked in the room, her friend started laughing hysterically because, of course, I looked nothing like the man my sister had described.
So by the age of 12 I was following a severe diet, which resulted in me losing 20kg. I shortly after ended up in the hospital with a broken hand because of a lack of nutrients. The jokes kept coming, and at the age of 17, a guy in my class asked the history teacher during a lesson, 'Why is everyone growing taller yet Rouhana is growing wider?' Yet another ‘joke.’ Ha ha. A simple moment of laughter for everyone else came at the expense of my own self-esteem. Years of snide remarks and ‘innocent blows', coupled with a steady diet of media consumption that portrayed unrealistic images of the male body, resulted in me genuinely hating myself before I even hit my twenties.
I absolutely hated the way that I looked.
Eventually, I lost control of my diet and my health habits became toxic. I started binge-eating, exercising for up to five hours a day, and then vomiting up my food. I lost so much weight (around 40kg) whilst adopting the worst and most unhealthy habits, but guess what? People said I looked great… I was validated. I felt good about myself. I went from 110kg to 67kg, yet when I looked in the mirror, I would still would see myself as…fat. The jokes and remarks remained permanently etched in my mind, and as much as I try to see them for what they were - meaningless words - to me, they have contributed greatly to the journey that is my life.
Eventually, I had to face the music and seek professional help. Body dysmorphia is no joke.
Today, I am curvy and proud.
I changed the scenario in my head: my aim is to be healthy, not skinny. I am still a work-in-progress, and I am aware that getting comfortable in my body is a process. Sometimes I feel good about myself, and sometimes I feel bad - and it is okay. I have learned to embrace every kind of emotion, and I have taken control of all the triggers that can make me reject myself.
I now surround myself with people who are equally aware, I have educated myself on how the media and society can work, and how to protect myself from false body advertisements. Now, as a content creator, I make sure to raise awareness and talk about this issue through different outlets. If someone fat shames me - or anyone else, for that matter -, I won't just let it make me feel bad, I would point it out to them and educate them about how what they're doing is wrong.
We still have a long way to go when it comes to male eating disorders, but that's exactly why we need to shout loud about them.