2017 Summer Alex Ennes External Programs IES Abroad Morocco

Body Positivity in Rabat: Part II

Same disclaimer as Part I! I use a lot of gender binary terms in this post, but I can’t stress enough: body positivity is for everyone!

Hello and welcome! I am back on my body positivity soapbox and ready to rock and roll!

Back home, in the hot summer months, I often notice young women wearing a lot of crop tops, short shorts, etc. This is great! If you love your body and want to show it off and wear that cute crop top, go for it! I will support you! But there seems to be some kind of unspoken rule that only “skinny” girls can wear these clothes. Although this “rule” is completely untrue, it has made the conservative dress in Morocco an interesting change in summer life. Don’t get me wrong – there have been a couple of brutal 100 degree days where all I wanted was to ditch my long sleeves and throw on a tank top. Despite this, dressing conservatively has forced me to focus less on my body when I would otherwise be stressing about it all the time.

One of the biggest reasons that summer is my least favorite season is because it’s a time when I feel the most self conscious, when I am most acutely aware that my body is not the standard – I’m constantly bombarded with images of thin bodies in bikinis, at music festivals, living their lives, etc. There’s nothing wrong with people who have “perfect” bodies and celebrate them in a bikini, it just always reminds me that my body doesn’t look like that. It’s for this reason that my body confidence has skyrocketed since coming to Morocco. I don’t have to think about body standards as often because they’re not as visible. Of course, I would love to see women celebrate their bodies here by dressing however they want (some do!), but I also respect the cultural and religious significance of conservative dress. Even though its purpose is mainly religious, dressing norms here have been an interesting component of my exploration into body positivity.

Take it back now, y’all! Let’s talk about swimsuits! Even though conservative dress is the norm here, women are welcome to wear whatever swimsuits they want on the beach. A few of my friends and I went to Skhirat, a nearby beach town, this weekend to celebrate being done with midterms. Normally, the beach is a big old barrel of body shame for me, but my experience in Skhirat was completely different. When I went out in my bathing suit, I couldn’t stop thinking about the beautiful weather. It was so breezy and cool compared to Rabat! Because of my bathing suit, I could feel that breeze on my entire body! My shoulders hadn’t seen the sun in ages! On the beach, I was so grateful that I could feel the weather on my entire body that I didn’t care one bit what I looked like. I was so happy to be there, experiencing everything fully. Who cared what I look like? I wasn’t sweating for the first time in a month! It’s this kind of experiential feeling that I’m always striving for with body positivity, and it was nice to get there for once.

I also had a great body positive experience recently with – you guessed it! Bellydancing! My center hosted an “Oriental Dance” class for students and we all went to learn how to bellydance. I can’t even begin to describe how fun it was. We were all having a blast shaking our booties! We wore garments that jingled when we danced – they made it feel like every move was a celebration of our bodies. During the class, I completely let go of how I looked. It was a hot day, we were all sweaty and tired, but most of us had smiles plastered on our faces. It was such a delight to partake in an activity in which we could really use our bodies (remember: bodies are an instrument, not an ornament). In a situation where I would normally feel self conscious about how I looked, I was able to let go of my own body image, which was incredibly freeing. I felt just like I did when I was little, running around and playing games and not caring if I had a wedgie or if my belly was showing (both of which probably were). My takeaway from bellydancing is this: If you can find an activity where you use and celebrate your body so much that you forget what it looks like – do that! I loved bellydancing because of this, and I just might sign up for more classes!

I could go on forever about how many of my experiences here have impacted my self image. I’ve grown a lot in many ways since coming here, but growth in body positivity was not something I expected. I’m very grateful to have studied in Morocco for many reasons, but I might be most grateful to take my newfound confidence back home.

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