“Mama, I need to catch the bus in 10 minutes. Goodbye!” Rabia yelled and dashed out the door to the bus station, which was only a few blocks away.

It was a familiar sweltering morning, with the sun at its height with the warm breeze, far from the idyllic conditions Rabia had envisaged for her first day of college. Rabia was enthusiastic as she was finally starting college, which was more practical than school. She was feeling a bit apprehensive, as ambiguity governs the future, but the joy and excitement of what it holds overcame the skepticism. Finally, it was her time to make new friends and interact with different people and their diverse stories.

As Rabia walked through the college’s entrance, there were many smiling faces. Everybody was excited, ready to make their first day memorable. She was entertaining herself by fantasising about the pandemonium around her when she unexpectedly ran into a girl named Zara, who was carrying juice in her hand and was busy gossiping with her five friends. This inadvertent mishap caused juice to fall on Zara’s shoes.

“Can’t you watch while walking around?” Zara reacted in a rather loud and harsh tone.

Rabia panicked and immediately said sorry, but Zara proceeded aggressively, “You better look for yourself, or do you think your fat exterior makes it problematic for you to manage that?”

All of a sudden, words like fat, obese and food freak began to strike Rabia’s ears. This was the first time she had been addressed in this manner, up until now, she hadn’t thought or felt concerned about her physical appearance. It has never mattered to her.

Rabia felt embarrassed, tried her best to hold her tears, and walked towards her class. She was aware of the concept of bullying and understood that from now on, she would be bullied because of her overweight appearance, but for her, silently tolerating it was the only option because it was what others did.

However, it didn’t stop, with each passing day, words like fat, chubby, and obese were waiting to welcome her, and she tried to calm herself. Rabia eventually became less social, preferring to be left alone and her confidence in herself deteriorated with time, affecting not only her academic achievement, but also her mental well-being.

She even began feeling dizzy and weary due to the inadequate amount of food she was consuming to reduce her weight. However, she was ignoring the fact that she had hypothyroidism and it caused weight gain.

It was Sunday when Rabia’s mother came to talk to her, since she had been observing the change in her daughter and was concerned that she was not eating properly.

“Sometimes it’s okay to stand up for yourself and doing that conveys confidence. It shows you respect yourself and do not give others the permission to talk in any way about you. Sometimes people talk out of ignorance, if they were better informed, they will realise how wrong they were,” Rabia’s mother explained.

Rabia got the gist, she now understood where she was wrong and what she needed to do.

The very next day, Rabia happily went to college and energetically took part in class, when suddenly she again heard the same comments about her. But instead of ignoring it like always, this time she took the teacher’s permission to speak something to the class.

Rabia got up and faced the students. Then she started speaking, looking directly at the girls who teased her the most.

“I have been hearing comments about my weight, most of them very hurtful. I have never answered back but today I would like to say something about it. I am chubby not because I consume loads and loads of food, but because I have hypothyroidism, a disease in which the body’s overall metabolism is slow and delayed, resulting in obesity. But even if I consume loads of food, it is my perspective on life, and it will not make me a less intelligent student,” Rabia spoke in a calm and measured tone, to a class that listened to her attentively.

“Perhaps it is high time to stop judging a book by its cover and try to understand that good physical appearance is subjective and relies upon one’s preference to present oneself, and as long as it complies with college standards, it is not susceptible to criticism. And, most importantly, we are all different and unique in our own ways. We all have qualities that make us a good or bad person, which is not dependent upon our physical appearance.

“We don’t know the struggle the other person is going through, so we should not be quick to judge others. Thank you for listening to me,” Rabia concluded and sat down. There was a huge round of applause.

Rabia realised that she did something different and made a change, not just for herself, but for many others who were silent on their treatment by others. Rabia’s experience taught her a lesson about self-acceptance and standing up for oneself. It’s okay to be different, and it’s important to communicate your problems to others instead of silently tolerating mistreatment.

Since it was the last class for the day, after the class all the students, started packing their bags. When Rabia was about to leave, Zara stopped her and apologised for what she had done earlier. They both smiled and went off together.

Published in Dawn, Young World, May 4th, 2024

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