“I like to be the voice of the voiceless”, says Tunisian model Ameni Esseibi. Known as the first curvy model of the Middle East and North African region, Esseibi is regenerating the way the region views and caters for curves. Alongside this, she is also determined to help others like herself, who struggle with self-love to find their true inner confidence.
In life, we all have those metamorphic moments which redirect our journey and purpose into a direction that perhaps you don’t always just want but need. For most, these moments don’t come early on but for Esseibi, her life-changing moment came at the young age of 16 years old. “I wanted to be different. I was being bullied in high school and I knew if I didn’t do something about it, it would ruin my life.” Esseibi made a choice, she changed her life complexly by deciding to take control over what was happening to her, “I forced myself to learn to love myself and build this confidence where no matter what happened, I had this barrier to protect me”. After she first began to feel the difference it was making to her day-to-day, she felt obligated to teach others the tools of self-love and confidence. “Initially my goal was to start an anti-bullying movement, It then went from that to a stereotype breaker, and then to a self-love and body-positive speaker. It just all developed within time.”
Throughout history, in Arabic culture curves were once idolised and considered a sign of womanhood, however, in many countries over the years, there has been a clear cultural and economic shift which has immersed the Western ways of living and being - including their physical appearance. This change through the decades has influenced the younger generation of Arabs and their own idea of beauty ideals connecting more to the Western standards. Some feel that the evolution of ideals has affected all ages, Esseibi tells us “we live, unfortunately, in a very judgmental society, so it's very hard to be an Arab especially if you have a very weak personality as you will get eaten by the judgments very easily. it gets to you sometimes as body image in the region is judged by so many people, they have so many crazy opinions.” She says, “I’m sure that most Arabs can relate going back to their country for the summer and there are people like ‘oh my you have gained so much weight’ or ‘don't eat that you're going to gain so much weight’, there's just so much pressure from society whether it comes from family, friends, or even co-workers - people always get involved.”
How to handle the societal pressures comes from within and can only be fixed by yourself, Esseibi’s main message is simple, “you need to learn to love yourself, its hard and it won’t happen overnight, it takes time and baby steps, maybe you will need guidance from professionals or watching videos on Tik Tok from other people’s journeys or advice”, the importance is often overlooked, as not loving oneself can lead to a life trajectory that is less favorable. “Low self-esteem, no self-love or confidence comes from trauma, and this trauma could be from your childhood up until any age. Maybe someone bullied you about something you’re insecure about – whatever it is, it’s made you feel broken in some way. The only way to deal with this is to heal the trauma, if you don’t want people to view you a certain way, you must not view yourself that way. How do you expect a person to not see you how you see yourself?”
Esseibi feels that everyone deserves a place in the fashion world, whether you’re plus size, petite, handicap – anyone and everyone should be represented. It’s important for people to remember that although the fashion industry doesn’t always provide clothes for plus-sized bodies or show plus-size models wearing clothes that make you feel gorgeous and fashionable, you still can. You can wear whatever makes you feel good. God has created you right and you must respect and appreciate it.”
Understanding how hard it is in the beginning, Esseibi still feels the difficulties to this day with people slating her whole career, “they tell me I’m teaching the young generation that obesity and diabetes are normal and that I’m pushing people to not be healthy. This is just completely wrong, you can be extra-small and have diabetes, or you can be a size medium and have health issues. Size does not define your health. People always tend to think the bigger your size the more health issues you have, and that’s not true.” These opinions are unhealthy for all sizes and people focusing on the larger sizes the majority of the time can also have harrowing effects on those who are going through their own battles with weight as Esseibi points out, “people have eating disorders and anorexia, you can have your own issues that you have to deal with no matter what size you are, people can’t look at weight one-sided”.
From a young age, Esseibi felt that to be a proper and proficient Arab woman, one must always look pretty, be respectful, don’t talk too much but don’t talk too little, be classy and never complain but always smile. “It’s like society expects us to be robots and that’s just impossible, I think I express my voice a lot and have a loud voice that says the things our society thinks but feel they can’t say and push some buttons. The conversation needs to be open for change to happen”, Esseibi is unlocking the door to it all.