Barbie dolls line the shelves of a discount store in the United States by Jason Bradley

By Barbie or Burka

Muslim Women, Eating Disorders

Iranian-born Yana Hamid was encouraged by her peers to starve herself. “I started fasting for Ramadan,” she says, “and I just didn’t quit.” The majority of Muslims observe total fasting between dawn and sunset during the holy month as ordained in the Quran which says, “Fasting is prescribed to you…so that you may learn self-restrain.”

For Yana, whose name was changed to protect her privacy, fulfilling this commandment led to unforeseen consequences.

Yana says that within the first few days of Ramadan, she began to feel better. She reports that she had more physical stamina and mental alertness. She continues, “The more I fasted, the better I felt. I felt in control. I felt closer to Allah.” Her peers suggested that she was increasing her level of iman, or faith, and encouraged her to continue her pursuit. She adds, “I stopped eating solid foods altogether and soon I was very, very thin.” Yana explains that she “felt so utterly in control — perhaps for the first time in [her] life.”

But Yana continued fasting long after the holy month ended.

Like an estimated 300,000 college-aged American women, Yana Hamid suffers from a weight-related obsessive compulsive disorder and has resorted to anorexic behaviorisms in an attempt to achieve the size-zero bodies of the models prominently displayed in the American media. But unlike most other anorexics, Yana is Middle Eastern.

Yana’s parents soon became concerned and sent her to a doctor. “My first doctor actually told me that I was on a noble path and encouraged me to eat only as absolutely necessary,” she says. “Eventually, I lost so much weight my parents sent me here, to the United States, for treatment.” Her weight is now stabilized, but she remains concerned that she could fall “into the trap” again. Yana acknowledges that the images of women portrayed by the American media do nothing to diminish the desire to be thin, adding, “Being thin is so alluring and so accepted.”

Another young girl, 19-year-old Lebanese-American Asma Hussein, whose name was changed to protect her privacy, enjoys all the nightlife her American college town has to offer: clubs, raves, parties, pulsing beats on the dance floor, and a bounty of boys vying for her attention.

Asma plays it cool, consciously unaware of the young men as they jockey for position on the dance floor. She draws in a slow drag from her Camel Super Light.

One young gent sidles up to her and makes a pass. “You have the best eyes,” he says, “and the rest is pretty fine too.” He offers to buy her a drink — anything she wants. “I don’t drink,” she replies rejecting his advances. As the music shifts from house to a disco-medley, she excuses herself from the crowd and makes her way to the restroom.