Acceptance and support of the plus-size movement in the Western Hemisphere has come a long way over the last decade, perhaps peaking this February, when curvy model Ashley Graham became the first plus-size person to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s iconic swimsuit issue. But in many other parts of the world, having an above-sample-size figure can mean having difficulty finding not only fashion-forward clothing but even a husband.
Now, plus-size people in the Middle East are making strides forward — literally.
Dozens of women of all ages in Cairo participated recently in the country’s first plus-size marathon, proving not only that larger ladies can be in excellent physical shape but that they’re worthy of their society’s respect.
One participant, a 19-year-old college student named Nora Ahmed, told New China that the race gave her a much-needed boost in self-confidence. “I was always worried about my shape to an extent that I preferred to stay home in order to avoid street comments about my weight,” she said. Later, she added, “I feel my weight and shape are not problems anymore and cannot hinder me from practicing sports or anything I want.”
Another runner — Randa Mohammed, 45, a mother of five — said that she was grateful that her “husband encouraged [her] and he even allowed his sister to come with [her]“ to the marathon.
The organizer of the event, Marwa al-Saeed (also spelled al-Sayeed), explained, “We are trying to encourage overweight girls to do sports and to live in society without embarrassment. We are suffering from [being] overweight, but it is not a disease.” (Yep: the term “plus size” unfortunately doesn’t seem to exist in Egypt yet.)
Several months ago, al-Saeed also organized Miss Fat Beauty, a pageant for plus-size women in Cairo. “It is time for overweight girls and ladies to stand together,” she said. “We are millions in Egypt, and we have to prove that our big size does not matter when it comes to achievements and success.” She has a point: Egypt was recently named the “fattest country in Africa” and the seventh most overweight nation in the world, with almost 70 percent of the adult population considered either overweight or obese.
On the day of her landmark marathon, which al-Saeed says will be a recurring event, she said: “I want to break a barrier; overweight girls are always shy to run or practice sports because of the society’s criticism [of] their shape. Today we will tell the society that we are able to run regardless of our weight.”