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Hitam manis.

(adj.) literally translated as ‘sweet black’, an adjective which refers to a dark-skinned person who has a sweet or attractive look.

In Indonesia, if we have a dark skin and happen to have an attractive face, we’ll be given ‘hitam manis’ title, which elevates us aesthetically from a mere dark-skinned person. But then, no matter how attractive you are, if you’re dark-skinned, the highest level of physical admiration you’ll get is probably that ‘hitam manis’ title. You’ll rarely move to a higher class of definition. Yes, the general term of an attractive looking person: ‘Beautiful’ (In Bahasa Indonesia: cantik). You can be ‘hitam manis’ but sorry, not ‘cantik’.

That actually happens in many places in the world, even in places where the natives consist of dark-skinned people like in some parts of Asia and Africa continent. We understand that light color, especially white, associates with cleanliness. But why is having dark skin-color seen as bad? Isn’t the color of the earth, where our resources grow, dark brown? Don’t we realize that Prophet Adam alayhissalam was created from dirt? So, essentially we are all created from those dark-colored substances.

Sometimes, the judgment may come from our own family. Have you ever seen a dark-skinned girl teased with ‘You’ll never find a spouse because your skin is too dark’, or if it happens to a boy, short stature might be the matter? Even in general circumstances, we might unintentionally degrade others by commenting on their physical features.

Like the beautiful earth which contains so many colors: white cloud, brown soil, blue sky, and red roses; from vanilla skinned blonde girls to cappuccino skinned curly haired boys, all human beings, regardless of their skin color or other physical features, are b.e.a.u.t.i.f.u.l.

This verse in the Qur’an addresses us about diversity:

‘’O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the noblest of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.’’ (Al-Hujurat: 13)

Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala has commanded us to embrace diversity in human beings. We should not be divided by race, skin color, nationality, etc. Rather, we should love each other only on the basis of Islam.

This is the era where relative-deprivation[1] is so common, along with prejudices and racism. It could lead to negative body images which might drive a person to more serious problems like anxiety, self-harm, eating disorders, etc.

We must have a positive body image in order to be confident. A step to fulfill our tasks as a Muslim, to lead a beneficial life for a successful hereafter. As elaborated in this ayah below:

‘’And spend in the way of Allah and do not throw [yourselves] with your [own] hands into destruction [by refraining]. And do good; indeed, Allah loves the doers of good.’’ (Al-Baqarah: 195)

How can we foster the attitude of positive body image to ourselves and our loved ones? Here are some tips that might be useful:

  • Be Grateful

We cannot deny that there are some people who are blessed with features that are socially regarded as ‘beautiful’. But then, like other inborn qualities, we should try to make the best of what Allah has blessed us with. Some people are born with a specific size of the nose. Some people passed genetic diseases. The truth is, each of us has different inborn qualities that have its own hikmah. Not everyone can live a life of dysmorphia, not everyone can live a life with a very pale skin which might get burned under sun exposure. This body we have, with all the beauty and challenges that come from it, is our weapon. This is the weapon that Allah has especially given to us when we first breathe the air after coming out of our mother’s womb.

The face and body that we have now is a gift from Allah. Yes, the eyes you use to read this sentence, the hands you use to scroll on this page, all are gifts from Allah, the Lord of this World.

Realize that we’re the creation of Allah The Most High. Our body, with all of its uniqueness, was made perfectly by Allah. Isn’t so beautiful?

‘’And [remember] when your Lord proclaimed, ‘If you are grateful, I will surely increase you [in favor]; but if you deny, indeed, My punishment is severe.’ ” (Ibrahim: 17)

The key to happiness is to be grateful for what we have. Being grateful is also the first step towards self-love. Thank Allah for everything, including this beautiful body of ours.

  • Be Positive

A positive attitude comes from being self-accepting of our strengths, as well as our limitations. Negative attitudes that tend to directly impact body image are perfectionism, comparing and being highly critical or judgmental. These are characteristic thinking styles of people with anorexia and contribute to body image disturbance. (Halsted, 2016)

Know that it is okay to experience negative emotions such as sadness and disappointment. Hurtful moments can happen. We can’t control people’s behavior towards us but we can control our own behavior and mind. Don’t let the comments from others about our physical features make us drown in despair. There is nothing wrong with the specific shape of eyes, or a specific shade of skin. Having certain features does not make us less valuable than the others.

It was mentioned in al-Saheeh that Abu Hurayrah said: “The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: ‘Allaah does not look at your appearance or your wealth, but He looks at your hearts and your deeds.’” (Narrated by Muslim, al-Birr wa’l-Silah, 4651)

See? Allah does not look on us based on our appearance. Rather it’s the hearts and deeds that matter. Then, why should we become so concerned about people’s opinion on our body?

Know that we’re indeed beautiful and we don’t need anyone’s opinion to justify it. Accept and love ourselves the way it is. Focus on our strength and what can we do with the body and talents that we have now. Turn the negative vibe from others into a fuel that can make us more productive and stronger.

  • Take Care of Our Body

Our body, like any other things we have in this life, is an amaanah given to us by Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. We should take care of it and use it in the best possible way.

Find out the best thing we can do to take care of our body. Find out which skin care works best for your type of skin. Find out which type of sport you can do with the body you have. Eat healthy, clean, and halal food that would make us strong inside out.

Do activities that make us happy, not just physically but also mentally. Use the body and talents we have in the way of Allah.

We can turn a sport into an act of Sunnah by doing archery and swimming. We can turn our skin-care routine into an act of helping our fellow Muslim business which sells halal and beneficial skin-care products. Most importantly, taking care of our body could be an act of worship with the right intention to please Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala.

  • Dress Only to Please Allah

Following latest trend in fashion or other standards of beauty made by humans might lead to a never-ending circle of ungratefulness. New cosmetics, new clothes, new trends. Today they said that thin eyebrows are beautiful, tomorrow they will glorify full and thick eyebrows. The mind becomes thirsty yearning for recognition from others, and when the expectations aren’t met, it might get sadder and indulge more in such lavish behavior. Waste of money, waste of time. Don’t let human opinion make us go astray from the path of Islam; whether it’s following haram trends, or being sad with the body that we have now.

One of the hikmah of using proper hijaab is a liberation of judgment from the ajnabis (non-mahram). Hijab taught us to have a firm belief in our choice and action. It liberates us from following the standard of beauty that society and media placed upon us. This study[2] conducted by University of Westminster UK and HELP University Malaysia found that Muslim Women who wear hijab might have better body image than those who don’t.

It is natural for us, especially women, to love beautiful things and want to look beautiful. But do only the halal things and keep everything in moderation. Most importantly, dress only to please Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala.

  • Appreciate Others

Spread the message of body positivity to the people around us. Start with seeing them all as the same beautiful human being. When our mind is clear from prejudices and racism, we can start to love and respect others. Treat everyone with the best manners and never make a distinction to people based on their physical appearance.

Speak up when we hear a hurtful or racist comment about someone. Remember, we can always speak the truth without being harsh. Remind everyone politely of the beauty of diversity.

Pay attention to our words. Sometimes, it is the unnecessary comments that might bring someone down. Spread the positivity and help others to feel good about themselves.

Abu Hurairah (May Allah be pleased with him) reported:The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “He who believes in Allah and the Last Day must either speak good or remain silent.” [Muslim: Book 18, Hadith 1511].

We can also practice the attitude of body positivity with our children or siblings. For example when they’re in playground and meet another kid who has a unique appearance, ask them to come to that kid and invite him to play. Emphasize that different physical features among humans are one of the sign of the Greatness of Allah.

I like to make the parables of this life as a war game. The world we live in is a battlefield. Our inborn qualities are our weapons. Our circumstances, which are different in every person, are different monsters. Everything has been decreed perfectly by Allah. It’s our task to utilize the weapon we have as much as possible to fight the monsters and win the battle. In regards to our body: love it, take care of it, and use it rightfully.

Be beautiful inside out. Hopefully, we all can develop a positive body image in order to fulfill our duty as a Muslim. But most importantly, we should take care of our hearts and our deeds. May Allah make us among those who use their body and wealth in His way, to achieve purity in our hearts and be consistent in our ‘ibadah.

And now, back to the title of this article: ‘am I pretty?’

Look at yourself in the mirror. Smile and say it firmly, ‘Alhamdulillah, I am more than pretty’.

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