Body Stories: Rabiah

May 04, 2020

Body Stories: Rabiah

In Body Stories we speak with different D&B customers about their relationship with their body image. We ask them how their relationship with their body has changed over time, what or who has influenced them and what they love about their bodies today. 

Each conversation in this series has been candid and thought-provoking - reminding us how universal a complicated relationship with body image can be. The conversations were honest, poignant and surprising. We left each one feeling inspired by their story - and hope you do too.

In today's feature we talk with Hackney scientist, swimmer and DJ: Rabiah. 

Tell us a bit about you.

I’m Hackney born and raised, a scientist slash DJ. By day I work in clinical trials helping cancer patients get treatment that isn’t typically available on the NHS and I spend my evenings and spare time co-running a creative collective called Creole Cuts and DJing around London at various events. We had a full summer of exciting events lined up, including a residency at Southbank, but Covid-19 has put our plans on hold!

Something that’s really important to me is my swimming community, SwimDem: a community-based swimming club. I’ve been swimming with them for two years. Prior to joining SwimDem I was an awful swimmer but actually learning to swim with SwimDem has given me the confidence to do so much more than just swim – it’s also changed how I feel about my body. I remember in that first session I didn’t feel at all confident in a swimsuit, even a year ago I still struggled with it a little. But now I change into my swimming costumes and feel so much better about myself. It has helped me to become so comfortable with my body and it instilled me with a mindset of ‘if I can do this, I can do anything’ – something I was definitely lacking.

D&B Body Stories - Rabiah - Body Image & Body Confidence - SwimDem

What is the earliest memory you have of your body image?

I’m an identical twin and with twins there always tends to be one that weighs slightly more than the other and is bigger than the other – the one that took up a bit more room in the womb. From a very young age I was always asked “who was the bigger twin?” at school and at family gatherings. The comparison and the interest in our relative sizes started very young. I remember being referred to once as ‘the ugly twin’. We were identical so I knew it wasn’t really about how I looked, it was more because I was introverted and shy, an easy target.

Growing up as a twin you are constantly compared. We didn’t actually compare ourselves to one another, but people would always compare us: one is the neat twin, one is the scrappy twin and so on. As we have gotten older we have developed completely different personalities, grown into ourselves, and we are very different to one another today. Some things we do are scarily similar - we definitely have that twin sixth sense thing - but we’ve discovered who we are as individuals and become more comfortable in our own selves too.

D&B Body Stories - Rabiah - Body Image & Body Confidence - SwimDem

What have been some of the biggest influences on your body image and body confidence?

I come from a conservative Muslim background and I was always taught to cover up. If I wore something that was revealing I would feel really uncomfortable. Even now I’m not used to it. It took me a very long time to feel comfortable in a swimming costume. I was involved in a swimwear shoot through SwimDem with Stylist Magazine a year ago. Someone showed my mum the photos and she reacted badly because I was in a swimming costume in a magazine. She didn’t understand and thought I should be covered up. I tried to explain “it’s body positive, it's good to see normal bodies in a magazine”. That’s why I did it and I’d do it again. But it’s hard. I’ve continued to swim and continued to wear costumes because it’s so important: representation really matters.

Who you see in adverts and the media is so important. Some brands definitely feel like they are targeting a very specific demographic because of their choice of models. A friend from SwimDem told me about D&B, a swimwear line that is really for every body and I love that you don’t use just one type of model, that you recognise different types of body exist. Growing up I didn’t see other people like me in swimsuits, so if I have the opportunity to be that for someone else, then I would want to.

My job has also really influenced how I feel about my body image. On a daily basis I am interacting with people who are desperately trying to live. The majority of my patients have been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer: most of them have been told that they have six months, at most a year, to live. The trials we offer are literally their last chance to live. I think seeing these people hold onto life forces you to have a change of perspective. It’s been a huge process of growth for me as I’ve realised that so many things just aren’t important. Instead, spending time with family and friends, doing things you love – these things matter.

And learning how to swim has influenced my body image and body confidence too. Swimming is such an important life skill and no one else in my family can swim - it’s very common for people of colour to not swim. I didn’t want to be part of that statistic, I really wanted to break the barriers and encourage more people of colour to learn to swim. That was part of my motivation for joining SwimDem. It’s crazy how much swimming has improved my body confidence – I didn’t set out for that to happen but it’s been an added bonus of learning this new skill. It took me ages to feel comfortable in a swimming costume and now I’d happily always wear one.

D&B Body Stories - Rabiah - Body Image & Body Confidence - SwimDem

What do you love about your body today?

I like my curves. I used to hate them – I was very slim as a child and my curves arrived in puberty. I also have a hormone imbalance which means my weight fluctuates quite a bit and it’s something I cannot control. I used to find it really frustrating. Compounded by seeing certain body types in the media or struggling to fit into a certain size in a shop. It creates a complex where you feel uncomfortable in your body. I used to feel very uncomfortable. But swimming and a refreshed perspective – realising that ‘it isn’t the end of the world’ has changed this for me. Today I like my curves. It’s okay to big chested, every button of the shirt doesn’t have to be done up. It’s so important to feel comfortable in your body.

D&B Body Stories - Rabiah - Body Image & Body Confidence - SwimDem

What makes you feel amazing in your body?

Self-care: I love getting my nails done. It’s the one thing I do once a month for myself and it makes me feel so good about myself. You can do anything once your nails are painted.

And swimming. As an exercise it uses every muscle in your body so I feel amazing after a good session. And being in the water also gives me lots of mental clarity. Once I’m in the water I’m not thinking about my day or things that make me sad or angry, I’m thinking about staying alive. It reminds me to focus on myself. It’s an amazing form of escapism and it’s nurturing.

D&B Body Stories - Rabiah - Body Image & Body Confidence - SwimDem

What advice would you give to your younger self or to another woman to help her develop a good relationship with her body?

I’d say it’s important to love yourself first. Once you do you can achieve so much. I used to be so anxious about what others thought of me and one day I just realised that this isn’t what life is about. I asked myself ‘why should other people’s opinions of me fuel my anxiety?’ Once I got to know who I was I became so comfortable with myself and happy with who I was. If there’s something you enjoy or want to do, why shouldn’t you do it? I discovered my passions – music and DJing and have spent time doing the things I love, putting myself first.

D&B Body Stories - Rabiah - Body Image & Body Confidence - SwimDem

Loved reading this?

Take a look at the previous blogs in this series featuring AmyMelanie, Charlotte, Naomi, Kath, Ameera, Deb & Sophie.