The following story is a real story of a girl I have counseled.
Her name and some facts have been changed for privacy.
“They wanted a boy, but unfortunately, I was born a girl.” Those were Hana’s words as she sat facing me at Not Guilty’s counseling office. She is overweight, or more accurately obese. She has a very low self-image.
Here is her story:
My relationship with my father was never great. Our home was a war zone with everyone screaming, blaming, and fighting at all times. I preferred to stay away from home as long as possible. I learned how to lie, manipulate, be evasive, and deceive. I used to ask my father for money for private tutoring, but used it instead to buy jewelry and sweets. I watched my mother constantly belittling my dad, humiliating him in front of us siblings. My father had longed for a son to remove his shame in the family (That’s part of the Middle Eastern culture); he was the only one of his siblings who had no boys. But he ended up with five girls. I was number three. My older sister is my best friend, but I always felt like I didn’t belong in the family. I felt like a nobody. My father was always blaming me for not being a boy. I learned that the only thing that never blamed me or screamed in my face was food, so I dealt with my anger through food. I ate incessantly—nuts, chocolates, and anything else I could get my hands on. By the time I was 15, I was 300 pounds.
Girls and boys in Egypt love to buy new clothes for feasts. It’s the custom, part of the celebration of any feast. Before the feast in 2017, our family went shopping to buy new clothes. Since I was so overweight, and because there are no plus-size clothing stores in Egypt, it was difficult to find something that fit me, let alone look good on me. I had to buy much more expensive clothes. I was thrilled to find a white top and black pants that fit me and even made me look slimmer. After we returned home, my father insisted that I return them because they made me look like a panda bear. I cried all the way to the store. I hated my father so much. “Maybe he is not my father,” I thought. “Maybe I am adopted and they are not telling me. But who would even want to adopt someone like me? Fat old me!” I cried, but I never let anyone see me cry. Crying is weakness: that’s what my mother taught me. “Whatever happens inside the house stays inside the house. Never tell anyone anything about what is going on here or you will be severely punished.” She often repeated these words as I was growing up. I wanted to avoid being at home during the summer holiday, so I decided to work at the shoe factory my uncle owned. He was rich and generous. It was the summer before my last year of high school, and I thought it would be nice to have some extra cash. My job was to be the cashier. I was relieved I would not be with the other workers; I didn’t want them to make fun of my weight or my performance. I had heard my uncle describe how cruel they were to each other. He also described them as “useless”—always causing problems, never satisfied with anything. But he needed them, so he put up with a lot.
The first day of work, I woke up very early. I was thrilled. Maybe now I would find a supportive atmosphere—the encouragement, praise, and compliments I needed and deserved. I would also have my own salary and would not need to steal from my father anymore.
That morning before leaving for work, the door to the only bathroom was locked, as it often was. My mother was banging on the door, shouting at my father to get out so others could get in. “I am shaving!” he screamed back at her. I couldn’t wait to get away from the shouting and shrieking of my home.
I arrived at the factory at 8:00 sharp, proud and afraid, ready to learn. I felt unworthy. But my uncle greeted me with tea and a sandwich of fava beans—a staple food for many Egyptians. “How are you, Hana? How wonderful that you have agreed to come work as the cashier.”
My uncle began teaching me some accounting skills so I could do the job. I felt as if I was in heaven, where everyone is appreciated and there is no shouting, screaming, or blaming. This must be what it is like.
I was bothered by one thing, however. All the girls at the factory looked at me in pity. Was it my weight? Or were they envious that I was in the cashier’s chair? I did not understand.
“You look happy,” my mother said when I returned home one day.
“Yes, I am,” I told her.
“I hope you will not shame us in front of your uncle like you usually do,” she answered.
I said nothing.
“Do they make fun of your weight at the factory”?
“Oh, I’m sure they do. They must do it behind your back.”
Days passed, and my uncle was treating me so nicely, I felt like a queen. No one had ever treated me that way before. I even forgot about my weight and started taking care of myself. I felt pretty and loved. At last, it seemed I had found my long lost father—a father who treated me like a human being and loved me unconditionally.
I started confiding in my uncle. He was always available, never too busy for me. “You can tell me all your secrets, Hana,” he assured me. “You can confide in me.”
He bought me very expensive clothes in pink and blue, in black and white—clothes that fit perfectly and made me look gorgeous. After a month of working at the factory, he bought me a gold bracelet. I had never worn gold before. I always longed for my father to buy me gold earrings like all my friends at school, but my father always complained that he could not afford it. “How can I when I have to support five daughters and their mother?” he said.
My father made us feel that we were a constant burden. But my uncle was different. I thanked God for him. I had two weeks left at the factory. My two months summer holiday were almost over, and I was discouraged because I would have to leave my new, long lost father. As usual, my uncle came one day with tea and a fava bean sandwich.
“Good morning Hana,” he said. As he placed my breakfast on my desk, he brushed my breast. I stopped breathing; I froze. Surely, he didn’t mean it. I looked at him, and he stood there waiting for some reaction. I didn’t know what he was expecting. I said nothing and put it out of my mind. I chose not to think too much of it. There was no way he could have done this on purpose. He loved me like a father loves his daughter. He had proven that over and over again during the past couple of months.
The next morning, the same thing happened again. This time he let his hand linger longer on my breast. I felt sick to my stomach. I felt dirty. What should I do? I could not tell anyone. If I told my parents, my mother would tell me I was lying, that it was my fault. She would tell me I was imagining things, as my uncle was a very respectable man and very generous with all the family.
The next morning, I put on a very thick coat in spite of the hot weather. I wanted to protect myself.
“What is this you are wearing in this heat, Hana?” my mother asked. “What’s wrong with you?”
“It is too cold in the factory,” I responded.
“You were always the weird one in the family. You wear this coat in January, not in August. But suit yourself.”
I went to the factory, but I had lost my passion, my enthusiasm, and my faith. As usual, my uncle brought tea and a fava bean sandwich. When I tried to stick to the back of my chair to avoid his hand, he looked at me and asked, “What’s the matter with you?” Now I was sure he meant what he did, that he was grooming me to abuse me. My image of the father figure shattered. I understood why the girls at the factory were looking at me with pity. I realized I had to protect myself from my uncle, who was supposed to protect me.
The next day, I told my mother I was sick and didn’t want to go to work.
“Stop procrastinating,” she said. “Get dressed and go to work. What’s the matter? Wasn’t this your heaven?” She never waited for an answer, leaving quickly and slamming the door.
I got dressed and pulled my heavy legs to work. I felt cheap, crazy. This couldn’t be happening to me. I must be dreaming. Why would he do this? It must be my fault. I am to blame. My uncle is a respectable man, that’s what everybody says about him. My uncle started putting his hand on my thigh, then under my blouse. He took my hand and placed it in his crotch. He sat for hours near me at the cashier, which was situated at the back of the factory.
He had his eyes straight ahead to see if any of the girls were coming.
He never looked at me. He just did what he wanted to do. I couldn’t open my mouth. I felt like screaming, but no voice came out.
The two weeks were up, and school was starting the next day. I returned to school. I still carry my secret with me until today.
I cannot tell anyone about it. They wouldn’t believe me. How long does it hurt? Will it ever go away? It’s my fault.
I have never told anyone. And I have never touched tea or fava bean sandwiches ever since.
Do share this story with parents and caregivers of children and teens.
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