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A Woman’s Right to Back Rolls: Ameni Esseibi Pens a Letter on Body Positivity

Tunisian model and Jean Paul Gaultier ambassador Ameni Esseibi knows her worth, and isn’t afraid to show it.

Ameni Esseibi

Photo: Ankita Chandra

“Describe myself in one word? Bold. I am not your typical human being. My brain doesn’t function the same way most people’s brains do; I’m just built differently. I am the black sheep and I always look at things from a different perspective. For example, posting that picture of my back rolls on my Instagram page. For me, it’s totally normal, but because we live in a messed-up society, it comes across as shocking. And people loved it, honestly – they told me I have gall for posting it because people in fashion would never publish something like that. I wanted to prove a point to the world of fashion, to break the stereotype of everyone being perfect in the industry, and be relatable to the wider world. I am here to change the way people think.

I blame capitalism and businesses for making us think that something like having back rolls is a problem, so that we go and spend money on liposuction to remove them. They make us feel like cellulite is wrong, based on their notions of what beauty is; it’s all psychological and getting into people’s heads about how to feel beautiful and confident. I am here to tell you not to believe them; you are pretty, they just want your money – realize that. The problem is that society is trying to make the definition of beauty one common sentence for everyone. But really, the definition of beauty is the best version that you can give of yourself, whether it’s physical or mental or emotional – that’s the real definition of beauty. Along with society and capitalism, people’s insecurities are driving this narrative. The more insecure you are, the less you realize your beauty value. I know I am unique; I know there are not two Amenis. I have been called arrogant, a lot, but I think people are so insecure in today’s world, that they don’t know the difference between confidence and arrogance. So when people give me negative feedback, I honestly feel bad for them, because I know it’s based on their insecurities. I totally support other people putting themselves out there, I am a ‘you do you’ person, because those people know their worth and show it.

Ameni Esseibi

Photo: Ankita Chandra

I am a third-culture kid; I’ve lived in Dubai for 21 years. Born in Tunis, we left when I was two months old because my parents wanted a ‘better’ life for me, which meant joining the Western world, which is ironic because we Arabs come from countries that have been broken by the Western world. A lot of my thick skin comes from my nationality. I am a proud Tunisian woman and I come from a family of hustlers; we are all fighters. My mom is a cancer survivor, my dad is the definition of someone breaking every stereotype, and he fought for our future. Tunisians are known as ‘spicy heads,’ we are hot-blooded, we have strong personalities, and strong women, and it goes 50/50 – there’s no difference between women and men in my culture. I want to be the Naomi Campbell of the Arab world, to show that we have a very successful Arab model who is curvy. I want to change the way the Western world looks at us. Why do we always have to mold to them? Why don’t they mold to us?

I have been bullied my entire life, because I was the brown-skinned, tall, curly-haired girl with a big bosom by age 12. I grew up with white kids who were blonde with blue eyes and all tiny; I was like this giraffe in the middle of them. When you stand out, you should embrace being the black sheep, because society will always make you feel like you’re not normal. They will try to exclude you and make you feel like you don’t belong. You belong where you feel like you belong, not where society says you fit.

I was discovered at age 18 on a modeling shoot for American concept store 11 Honoré; that’s when I met Vogue Arabia editor-in-chief Manuel Arnaut and he had a lot to do with my introduction into the market – he is someone I shared my vision with. The Jean Paul Gaultier team brought me into the international modeling world and for them I am forever grateful. They believed in me when no one did, and for an internationally-acclaimed, French, white-owned house to believe in and push for an Arab, curvy girl – it says a lot. It says that I am doing the right thing. Sometimes it just takes one person to believe in you, that one person who has the power to change something.

Being unapologetically yourself in this social media world might take longer to catch a large audience attention, but you’re showing people what your true values are and in the long run, people will emotionally relate to you; there will be a deeper connection, and for me, that is what it means to be relevant. And not just with other curvy women, I receive messages from skinny girls, from mothers who just gave birth and don’t accept the way their body changed, women who’ve been cheated on by men and who think it’s their fault their guy cheated on them because they’re not pretty enough. Sometimes men will message me, and a lot of the time they have more insecurities than women, it’s just that men don’t talk. It’s a tough fight to fight, and it takes a toll on your mental health, but it’s all worth it when you read the messages you receive from people. One person once wrote to me, ‘I’m still alive because of you,’ and I will never forget that. ‘You made me feel accepted.’ That is my mission; I want to leave this world knowing that I changed the fashion industry, that I changed society, and the way that people think.”

As told to Sarah Zakzouk

Makeup: Mauro D Hernan
Hair: Sebastian Ikander 

Originally published in the March 2024 issue of Vogue Arabia

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