Tag Archives: professional

Be Your Own Yardstick

I will start by admitting that I, like most other people, did not like the way I looked for a long time. More accurately, I had insecurities about some parts of my body, some of which remain to date albeit in a very passive way. So I understand that as humans, we always want what we don’t or can’t have. I have worked very hard not to measure myself against people who bear no resemblance to me. I realised very early on that my genetics are out of my control so wanting to be someone completely different was a futile aspiration.

I have always been skinny or more politically correctly slim. I used to hate the word skinny when I was a teenager because to me, it represented a person who was gawky, awkward, boy-like and unattractive as a young woman. I realise that most girls put on weight around puberty and looking at the stick-thin waifs gracing runways, magazines and Hollywood movies, it is easy to see why they would aspire to be skinny like I was. I was completely oblivious to this as I was quite the tomboy and did not have any time for magazines when I was around puberty. The movies I loved were mostly animation and even if the girls/women portrayed in most Disney movies were on the smaller side, they all had the beautiful curves I adored. My mother has lovely feminine curves and so does my glamorous older sister. Perhaps being African where the culture predominantly celebrates curvaceous women had a bigger influence than I was conscious of too. My celebrity role models were Halle Berry, Julia Roberts, Jennifer Lopez and later Beyoncé and Alicia Keys all of whom have (and celebrate their) curves. All of those things meant that instead of the usual Western ideals of being a size 6, I was self-conscious. I wanted to be bootylicious and packaged in a short petite perfectly proportion frame.

The worse part for me was having to go shopping. Again, another aspect where I differ from the norm. It probably started out because I used to accompany my grandmother to the market in Lagos and she used to take her time visiting stall after stall finding the best quality food for the best price. I would follow impatiently, wishing she would speed up and within an hour, I would develop a painful ‘stitch’ in my side, making me want to sit on the ground (a massive no-no as it was rather murky in Lagos markets).

As I grew older and had to start participating in shopping for my own clothes, it was okay because my mama like me is impatient with shopping and she used to be quite military with it. When I became an adolescent, my mama decided to give me money for clothes shopping and it became my responsibility. The shoes, underwear and bags were easy enough because it was just a matter of looking to see what caught my eye. Clothes on the other hand was a nightmare! I vividly remember days coming back dejectedly after 6 hours on Oxford Street in London and trying on top after top and jeans after jeans and none of them fitting well. I would look in the mirror and see this anorexic figure staring back at me. Some of those days, I would be so demoralised that I would cry. Thankfully, although I haven’t put on much weight over the years, I have acquired some (slight) curves which means that I am now a proud standard size 6 or 8 depending on the shop. I can confidently go out to buy new clothes knowing now I will find things that fit. It is just a matter of finding the style I want for the price I am willing to pay for it.

The lesson I taught myself early on was that there is no use aspiring to become curvaceous like J-Lo overnight. Rationally I knew I was going through puberty and it would take time before I developed curves. Also I had seen pictures of my mama in her 20s (pre-children) and she didn’t have much in the way of curves back then. I also looked around my family and realised that most of the young girls were rather skinny. Fulanis in general are skinny folk anyway (think Masai-like physique, same ancestry). I would tell myself that just because Britain was predominantly British and it catered to the genetic makeup of that population did not make me unattractive. Many of my friends and family told me countless times that they would rather have my body than theirs but I thought they were lying to boost my confidence. I only started to believe them once I grew my curves and became more body-confident and got strangers complimenting the way I looked.

I am still not a massive fan of the mirror and often forget to look at myself in it. I still find some of my features surprising and often when someone mentions something about my facial features, I have to go and look in the mirror to work out what they are talking about. I’ll give you a classic example of my lack of self-awareness. I was 14 years old when my sister and I went into a shop I had never been too. I turned a corner and caught sight of a girl who I thought looked vaguely familiar and I mentioned that to my sister casually. It probably didn’t help that at that age, I was still in denial about my short-sightedness so did not have perfect vision. My sister looked at with a smile like I had made one of my endless jests. I was confused. It dawned on her in seconds that I genuinely had seen myself and did not realise it was me staring back from the mirror. Oh well!

In general, I guess it is a good thing that I am not self-conscious about what others see when they look at me. I care more about presenting a professional look when I am at work and a ‘nice’ look outside of that. All my adult life, I have chosen an extra 5 minutes in bed over putting on makeup in the morning. Thankfully, being sexy or desirable are not issues I care about. My dear husband assures me that I have those characteristics in abundance anyway and it is only in his eyes that it is important I am those. To anyone else, it really doesn’t matter to me what they think of how I look as long as they see that I am a decent and caring girl inside.

My message is simple – I value what sort of a person I am inside more than out and because of that I do not compare my ‘beauty’ to others. I have simply learnt to embrace and even love the body I was blessed with. I see beauty in all body sizes and shapes, colour, height etcetera. As Christina Aguilera says in her song Beautiful and I paraphrase – ‘I am beautiful, no matter what they say. Yes, words can’t bring me down. I am beautiful in every single way. Yes, words can’t bring me down…Oh no! So don’t you bring me down today…And everywhere I go, the sun will always shine.’ Preach! Belief in your beauty, regardless of what people say because there will always be critics but that is their problem, not yours my friend.

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She is Someone

A little girl is born. Hopefully, she is received into the world with love and happiness. Unfortunately, there are still many places where having a baby girl is not a joyous occasion. Where femicide is still a problem – where baby girls are killed soon after being born because the culture sees it as shameful to be a parent to girls and not boys. Where new born baby girls are still dumped in their thousands, left defenseless because they are unwanted by those who bring them into this world. where baby girls are sent to a far flung rural hamlet and not registered in the birth registers. Where girls are sent out at a very young age to hawk small wares and be taken advantage of by paedophiles whilst their brothers are sent to school to be educated.

Sadly, the world is very unequal when it comes to gender. Even in the most ‘advanced’ of societies, women are under-appreciated. It boggles my mind that for the same job, same hours and same skills set, many women in the USA and Europe still get paid less than their male counterparts. Today, professional women who live in a partnership (marriage or otherwise) in the West still do majority of housework and childcare. Many a man will complain about doing what few chores he is asked to do for the woman (and his children) he claims to love. Many a man will feel they are entitled to be selfish and only worry about what is theirs alone whilst their woman cater for them and their children. To many, it doesn’t even occur to them to consider how their woman feels. How hard they make the life of their woman by not contributing a fair amount to making their home as nice as it is. To many, they don’t routinely say please or thank you for all the little things their woman thinks to do for them.

Double standards are still very evident in everyday life today. A man who has serial one night stands is a young man sowing his wild oats. All sorts of excuses about them needing to get it out of their system, yadda yadda yadda. A young woman does the same, she is seen as loose. A teenage girl gets pregnant and everyone judges her and her parents but very few will point the same finger at the teenage boy who made her pregnant. He doesn’t have to stop hanging out with his friends, he gets to carry on going to school whilst she has to drop out of school in shame and lose most of her friends. The baby is seen as her responsibility and she gets judged if she stumbles and becomes overwhelmed by one of the hardest jobs in the world.

A mother I think arguable has the most essential job in the world. The world’s population is obviously dependent on women bearing children. The mother does the lion share of teaching children about life, how to treat each other, and the difference between wrong and right. She teaches them about hygiene and how to dress. She is often the disciplinarian. She gets to play bad cop and yet in most cases, the children know that mother loves them. Mother’s hug is the best. Mother’s kisses cure all hurts. Mum is the one you run too when your heart is broken. Mum’s food is the one you crave when you are ill. And we all know, mother knows best. She wants what is best for us. She always has a welcoming smile, an ear ready to listen and a shoulder to lean on in our moments of doubt. She is our best friend. This is why my mind is boggled by the fact that women are so undervalued in this world. How can any man think less of a person because they are female when they were shaped by the love of a woman?

Now I know some mothers are not the best of mothers. Not all mothers are amazing. Not all of them get it right. However, the vast majority have their hearts in the right place and do the best they can for their children. Most of them, despite their faults, try to be all that I have described above for their children and I think regardless of their failures, we should remember how much of their lives they give up so that they provide for us. So that they are there for us. And our gratitude should translate into respect for our mothers which extend to all the mothers out there.

Religion interpreted by men also discriminates against women. I will talk about my religion Islam because I know what it means to be a Muslim girl and woman. There is a lot of obsessing about how women dress in many Muslim communities. Men conveniently forget the Islam asks men to cast down their gaze when in the company of the opposite sex. So I ask you, if they are busy not staring at women, why do they notice every little thing about how we decide to dress? Also, apparently some Muslim men believe that a woman should ask the permission of her husband to leave the house yet the husband is free to go and do as he pleases without letting his wife know what his plans are. What amazes me even more is that in some Muslim circles, the said husband goes out and pulls another woman to bring home as a second wife and that is all acceptable whereas if a wife wants to go to the market or college/university, the husband is allowed to be mad she went without his permission. Is what way is that fair?

So all I am saying is that I think men need to rethink how they treat the women in their lives. So we are biologically different and in the old days, perhaps physical strength was directly linked to survival but in this day and age, things are different. Physical strength is only an advantage in a few circles. Women have as many skills as men do and are as valuable in modern society as the men. Most importantly, women do the world’s hardest yet most rewarding job for free. They are our mothers. They deserve our respect. If you are an employer, pay everyone fairly for the job they do. If you employ a woman to do the same job as a man, pay her the same. If you are married or cohabiting with a woman you love and she works as many hours as you do, do some cooking and cleaning too and don’t make her ask you a million times first. If you haven’t seen your mother for a while, call her up today and take her out for a nice dinner or if you lucky to have lots of money in the bank, buy her a cruise or send her off on a surprise holiday or spa break. Show her how much you appreciate all the love and time she has invested in you. Call up your sister and tell her you love her. You know it’s the fair thing to do. Just do it!

Nigerian Converts

The Glasgow Commonwealth Games have occupied many of my waking hours in the past 3 months (yes I recorded it all and have savoured the many hours slowly over 3 months instead of 2 weeks). The competition has been great viewing and I find myself from time to time wishing I had tickets for Glasgow. To be honest, I am puzzled about that still because I am sure if I had known when they were on sale, I would have tried to get tickets for some of it but that opportunity completely passed me by. Sadly.

Although I am a bit competition-mad and will watch most TV programmes with even a hint of competition and a chance to be awed by talent, as an amateur athlete myself back in the day I have a special love for the athletics. And these Games were very special for me for a puzzling reason. We Nigerians are pretty good at the sprints so we tend to feature throughout the rounds. The first heats were men’s 400m I think and when the Nigerian fellow was announced, I sat up in surprise. First his name was very ‘black American’ sounding (most Nigerians have at least one traditional name somewhere in their full name). Then, the commentators went on to say he was ‘one of the many Nigerian converts’. I was puzzled. I had never heard of a person converting to a country before. I mean I know people change nationalities for example but I have never heard it phrased as ‘converting to British’ for example. Odd choice of phrase but I was even more puzzled as to who these people were and why they were converting to Nigeria.

Turns out that these athletes are former American (plus 1 former GB) athletes who have swapped alliances to Nigeria. Now as a Nigerian, I have never been surprised to see a Nigerian name in a British, American, Dutch or even Qatar vest. Truth of the matter is, with the corruption in the Nigerian Government, there is practically no investment in Sport these days and our long-suffering patriotic athletes are forced to abandon ship for greener pastures. And I don’t blame them. If as an athlete for Nigeria I would have to work a horrible job to keep the roof over my head and food in my belly and juggle all that with training, I too would choose to go another team who would not only sponsor me so I can focus on my sport but also give me support in terms of coaching, psychology and physiotherapy. Rather, I was very surprised to see the movement was in the other direction. People actually joining Team Nigeria from other countries. So I investigated.

Apparently our Government has actually made real effort in ‘recruiting’ these former US/UK athletes in the hope of boosting our medal chances. I also discovered that the reason why these athletes’ names are suspiciously not-Nigerian is because many of them are many Generations American/British but according to the news on the internet, they are all bona fide Nigerian – by which I deduce that maybe some of them are 25% Nigerian but they were born and bred abroad and probably did not even have a Nigerian passport/citizenship until they were ‘recruited’. Rumours are that some of these athletes should not be representing Nigerian because their claim to citizenship is tenuous to say the least (I read about a girl who is Nigerian because her American uncle married a Nigerian, thus becoming Nigerian himself and somehow that qualified his niece as a Nigerian?). Dodgy if you ask me.

It is all well and good that our Government has finally sat up and taken note that we have been haemorrhaging all our talent to the West in the last 2 decades (at least) and is making an effort to correct things. However, I concur with their detractors on the internet who point out that allowing these ‘Nigerian’ converts to come in and out-compete our less experienced home grown talents and then for them not to win the expected medals is probably more of a con than a pro. What our Government should be doing is recruiting our budding athletes in schools and universities and creating a training programme with good support to allow our talented young people to hone their skills and become the elite athletes they have the potential to be. We should be investing in our athletes like the great sporting nations do so that we have professional athletes whose focus is all on their sport whilst they are in their prime. We should be there for our athletes so that they don’t have to go on strike before major sporting meets to get their just dues. We should go back to the 90s when we were all so proud of our sports men and women and we treated them like the superstars they were.

Nigeria with our huge population has plenty of potential. We really don’t need to leave our shores to recruit people in. All we need to do is invest time and money in those already there and I am sure in the years to come, we will be up there with the US, Jamaica and GB teams. Long live athletics. Long live our talented children. Long live Nigeria.