Tag Archives: role model

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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Can You Miss What You Don’t Know or Have?

This one is a hard topic for me. If you have been following my posts, you will know by now that my mama was a single mother for a large part of my life. I also had a step-dad for a good chunk of my childhood. I do not know if I have mentioned my biological father at all. I probably haven’t because there isn’t much to say. I can summarise what there is to say about him. He was my mother’s boyfriend in University and despite a lot of reservation from third parties, my mother married him soon after graduation. He is from Malumfashi in Katsina State (Nigeria) and is academically gifted. His family has royal links (small fry I understand). He is still alive and working in Katsina. He is tall and considered good-looking. He is married with several children.

That last point is the one thing of all that does bother me a little. Because of the way I was brought up and my closeness with my immediate family, I sometimes feel sad that I have siblings that I could be supporting but do not. I have siblings (majority female I hear) who I could be a role model to. I could make a difference to their lives but I am unable to because I do not exist to them. I do wonder if they even know about my sister and me. If they do, do they care?

My mama got a divorce when she was 5 months pregnant with me so I was born outside of that relationship. I have no strong feelings over him. I have met him. Twice in my life. First when I was 4 or 5 and then again when I was 7 years old. I also met a couple of his brothers when I was 8 or 9 years old. To be honest, I remember more what we ate when we had lunch with him and where that meeting took place. I remember feeling somewhat conflicted and wondering how I was meant to feel. I also worried that if I liked him, would I be disloyal to my mama who was the love of my life? My mama, amazing woman that she is, hid her upset quite well but with hindsight, I know she was upset that it took him so long to turn up and that he was putting us through emotional turmoil. I recall her sitting my sister and me down after he had turned up unannounced the first time and confirming that he was indeed our biological father. She gave us a choice about going to spend the afternoon with him and said we could decide to go or not.

My sister had a vague recollection of him and was excited to see him so I didn’t object. Off we trundled to Yola International Hotel to his suite. We each had a chapman (love that drink, bright red fizzy non-alcoholic cocktail still popular in Nigeria) and I think I had a meat-pie because they made them nice and I was a fan. He must have tried to talk to us but I really don’t remember what was said. I remember saying that ‘everyone at home calls me Diya not Aisha’ when he kept calling me Aisha. I think he felt rebuffed. My sister and I soon got bored and we went off to play with the lifts and got up to mischief. He left the next day and life returned to normal. The only evidence was that he gave us some money which we promptly deposited into our savings accounts and forgot about.

The second visit was only slightly less awkward and I remember thinking ‘what does this all mean anyway?’ I mean, after the first visit, he made no effort to promote any kind of relationship. I firmly believe he would never have visited again if he had no business bringing him to Yola. Since then, I have not seen or heard from him. My sister got a couple more visits to her boarding school and then nothing since. It has been over 20 years since I have heard a peep out of him. I do not think I ever met my grandmother but we did hear that she was still alive about a decade ago. A friend of my sister’s sister-in-law last week got word to my sister through the sister-in-law to say that our grandmother had died. Our reaction was lackadaisical to say the least. First, we thought ‘erm yes our grandma died about 12 years ago in two days’ (October 6th). Then we clarified that this was our paternal grandma. We mentioned it to each other in passing and no more was said. We went to sleep that night without a second thought and honestly, I can’t say I feel like I have lost anything.

This brings me to the question I wanted to address here. When we were little, and some people still say this, we were told that despite not knowing our father and his relatives, we would regret it if we let him die without trying to get to know him. Apparently (somewhat mystically) we would feel his death and be deeply saddened. Well, my grandma has just died and it made not a dent on my life. I felt the same as I would for any of my patient’s relatives dying. Sad for a moment then life goes on.

So will I be sad if my father dies today and I have no relationship with him? I suspect not. Would I be sad if my siblings died and I know nothing of them? Probably a little. Would I be sad if I found out that they are oppressed and in need of assistance I could provide? Yes quite sad. Would I be sad if I could save them from some desperate need like donate bone marrow or a kidney to save a life and I did not because no one thought to approach me? Yes definitely. Of course I wish I could be a sister to my sisters and brother. I wish things had worked out differently and that my mama’s love had not been misplaced. I wish she had seen through her loyalty and love and chosen a different man who would have treated her and her child better. I wish she had never fallen in love with this particular man but she did. It would be a waste of my time to dwell on what ifs on behalf of my mama. She has moved on. So will I. Such is life.