Written by Claude Monthé S.Juimo
Illustrations by Haley Kigbo
When I was a kid I was told that I was very pretty - but that was when I used to live in Africa surrounded by people who looked like me. Then when I went to live in Europe, people were saying that I was very pretty ‘for a black girl’. It was at that time I started to become conscious about my physical appearance, especially as I realized the world I was living in didn't think black girls were normally pretty.
I became even more self-conscious as I gained weight when I was a teenager. It didn’t help that all of my friends were skinny white girls and I thought that guys wouldn’t be interested in me because they were always into them. This made me think I wasn't enough. People will still say that I had a nice face with nice features - they would call it a ‘light’ feature because my features were closer to that of a European and not ‘thick’ like ‘negro’ features.
I spent half of my life thinking I was beautiful when I was surrounded by black people and that I was just OK when I was surrounded by white people. That contrast confused me! Which then meant I started to try and look more like what I’ve been told looks good, a form of conditioning that stems from peer pressure and media. For example I would only be beautiful if I wore long hair extensions, was slim and to only wear makeup that will make me look lighter - doing all of these to simply try and fit into the Western society.
But I as grew up and became more aware of who I was, I discovered more about my blood culture and all the nappy hair blogs who are celebrating afro hair. They were offering another vision, one of culture and diversity. It was then I realized that what I was ashamed off my whole life was actually a strength.
For instance, all of those curves that I tried to hide my whole life were being celebrated by celebrities. Even hearing that women were having surgery or rubbing fake tan into their skin to achieve the aesthetic I had naturally.
When it comes to interacting with guys, I’m still confused! If he happens to be white, I always wonder if he finds me attractive. I always wonder if I can put myself out there without playing the exotic card - most of the time when a guy isn’t ‘ethnic’ (as they say) he is usually attracted to me because he wants to try something new or has a particular interest in black women.
It’s interesting how big butts and big lips are trending in today’s society. I remember when I was a kid, if you had those traits you would be laughed at - curves and fitness are celebrated now, when 20 years ago, it was ‘the thinner the better’ and 400 years ago ‘the bigger the better’.
Even though sometimes I still feel like I have to put in extra effort to enhance what I already have, I know I am pretty in my own right! Being able to trust in the feedback people give me certainly helps achieve self confidence. Over the past couple years I have become more comfortable in my skin and realize that no matter what you do, there will always be people that are going to find you attractive and people who won't .
You can’t please everyone so it's better to feel okay with yourself. This can be very hard in a society where women are constantly told how they should look.
"...my body is my temple..."
You can’t please everyone and that's why it's very important to accept yourself the way you are and to try to be true to yourself, without competing with the people around you. It will be one of the best challenges you will set yourself. I'm trying to achieve this in my late 20’s - I want to accept the person that I am, including my skin complexion, my features, my curvy body. These are all things I can’t change without drastic and irreversible measures, and I shouldn’t want to change them. I should compliment the things that allows me to feel the best in my own skin.
At the end of the day, my body is my temple. I have been in it from birth, and will be the only place I will live my entire life, no matter who surrounds me or in which place of the world I am.