So, from a conversation between my best friend and I sprung this column. He goes to school at Makerere University, and I am a rising second year student at Smith College, Northampton–Massachusetts. I will be writing in form of letters to him just because I feel more comfortable writing while anticipating an audience. I will write about my experiences as a Ugandan student in College in The States, general life lessons, questions and other “thinkings.” I would also appreciate any constructive feedback, email at the bottom. Thank you for tagging along!
Hey Marv, so I have spent almost three weeks with a group of white girls. Well, yeah, there is just one other black girl (without whom I am not sure I would have handled this trip btw), and two Chinese girls (who barely say anything so I guess they do not count). At College, I never had to really deal with white girls coz I am sorrounded by all my African friends. Just to give you a little back ground, my College, (as all the other institutions in the United States) is very ethnicized. So I really never had to deal with white people until I found myself in a house with five white women a few weeks ago. But living and interacting with them daily has taught me something about them that I have spent so much time thinking about.
It appears that Americans have restrictive standards of beauty that they love to impose on all women. Unless you are super thin (110 pounds at most), have high cheek bones and you are white and tan, you are not pretty. I guess these girls are so conditioned to internalize these views, and because women are so heterogenous and we all can’t look like that, many American girls feel ugly, and they hate their bodies. Now as for me, I do not even fit in any of those boxes, like even slightly. (Of course just like very many other women). So the society we live in gives us two options; to either love us like we are and appreciate ourselves and walk with confidence in our bodies, or do plastic surgeries. When I got to College and saw all this madness, I chose the former. You know that two people may listen to the same message from the same person and each of them learns a different lesson, not that any of the lessons was wrong, it all depends on who you are as a person. So for me, If there is anything that College has taught me, is to love myself and take good care of me. And most importantly, to be very unapologetic on the way I decide to look and dress every morning.
I was so ashamed of wearing make up, “oh, it’s for sluts”, more than once I told myself. In primary school, I was often told my legs were too big, I internalized that and not even once, I never wore anything short. So you can imagine what an inconvenience school skirts were for me. (Random fact: to this point, I own only two skirts in my life, and I bought none of them). All through high school, I became the “girl in jeans” outside school. I became a Tom boy because I wished I was a boy, because I though boys did not need to reveal their bodies, and I hated my legs so much I thought they looked better hidden. (Well, even when I joined ‘A’ levels and developed a little sense of style, I only restricted my style to skinny jeans and trousers, nothing short. Thankfully I looked good in jeans, so I was able to pull a lot of looks off, but I had too many insecurities and no body could tell.
While at College, it hit me that the standards of beauty were even higher and even more out of reach than the “big legs are not nice” in my primary school. I was able to cover my big legs all my life, but now what about the white tan skin I clearly did not have, the slim body and big boobs, and the height??? This is when I decided that the standards of beauty society had placed before me were out of my reach. So I may as well create my own ideal perfect person.
That person was me. The me who loved her body, including her legs, and all the other things I may not mention here. I had always loved make up, so I decided, I may as well wear it, and rock all those dresses and just be me. The number of short dresses in my closet increased, I spent more on lipstick and mascara. Not because I wanted to be fake. Well, to some people if takes confidence to come out without make up, for me it was the other way round. I just did not see anything wrong with making up once in a while anymore. I fell in love with edgy fashion and just lived. I got compliments on the way I looked everyday. “But you look good in everything you wear.” I often heard. Not like I needed society to validate the way I look. But see, it taught me that all these standards were wrong, and I could still pull off good looks without changing myself. It all depended on how I presented myself. All I needed was confidence in every stride, and to take good care of my self.
Well, this whole self love thing came back to me when I started to live with all these girls. Many of them “feel ugly”, and they keep talking about how imperfect they are. But you know what, society sees you for who you see yourself as first, and how you portray yourself. If you feel ugly, and keep talking about how ugly you are, you make it hard for people around you to see beauty in you. I see what you show me. You keep pointing out your flaws, that’s all I’ll see.
There are women at College whose beauty has grown on me. Not because they are pretty, but because they carry themselves with confidence, and unapologetically. This analogy, as I looked at it, goes farther than the politics of the body. Marvin, you are one of the most confident people I know, so there is probably nothing new for you in this, but even in class, at the job, people see you for who you say you are. I think this is where the cliché of “fake it until you make it” comes in. You don’t speak good English, and then the little you know, you speak it shyly, no body will listen. I have met people who are not good at the language, but the way they present and articulate their message, everyone wants to keep listening, and everyone does not want to miss any of what they have to say.
I found this saying online, and now I think it’s the quote I live by. “The lion may not be the strongest animal in the jungle. Infact, elephants are even bigger. But it’s attitude convinced them all that it’s better than them all.” Everyone feels a certain way about themselves, we all have insecurities, but the world hears only what we scream out.
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