I was about 6 when I realised something was seriously wrong with me. On my first day of ‘big school’, we’d been assigned seats and I sat in a group with 3 other girls, these two long desks put
together to form a good table for 4. I was excited for my first day of school after being held back at pre-school an extra year because I’d been too young to start big school (whatever that means, right?). It was worth it though, I thought. The idea of wearing school uniform every weekday and being dropped off by a shuttle… I’d arrived! I was attempting to make new friends in my group when one girl, Melanie, caught me laughing at a joke the girl next to me had made. “Ew,” she said, “why are your gums black? Don’t you brush your teeth?” This day was almost like the ripple effect of all bad comments to come my way from family, supposed friends and classmates. It was almost as if my first day of primary school—‘big school’—was the day that the world waited for to gang up on me because I’d become big enough to take these ‘jokes’.
I hated smiling when I was in primary school and it got worse when my teeth fell out. My mouth wasn’t the only issue with me though. People began to comment on my weight—in grade 1 I weighed 16 Kilograms, I remember—and it didn’t improve much since.
I was never told I was beautiful by anyone I considered a loved one, not once.
I had to figure this out on my own… during my last year of high school.
I guess I should thank reading for my confidence boost. It wasn’t like I woke up one morning and felt this euphoric rush in my body that had me realising I was beautiful no matter what. I had to tackle my insecurities one at a time—own them—and I had to grow some thick skin about it. I remember the first thing I started easing up about was my smile, and maybe that was because of the Smiley nickname I’d affectionately been given by the seniors in my school. At some point after reading about how bullies normally back off if they realise they don’t affect you anymore, when the boys in my class got to calling me Sandy, I laughed with them. The nickname didn’t go away but it didn’t hurt me anymore eventually. I began to own that I was nicknamed after the coolest squirrel in Bikini Bottom who was a really smart international icon (yeah, I just said that to make myself feel better). Also, the confidence with my teeth came at a time where Georgia May Jagger’s career was taking off, and suddenly “yeah, but my teeth are high fashion” became my go-to comeback.
Next on my list of insecurities to tackle were my hairy arms. As if people had gotten Meet-and-Greet passes to a freakshow, every time I met someone new and they saw my arms, it was panic, especially with the boys. I remember one boy had dissed me in front of my crush. He called me a man, unbothered. For a second, I was hurt. I mean, my crush was right there, waiting for me to react and if I failed, he’d only ever ask me for pens and loose change and never actually want to get to know me. I grew a pair and with a smile I said, “maybe we should swap places so your girlfriend can take you seriously.” I was never bothered about my arms again.
The biggest challenge was my accent which I was almost physically attacked twice for in the same year. This one still gets me emotional because I’d been bullied by girls who pretended to be my friends and when I’d reported this to a teacher—because these girls were seen as my friends and because I was always so chirpy and happy—I wasn’t taken seriously. Instead, I got sent to the headmistress’s office to find out what could happen to me if I was discovered to be framing these girls for ‘attention’. For this, I had to find it in me to accept that it wasn’t something I could ever change; I could get new teeth, maybe bleach my gums, I could shave my arms and eat till kingdom come to gain a bit of weight so that we could stop buying my blazers from the primary school’s uniform shop at my big age of 16 or 17, but how I spoke? I was really going to get beat up for how I articulated myself?
By the time I got to grade 12, I’d pretty much done so much reflection that a lot of things stopped bothering me. I learned to laugh at myself and accept that I wasn’t perfect, I wasn’t everyone’s beauty standard (not even my family’s) and I became okay with that. My biggest stress was my exams anyway, at this point but, when I began to laugh at myself first… people’s opinions of me really started to hurt less and less. I owned my flaws and began to tell myself I was pretty—not to be accepted by any boy but just to be accepted by myself. I told myself this over and over again until the night of my Matric dance (prom) when my mom, for the first time in my life, saw me in my dress and told me how beautiful I was. I nearly cried. I resented her a little when I was growing up for never telling me this but, right now at 23 after all those years I spent learning to love and accept myself by myself—my smile, my body, my awkwardness and every other imperfection I could spend all day talking about—I wanted to thank her for letting me figure it all out by myself.
When you’re able to be honest with yourself about what you look like or who you are—when you accept that you’re not beautiful to everyone and that it’s fine, or you come to a point where you understand that your personality isn’t everyone’s favourite—you begin to own your life and, I’m telling you, it feels amazing! Putting yourself first, being your own cheerleader and being the master of how your day is going to play out by deciding in the morning the type of energy you’ll give yours to or the types or words/ names you’ll be responding to is something else. I don’t always feel beautiful—heck, I still cover my mouth when I laugh, I wear a lot of makeup sometimes and I don’t think that even with my body being ever-thin, I could rock a bikini someday and take some pictures—but I convince myself that I am. Every morning before I leave the house, whether or not I have makeup on or whether or not my outfit bangs, I take deep breaths and remind myself of how far I’ve come and that I’m the baddest bitch in myworld. I’m Rihanna, Beyonce and Naomi Campbell’s love-child in my world. Me. I lied to myself until I got to believing it and I laughed at myself until it didn’t hurt anymore when someone pointed something out.
There is literally nothing about me that any person in this world could say about me today that I haven’t already said to myself, and that’s why I’m able to be a goofball in public spaces with no cares—I know I’m goofy, I know I say stupid things sometimes, I know that I’m skinny and probably don’t look good in super long skirts/ dresses especially without a belt, I know that I don’t have the butt to rock those pair of jeans, I know that sometimes I come across as obnoxious or a snob and that some people will forever link me being a ‘coconut’ to the fact that my latest crush might not be black. I know! I know I walk funny and that I couldn’t make running look legal even if I tried, I know that my voice sounds weird when I talk—don’t get me started on my laugh which is sometimes funnier than the joke. I know!
People will always project on you and I’ve learned that most times that someone comes at you, they do it because that’s a part of them that they wish they had the confidence to showcase. Feeding your energy to trolls/ bullies/ negative people in your life simply means that that’s how you truly feel about yourself, whether or not you believe that. The real test comes with the current. At the end of the day, you are what you respond to. If you’re 100% certain the sky is blue, would you give your time to argue with me if I told you it was pink? Why do you allow people who don’t even know you to ruin your day when they call you names? In the digital age, we’re so blessed to have the ability to block, mute and report people who torment us online. Use those options! And in real life, if anyone constantly gives your grief about a part of you that you’re working on being confident about, cut them off or avoid being around them for long time-periods. It’s worked for me.
I’m no expert at confidence. Some days are better than others but, my honest secret is to just acknowledge that you’re a flawed being who isn’t ever going to be loved by everyone and list out your flaws and love them because they set you apart. Being that rooted in who you are and being able to say “you know what, my teeth do match Sandy’s” or “yeah, my legs look real skinny in these pants but I paid for them so whatever” will take anyone else’s power away when they point that out and you can say “yeah, I’ve known”. I guess what I’m trying to say here is that you should unconditionally and unapologetically love yourself, period. Be your own hype-(wo)man and be unapologetic about the choices you make with your body. But also love the person behind the rude comments that come your way because they’re hurt in their life and do things like torment others to make themselves feel better. Everyone is you, pushed out. What you respond to, you are. What you say to yourself about yourself, you are. What you say to others, you are too. Base your existence on love and a good sense of humour about yourself and you might notice that the world flows with you. Ever notice how some ‘basic’ people have others worshiping the ground they walk on? It’s all energy! Be the energy first, that you want to get back.
Say it with me:
I am beautiful as I am
I am happy in my own skin
I am thankful that this is my body
I am unapologetic about how I dress, how I look and how I carry myself
I am enough as I am today
I am the best version of myself today
I know I’m not perfect, but I feel like I am
I only respond to the good
I love myself unconditionally right now
Thank you for my confidence
Thank you that I am unique