Every now and then I manage to take a selfie that makes me stop and think damn, girl you’re so pretty! It doesn’t happen nearly often enough partly because I have long since resigned myself to the fact that photogenic I am not. That said, when I look good, I look effin good, even if I do say so myself.
I grew up feeling decidedly unfeminine. In fact, for a period of about two years in my adolescence I got my kicks from hearing people ask – is that a girl or a boy? I have always been ‘that tall girl’, and with short natural hair and no ‘breasteses’ I was able to play a boy with ease. In my late teens I developed hips and could no longer be mistaken for a boy, but I was still flat-chested and self-conscious about it. It was the one thing about my body that I hated, that I blamed for all my troubles, romantic and otherwise.
As a young adult woman I still didn’t feel woman enough, and I didn’t understand the concept of dressing for my body and feeling comfortable with my look until I was a fully grown woman. Other aspects of my personality combined with what I saw as a masculine figure (hips notwithstanding) and what I saw as an angular and therefore masculine face, led to me embracing all things boyish -oversized jeans (this was before skinny jeans and jeggings, before men wore both), oversized shirts, oversized everything. For all intents and purposes I rejected femininity, prettyness and softness. My style was mostly androgynous, with a few hot numbers thrown in when I wanted to be sexy.
That was me for the longest time: a weird mismatch of hot woman and boyish girl. I was confused about womanhood because I felt I was living it wrong, I felt wrong in myself. Not like I was meant to be a boy, no -except for the general misogynoir (not a typo) and the monthly bleeding, I quite like being a woman- but I felt like I wasn’t doing it right, I never felt quite comfortable or at ease, I felt like I was on show all the time, always acting, never just being.
It was draining and tiring and I was angry and sad all at once, but no matter how many bwe (black women’s empowerment) blogs I read and regardless of how often I changed my look (I had a flat-cap phase, a skirt&tie phase, a pant suits phase, a beat-face every day phase…) none of it rang true for me. Some looks worked better than others, received more compliments, but none of it felt like the authentic me.
And then, I found myself.
In 2014 I fell pregnant and in 2015 I had a baby girl. I found out the sex at month 5, and once I did, I resolved to figure myself out once and for all, for no other reason than that I did not want my daughter to inherit my gauche awkwardness, my lack of gracefulness. I imagined her being free to express herself as she wanted, and I wanted to be there, supporting her as she discovered herself. I knew I could not support her growth into womanhood unless I did some growing of my own so I did some hard thinking, some experimenting, a lot of soul searching and introspection and I found myself, but more importantly, I liked what I found.
When I see selfies like the one above I smile to myself because these days I like what I see in my photos, I like it enough to have selfies online even, on Instagram nogal, something I thought I would never do.
I look at that picture and I see a glimpse -it’s just a photo, it can only say so much- of the woman I’ve become and the woman I’m still growing into. A woman who has found her world and her place in it; found her stride and is walking her path. I see a woman who has embraced her womanhood and is living her life on her terms: unapologetic and unafraid, pretty, secure, resilient, loving, lovable, and loved.
You may look at this picture, at any picture of anyone and see only image that you may love or hate, but I see the woman I struggled to become, the woman I freed from that self-inflicted shame of ‘doing womanhood wrong’, a woman who understands what she is and who she is, and is taking her place gracefully and with poise, and with good humour.
Every now and then I take a selfie that makes me think, damn, girl, you’re so pretty, and I smile to myself, with myself, because for the longest time I didn’t feel pretty and avoided the camera. For the longest time I didn’t know who I was and saw no beauty in myself, but now I can look at myself and think – mama I made it, I became the woman I was born to be, and I’m still becoming her.
I don’t know if it was pregnancy hormones, or God, or something else altogether that was the catalyst for change, that led to me embarking on that journey of self-discovery. I just know that I am here, mothering, womaning, and effing slaying. I thank God.