I talked with my friend Mary the other day, and we recounted some of our childhood experiences. We recalled some of the gestures made towards us as little girls in a society that parameterizes beauty.
At the age of eighteen, my mother, nne m, stared hardly at me one evening and decided to share some of her experiences of raising me as an ugly child. Nne m said I was ugly as a child, so ugly that my dad’s facial expression changed from a smile when I was handed over to him right after delivery in the maternity ward.
I had a big skull. Nnem’s inexperience at childbirth could have played a role in how badly-shaped my head looked. I am her first child. My grandma however, would quickly reassure my dad that the shape of my skull would be adjusted, and go ahead to reshape my head, as it was still malleable.
I was what you would call an ugly baby.
Nnem was a part-time hairdresser, she said she would spend a long time trying to make my hair look very beautiful. My hair was usually the only reason people wanted to carry me as a baby. It was full and long, it was a rare beauty in the environ.
One Christmas, nnem overheard one of her sisters discussing with her husband; the subject of topic was me, the ugly baby. Nnem is fair and beautiful. And Nnam is notably tall, dark and handsome. Nnem said she carried me into her room that night feeling sad.
In secondary school, I was very good at acting, but I was usually given a male role as my school was an all girls’ school. I remember one incident when I fell out with all the girls because I wanted to act a female role. My ugliness and manly look as a child was shoved into my face each time.
Mary said her aunt usually gave her more bananas than her other siblings each time she visited. She always said “monkeys should have more bananas,” and laughted it off. Mary was also an ugly child. She was fat and ugly. Today, Mary is one of the most beautiful and slim ladies in my space. She said it took a while before she could internalise her beauty. She swore she would pick up a fight and become enemies with anyone who called her beautiful as she got older, she thought the compliments were other shades of the mockery, until it dawned on her few years ago.
I have another friend called Prince, I talked with him recently and he mentioned how it took a very long while before he could accept he was good looking. He said people usually lavished all the compliment on his sister when they were kids, while making unfriendly gestures at him. He said it made him dislike his sister as a child – she had been a pair of lens through which the world viewed and judged his looks.
I could not internalise beauty until I got to my third year as an undergraduate. I had had the sudden realization that I have grown to become “beautiful” by societal standards. But then, I still could not relate to the general notions of beauty. It took a while before I could internalised this.
During that period, I would always look at my friends strangly when they pointed out a beautiful or handsome person. I did not see beauty the way other people did, I feel beauty more. Maybe, this is because of my experience as a child or my anger at how people wreck some children’s self-esteem and self-worth by launching them into a self-questioning and assertive reality by the gestures they make towards them.
Beauty is organic, it grows. Mine blossomed at fifteen and has ever been growing. Today it is one shade, tomorrow it maybe another, but I am always beautiful. I had long lived before people could see my beauty. I was beautiful all the while, people could simply not see me beyond the parameters they created.
When you look at a child, see humanity in its purest state, see innocence and graciousness. Do no hurt a child’s emotion in your desire to appraise a parameterized beauty. If you look at a child and you feel the child is not beautiful, do not burden him or her with pressure outside their reality. Be kind and gracious with your gestures. Every child is beautiful. Beauty is beyond looks.
About the Author
Chioma is a Nigerian young literary and IT enthusiast who loves good food and children. Her best friend calls her Bambi.