The Ugly Child
I think I’m ugly.
As a child, I never thought of myself as beautiful or ugly. I was super smart and that was just enough for me. I always had my nose buried in books, making sure I did excellently well in school so that when my dad arrives from one of his long trips he would hug me close and call me “my Happiness” or so that the neighbours would bring their children to my mother to ask what were the secrets I used in always acing my classes and representing my school in interstate competitions.
The first time I was called ugly was by a family friend. She had not seen my mother in a long while hence she hadn’t really met me. After introductions and exchange of greetings, she said to my mum, “See as your children fine, na this Happiness wor wor for inside, she no even get body maybe as she dey grow she go dey fine”.
Truly, I was a skinny child with a big head and long legs. My legs were filled with dark spots from the environmental reactions. I was sickly too. I sometimes feel guilty for stressing my mum that badly. It was one illness to another. I still have scars from the traditional incisions that were made on some parts of my body. When I am stressed I feel pain around my hips from the series of injections that were wrongly given to me.
The day I accepted that I was indeed ugly was after a school cultural dance. I was in class 5 and as you already know, a smart and multitalented student. I featured in dance competitions, plays, debates and any other competition an 8/9-year-old could participate in, in Primary School. On this fateful day, we had an Igbo cultural dance presentation in front of the whole school, it was the end-of-the-year party. The dance required designated persons to come out and dance after reciting a particular word. I was given the term “jọrọ njọ”. I didn’t know what it meant but I always wondered why the proprietress as well as members seated on the high table would erupt into laughter when I came out to say “joro njo eee”. As the words rolled out of my lips their laughter would echo in my ears but whenever the ‘Miss’ of the school came out to say “mara mma e” they would all smile and look at her in admiration. Something definitely wasn’t adding up.
The next day, I went up to an igbo neighbour, Aunty E, and asked her the meaning of the word “joro njo”. “Oh, it means ugly,” she said. At that moment, my whole world shattered. I felt my heart break multiple times and stifled the tears in my throat. I figured that I had just danced to calling myself ugly. Hell! I said it multiple times. I believed it. I am indeed ugly.
A moment like that could take years to overcome even for strong-willed girls.
I would grow to take pride in my abilities because I needed them to make up for the physical appearance I lacked. I would cover my teeth when I smiled or laughed because I didn’t want anyone to remind me that I had imperfect dentition but cannot help but smile widely. And when someone tries to compare me to my elder sister I would tell them I already knew that I was ugly and they should tell me something new. I would also begin to doubt any form of sincere compliment that comes my way.
The day I stopped covering my mouth when I smiled or laughed was the day I met S. He came to write the W.A.E.C. examination at my school. I cannot remember what made me laugh but as I was about to cover my mouth, S, asked me why I covered my mouth whenever I laughed. I was startled. He proceeded to tell me, he had never seen someone who smiles as I do, hence, I should gift people with my beautiful smile. I would go on for years, smiling shamelessly and laughing hysterically because someone was kind enough to make me feel less ugly. I would go on to pass this act of kindness to every child I come across and not fail to fight adults who name call a child.
I once met a guy who said his friends didn’t think I was beautiful enough for him. I’ve had roommates who nicknamed me ugly. I once had a friend who told me the best I could offer was my brain because I was ugly. I wore the tag ‘ugly’ like a cloak.
Beauty is subjective depending on who defines it. I’ve learned to define beauty in my own terms. For all of those years that I hated myself, I was not yet self-aware enough to realize that I deserved more than to live in a constant state of dislike.
To be honest, I cannot remember when I started to feel comfortable in my skin. It’s crazy how the human mind never forgets bad experiences but cannot do the same for beautiful ones. Maybe it is because, in our moment of despair, the world seems to stop and go by slowly like honey in an hourglass. I presume I woke up one morning and realised that I needed to extend kindness to myself. This is me. I was done hiding myself. I was done letting people decide who I was. I needed to fully accept myself.
I’m still on a journey to self-acceptance. It is a never-ending one as there are days that I’d wake up and be mad at my reflection especially when I see acne flare up on my skin. There are also days that regardless of that flare-up, I feel really really pretty. I’m learning to be kinder to myself. To steadily appreciate my body for housing such an gem- me.
However, due to my many awful experiences, I’ve learned to compliment people without ‘buts’ or ‘ifs’. To extend kindness that my younger self was starved off. To make people see themselves just as Christ sees them – wonderfully and beautifully made.
I’m beautiful and I think you are too 💕