Transparency is freedom, so I commit to sharing my story with you.
It was my first college party that I had been to since my freshman year (I’m a graduate student now). As my friend and I jostled our way through the dense crowd of bodies dancing and gyrating to Ouuuu by Young Ma, I remembered exactly why I didn’t go to college parties. We finally found an uncluttered spot in the corner of the backyard where my friend and I posted up, observing the mass of 20 something year olds smoking, drinking, and twerking the night away. I was quite comfortable in my position. My arms were folded and my senses were on high alert, ready to defend myself from any leery guys that would attempt grinding on me. Really, I was only there for my friend. As for her, she clearly had a different idea of what she wanted her night to be like. The DJ would drop a new beat and she would begin to mouth the lyrics of a trap song unbeknownst to me, while anticipatingly eyeing our surroundings to see if any guy would want to dance with her. Numerous times she asked me if I wanted to go back into the crowd, and I rejected the idea, letting her know that I’d rather not stand in a sea of sweaty bodies.
Finally towards the end of night, she looked over at me, eyes incredulous and stated, “Wow, no guys talked to me tonight. They usually talk to me.”
I responded jokingly that she should probably take 10 steps away from me, because I probably was the reason that she was unapproachable. I recognized the lilt of insecurity laced within her statement and empathized with it. But that wasn’t the surprising part.
The surprising part was that for the first time in 23 years, that overwhelming lump of insecurity that usually bubbled up in moments like this didn’t appear. In fact, I was SURPRISED that I had joked about her separating herself from me to get the attention that she wanted. My response didn’t have a trace of bitter, low self esteem undertones in it. I declared it in pure confidence and security, knowing that my beauty, my worth, and my purpose isn’t tied to male or female prospects, compliments, and even acknowledgement.
I thought about that moment for weeks on end. The question I kept asking myself was, “Have I made it?” Have I finally reached a milestone in my life where I no longer am a slave to societal and cultural standards of beauty, femininity, womanhood?
Well, no. And I don’t think that journey ever really ends so long as I am a human being. But I DO think that moment signified a huge improvement in comparison to where I was even a year ago!
I think something shifted in my mind in the past four months of not posting anything to my fashion blog (which was unintentional of course, I’ve just been extremely busy with graduate school things). After spending a significant amount of time off of Instagram, not worrying about the next “epic” photo shoot, and not spending three hours editing and proofing a bunch of photos of myself, I found myself reading more about things that interested me, engaging more in political discourse, taking time to shape and refine my worldviews, and listening to people that I admired spiritually, characteristically, and/or intellectually.
It was a passing thought that skipped through my mind as I observed a really beautiful couple walk by me on my way to class.
“Beauty isn’t everything.”
You reaction to that might be, “Well, duh.” But I want you to take a moment and think. Even if your response is “duh” do YOU really believe that beauty isn’t everything? Can you walk out of the house without makeup on and feel unhindered? Do you get insecure and jealous when a prettier girl seems to be the life of the party? What about when someone more attractive than you seems to get more attention from a job recruiter? I’ve found that we are quick to dismiss the very real psychological issues that present itself within ourselves or in others. Take a moment to self assess and uncover your true feelings.
As for me, this simple statement reverberated emphatically within my psyche and it began to positively shape my everyday interactions with others. I have found that what truly matters is how much empathy one can exude in disastrous, devastating, earth shattering situations. What truly matters is when I see a person put pride aside to listen to the “other.” What truly matters is how much forgiveness one can give without becoming bitter and self-victimizing. What truly matters is how you respond to everyday injustices with a selfless anger while also keeping a listening ear open. That is what I’ve found to matter and ultimately be a lot more beautiful. People that I normally wouldn’t have paid attention to because of the way they look, began to transform before my very eyes once I heard the contents of their mind or witnessed a manifestation of the traits I mentioned above.
This isn’t to say that aesthetics and physical beauty doesn’t have its valued place because it does. As someone who very much enjoys editorial photo shoots and fashion collections, I understand that God has created physical beauty with its intended purpose. But it simply just isn’t everything. Not the way that our present society ramps it up to be.
Needless to say that since this revelation, I’ve found myself talking louder, walking straighter, and smiling bigger. I want to end this post with an interview with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who has become one of my biggest woman crushes in the past couple of months. I admire her for a number of reasons. More than the fact that she is an accomplished novelist who shares the same tribe and Nigerian state as me, in a lot of ways, her thought process surrounding beauty is similar to mine–yet she still exudes such calm, poised, elegant qualities exhibited through mannerisms as small as a chuckle. You would never think that she ever had an insecurity about beauty, the way she presents herself. This interview brought me comfort. I hope it brings you the same.
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