I grew up feeling very different from everyone. Very different from my siblings, different from the kids in my class. I always felt out of place. And I was constantly reminded of how different I was. Everyday, at some point, I heard questions like,
“Why is your teeth like that; why do you cover your mouth when you laugh?”,
“What’s wrong with your skin? You look like a leopard; you look like a cheetah”,
“Why are you always speaking with your tongue?”
I heard these words from people everyday and yet, somehow, each day, I learnt a new way to pretend not to care. After all, God did create me, so I tried to be okay with the way I was created. None of it mattered anyway and I was good at masking my tears.
My hurt hiding skills were put to shame when someone called me skinny. Me? Skinny? I never saw myself as skinny. I was athletic. Very agile and very active. I wasn’t frail. But someone pointed it out and buttressed on the fact that skinny women do not get husbands because ‘men like meat’. Weird. I still tried to ignore being called skinny because my consolation was in the fact that I was young and in a matter of time, I would grow more curvy, since my older sister did.
Well, I waited and nothing happened. My younger sister grew up and grew out. It began to frustrate me because people began to compare me to my sisters. How my older sister was the ideal woman and how I should be ashamed for letting my younger sister surpass me. Letting? Surpass? Wow, they made it sound like it was in my hands. I never wanted to look like the ‘ideal’ female. But folks seemed to think it was the only way to look like. Curvy, in the right areas. Soon, I began to think like that. I, initially, always wanted to look strong and fit. I grew up watching female athletes run and I would admire their bodies. They looked so powerful and in control and I wanted to look like them.
A certain woman heard me talking about wanting to be an athlete. She came up to me and said, “These women look like men, no man wants to marry a woman that looks like a man. Better start eating, if not, you won’t get married”. I remember this conversation like it was yesterday. I was into sports at the time but I lost that dream when I got overwhelmed with the countless comparisons.
It was almost a crime being ‘skinny’. There was no day that passed that I wasn’t reminded of it. It became something I hated about myself and I constantly asked God why He decided, of the three girls my parents had, I had to be the slim one in a society that celebrated ‘curviness’.
Somehow, I had learnt to live with that ‘stigma’ of being so different that no one would want me. I had adjusted. I hid my feelings of pain and hurt and focused on trying to gain weight and look ‘normal’. Then ‘Save the Last Dance’ happened.
I had watched the movie at an early age and by then, I wasn’t necessarily focused on their bodies, I was intrigued by the dance itself. The second time I came across the movie, I immediately noticed their bodies. It was the first time I actually felt like I belonged somewhere. These girls looked like me. I made up my mind to start dancing there and then. Now, I didn’t actually start until years later but in that moment, I felt like I finally belonged and it didn’t matter whether I didn’t fit in, I’d found my place. Ballet… Nothing mattered anymore, I’d found a safe place…