Ah no, this is definitely not one of those relationship advice articles written by women for men. As a matter of fact, you, my dear probably don’t need me to tell you what your girl wants. This is about all the girls in the world no matter their age, creed, nationality or race. This is about me.
I started thinking about this when someone I am growing to love and respect sent me back to the past, when I was 16 years old. His words, “There is nothing more difficult than growing up in a close knit society that knows everything about everyone and demands conformity. You survived because even when you doubted yourself and the world around you, you knew what you wanted.”
Yeah, I grew up in a small town. And I did doubt myself, probably every day of my teen years. I doubted, even hated the little town and the community I was growing up in. But it seems I have had an idea of what I wanted, not always but most of the time. I cannot say I knew myself, but I have always been aware of who I am, even now when I know that self-awareness is a continual process. Sometimes, I must admit that awareness has been muddled even distorted by experiences and fears. But my survival depends on my being aware that I am who I am and I have a right to be who I am.
At 16 years of age, I was concerned with appearances, physical and social. I hated not having a father, being a child in a lone parent family had a lot of implications. For one, it meant that though my mum worked hard to make sure we had an education, a home, and decent clothing and food, I could never have as many toys, and luxuries as most of the kids who had both parents, and both parents who worked. It did not help when the people in the community speculated on why my mother was single, almost always drawing the wrong conclusions.
I cared a great deal about how I looked. I worked out, played sports, everything to exude the tough, hard, hot tomboy femme fatale. Apparently, I succeeded. The someone mentioned above told me a few days ago that the real reason the boys did not approach me was not because I wasn’t attractive, but because they had no idea what to say to me. Er… well, that and my penchant for using terms and referring to scientific stuff they were still struggling with in Physics Class. But I won over quite a few hearts, all my best friends from my teen years were boys who were in awe of me, and I loved having that kind of power over them.
I should not have relied so much on my looks to counter whatever other inadequacies I had. I hit 20 an developed a hormone disorder that in itself causes weight gain, and whose treatment also aggravates weight gain. I have spent the last five years in an incredible struggle against weight and chronic fatigue. There are times when this struggle seems to be a losing fight. It is quite strange because I actually gain not lose weight after a severe attack such as the one I suffered a few days ago.
If my being slender and physically tough were the only reasons I was worth being alive, the only path to success, then I’d have a lot of trouble over here. It has been a very slow lesson for me to learn. I still fight feelings of inadequacy, especially when I have to deal with persons who believe that I am, well , fat because I eat too much and don’t work out enough. Teaching myself to see my beauty, my value, my worth has been hard. Strange, because African culture usually applauds buxom as beautiful. That is just the point, isn’t it? Beauty must come from within not from validation from without.
This is not in any way an endorsement for people to be unhealthy. Every woman has the responsibility to care for her body, to feed it the right foods, and to exercise it well. She just does not have the obligation to struggle to fit within other people’s standards of beauty.
As I said earlier, learning who I am, what I am worth has not been a straight path. Knowing what I wanted helped though. Again that knowledge was clouded and distorted at times. But I always knew I wanted to be a writer. I always knew I wanted to be in a career that allowed me to help other people especially younger ones. So I chose Education and Creative Writing. I always knew that I wanted to be respected, and loved, and accepted for who I really was. So I have always strived to respect other people, to care for and love those who deserve my care and love, and to show tolerance to people in general, as well as acceptance for the ones I chose to allow into my life.
My philosophy has not always been foolproof. There are times when I have been more of a creative writer than a teacher. There are times when I have been more of a teacher than a writer. There are times when I have been neither. And beautiful times when I have been able to be both a writer and a teacher.
There are times when I have forgotten that to be respected, loved and accepted I must first respect, love and accept myself. Times like these I have also neglected the people who matter in my life, shown intolerance and unfair judgment. But there have been times when inspite of whatever imperfections I perceive to have, I have stood tall and beautiful, with the people I love around me whether they are close or far in physical distance, and I have been happy with what I have.
So yeah, doubt, fear, pain, anxiety, confusion; those are things every girl can expect to face in her life. The world will judge you on your appearance, on your cultural background, on your financial status, on whatever they chose to judge you on. But if you know what you want, if you strive to learn who you are, if you work towards being the best you can be, then no one and nothing can ever make you feel worthless, less than beautiful, less than happy.
So, what does this girl want? I know.
That might be the reason I am heading towards Kakamega right now ( to teach and learn with teenage girls who want to be creative writers), so soon after falling ill, and quiting a job that had started to make me miserable.
That might be the reason Mum smiles when I tell her of my plans, and then says, “I am glad you are strong no matter what.”
That might be the reason Daddy shakes his head with consternation sometimes, then says, “I am proud of you, go and blossom.”
That might be the reason I have a man looking at me from across the room as I type, with the warmest look in his eyes. He said a few minutes ago, “I really do not think you should be travelling so soon after you were sick, but I didn’t think you should move to the Big City 6 years ago, and look where you are now. I’m happy for you.”
Like I said, approval is nice, validation can be sweet, but a girl must first learn to be who she is, and want to be the best she can be.