When BellaNaija Style asked me to share my body journey I was initially at a loss as to where to start and where to end. We are all on this journey called life and although I am many things: a mother, a wife, a daughter, an actor, a businesswoman, I struggled with the angle to approach the topic. I grew up not knowing and not feeling beautiful. I know that will sound crazy to many of you, but it was the truth. I didn’t see myself as beautiful because initially growing up in the Bronx I didn’t see a lot of images of what I looked like around me besides my Mum. However, I felt it was important to share my story now, especially as I now am the mother to a beautiful daughter, have fans who look up to me and like every woman in this Social Media age am impacted by the constant barrage of images of what beautiful is and looks like.
BACK IN THE DAY, WHEN I THOUGHT I WASN’T FINE
But taking it back to my school days, not seeing images that resembled me in representations of beauty had a huge impact. I would see Hispanic Girls and they had fair skin, beautiful long hair, and exotic features and just didn’t feel beautiful. If I am honest, and this is a tough one to share, I had low self-esteem. My parents being so loving and supportive were concerned. They rightly felt that their child shouldn’t have low self esteem that she should know that is beautiful both inside and out so they put me through modelling school to help with my confidence.
Looking back it might seem odd that modelling school would have such a positive impact on my self-esteem? If anything one might assume it would trigger more insecurity. But that doesn’t take into account the fact that I was very , in fact I still am, very competitive. Healthy competitive in regards to sports rather than people obviously! But yes, every Saturday at 10am all the students would come together to walk the run way. Who can walk the runway the best we would wonder each week. I would practise my poses and was pleased when my teachers commended my efforts. It wasn’t long before I was being selected for pageants and finally getting the acknowledgement that I was beautiful on the inside and out.
CURVES, CAREER AND MY ULTIMATE PRINCESS MOMENT
As to my, how does one put this subtly, curves, I was still pretty clueless about them until high school. I can still picture it, there was one day I came in late for one of my classes and I remember the guys were shoving each other and were all like, “Look! Look! Look!” And I was wondering what’s going on with those guys? And my friend turned to me and said your skirt is form fitting so they’re admiring your physique. It was the first time I was consciously aware of my figure and if I am honest, because this was 9th Grade, it felt kind of good. But maybe because of my earlier years of not being considered the typical fine girl, it didn’t go straight to my head. My passion was already acting, and it was my focus.
As my career has progressed I would be lying to say that I haven’t noticed increased levels of interest in me based on how I look. However, it is not something I could never get used to. This industry is tough and one day things could be going really well for you and the next day, nothing could be happening. I guess on a deeper level it is my understanding this coupled with my always working towards being the best me that I can be that keeps me level headed in spite of the praise and admiration that comes with being in the public eye. Basically, to this day, when someone takes notice in me, I really take it as a blessing and not for granted.
When I think of a moment when I was most present in my body, my wedding day is definitely up there. I learnt from other people’s experiences, especially those who said they hardly remembered their day. It was a crazy and happy day but my focus was on my husband. We had each other’s back. I felt: “There is a circus around us but it’s me and you and God.” So we did that and everything else fell into place. But that’s not to say that preparing for it wasn’t an exciting and special time. I definitely wanted to wear African designers as I loved wearing them as the cut the silhouettes really worked well on my body. So I chose Mai Atafo for my wedding dress and Andrea Iyamah and Toju Foyeh for my two reception dresses. It was amazing because it all came together. I loved every single piece and I felt beautiful; just even the way my husband looked at me that day. He melted. I melted too.
MOTHERHOOD AND OTHER LOVE STORIES
They say you can never be prepared for motherhood and it’s true. You know what? Azariah, she was such a good baby in my belly and she’s such a good girl in the world. My pregnancy wasn’t difficult, but for me it was a bit of a woah moment, seeing my body changing. One day it was like wow my feet are swelling, my thighs are huge, my legs look like yams. But then I would rub my baby and think there is somebody in there. And just to see my belly growing every day was truly humbling.
Gbenro was amazing, he would make homemade orange juice for me and that would help me keep my energy up and my Mum is a guardian angel, she guided us, as well as Gbenro’s Mum on what to do and not to do when Azariah arrived. But like any new Mum it was difficult too. I was used to my figure and after my baby I just knew that naturally, it wouldn’t necessarily be the same. Also there were just general metabolic changes: I ate a lot when I was young, I would eat and eat and not gain a pound. But now I am eating and I am gaining weight. Initially I was like woah, I guess I can’t do what I used to do! But I had to also remind myself that I had a baby, and if people were expecting my figure to snap back or whatever, they had to understand and appreciate that. Was I going to focus on worrying about what somebody is saying rather than the health of my baby? No. I knew I was going to get back to my shape or rather get back to a shape that I am happy and proud of in my own time.
And doing things is your own time and on your terms is so important. At the moment, body wise, I am not where I was before and I have to be content with how I look as it’s a growing process I am determined to appreciate the process. On so many levels I am blessed beyond measure: I am married and I have a daughter and my body is changing and my mind is changing and my perspective on things are changing. And it is okay.
LOOKING FORWARD, ONE DAY AT A TIME
When I think about the message I want to share with readers, it’s a lot to do with what’s at stake for us as women living in Africa. The western world is seeping in Africa and I think we need to get back to appreciating ourselves as who we are as African women. We need to love ourselves more and understand from our depths that as long as I am healthy then whatever size I am is okay. Of course it is stressful that there are certain demands and expectations out there, but we need to challenge those within ourselves too. You can’t let others or other people’s opinions or industry standards or whatever else govern how you feel. You have to know that there is a beauty, intelligence and talent within you, so tap into that and your faith to reach your goals.
I have also felt that my mind like my body needs to keep evolving. In my chosen industry, acting, with ageing, roles and opportunities get sparser. But I have chosen to embrace that, expanding on producing and expanding on directing and different business opportunities and making a concerted effort not to be complacent. Self care is really important and a lot of women don’t take the time. Acknowledging what makes you happy is half the battle then doing it is the next. Whether it is working on your craft, going to the spa, church, write it down and make sure it happens. I take pride in making those things happen for me. It makes me a whole person so that I can be of love, of service of inspiration to others. But it all begins and ends with embracing change and moving with it.
This is not to say that I don’t go through those insecurities, I still go through those times when I don’t feel I am good enough but for me it is all about tapping back into what made me love doing what I do and returning to the source of my creation. Right now I have had this incredible opportunity playing the role of Malaika in Fela And The Kalakuta Queens, and it has been a real gift to me. For everyone reading this I hope they keep close to the source of their being, know that everything in life, and I mean everything is transient and it is all about being joyous in the journey every step of the way.