So I guess it’s possible to say I was not the swan in my adolescence but the shy, quiet, reserved ugly duckling. There’s not any better way to phrase it. In honesty, the awareness of my exterior only came to my notice when I suffered from an extreme case of chicken pocks as a child, which left me with scars in various places on my body. After that awareness was triggered, it unfortunately opened the door to the reality of the importance society puts on fitting in, looking good, and being accepted. Until that moment, previous moments when I had realised I was not as “thin” as my fellow classmates, or the “regular” colours of black or white, Indian or Asian, were rare. The scars now obvious on my face said I was different, not the norm. Already feeling strange for my shyness and inability to trust my surroundings, I was now given the attention for not being normal but a victim. Victim doesn’t sound as bad at first, it defines you being hurt or wounded, or the recipient of some form of injustice done, but really it felt like people telling me I was weak. When the first form of teasing came from my weight and such names as hippo or teddy bear were used to define me, when I returned from my ordeal with chicken pocks, there now seemed to be an air of guilt around anyone encountering me. It was as if they thought, “Oh the poor girl, she is already “overweight” and now her skin is scarred.” So instead of teasing, it was sympathy for my appearance which became clear to me . I was the weakest of beings. I should either be teased or felt sorry for. I had to cover up my inadequacy to everyone else that was “normal”. You couldn’t be a strong being and have flaws too.
From that moment, I began my journey to find the strength to understand that whatever I may be, I am not weak. Being different is nothing to be ashamed, defined as weaker, or insecure about. But unfortunately I suffered from all these things. I hid behind politeness, which resulted in being taken advantage of by friends and people in general. I lowered my head in embarrassment so as not to bring attention to my appearance, which through jokes and stares made me feel ashamed of my looks. I now brought in the factor of my weight as well, to add the cherry on top. I was cruel and restrictive to my body, trying to fix at least one flaw. And yes, all these things I believed were flaws, were what made me not perfect, not normal, and weak.
Let me introduce myself. My name is Gloria Wavamunno. I am a Ugandan, who was born in London, England during the civil unrest in Uganda. My family returned home the year of my birth as Uganda was now liberated by our current President Museveni. My parents are both Ugandan, with my mum having a mixture of European decent as well. It’s also possible that my mere breed was from birth another sign of difference and of society's judgement. I am of a fairer complexion, and so my father’s family members called my mother and siblings at times as “Muzungu”, which translates as “White person”. This began a profound influence on my personality, as both the mind and one’s physical state can be affected by feeling outcast in some or any form. I became reserved and guarded towards others, as I had been treated, which in turn supported my acceptance that I wasn’t normal. Not being normal was again not a good thing on this planet. So how was I going to fix all these things that seemed out of my control? Learning to let go, find acceptance and forgive was the truth. Yes this may all sound clichéd, in line with the popularity of self-help books, therapy and commercialisation of positive thinking messages. But those simple words are true. The work to make them happen is another story.
I can now sit here, writing this to whoever shall read it. I can be me, an accepting me. It can get better, and you can find your own peace that you deserve to have had from birth. It’s just unfortunate that because of others’ ignorance, others’ pain, others’ doubt, people allow and engage in pulling and putting people down. In turn, we put ourselves down. We break ourselves, whether openly or privately. And it’s not OK. These kinds of thoughts are never OK, because for what should be the obvious reason and reality, we are all different and unique because of our life experiences, traumas, because of our cultures, and because of our thoughts. My thoughts are based around beauty: beauty in the sense of appreciating surroundings for what they are, and people for who they are, not what is expected of them. It requires us to let things be and watching them evolve, because things evolve if you let them and not hinder them. They evolve at their own pace, at their own time, in their own way. We need to accept that reality.
Today I make beauty for a living through the construction of garments. Quite ironically, some would say. That being said, “attractiveness” has always meant something else to me than the obvious, even when growing up. Even throughout the confusion, pain and hurt, it reinforced what I deep down believed, which was attractiveness is not skin deep. It’s deeper than that. It’s in one’s core, it’s in ones smile, one’s eyes, and one’s care. It is as if attractiveness stems from one’s own heart. Sometimes you wish things didn’t happen, that you didn’t see or feel things that hurt, that scared. But I can’t imagine anymore not having gone through what I did, because I’m here and in all my imperfections, I know I’m perfect because I’m the only me.
— GLORIA WAVAMUNNO x UDD
I just sometimes feel why someone reacts or behaves in their ways. Allowing me to rationalise their actions, some might say giving excuses, but I think that’s a thin line. I just feel we all need to be understood from the inside out not the other way round. Life’s complicated which creates complicated viewpoints, attitudes and behaviours. Doesn’t mean you except ones negative behaviour but you can understand it if you care to.
When the ugly duckling gets ugly.
Gloria’s story opened my eyes in a way that was humbling, leaving me intrigued, yet forever grateful for the new insight (which, by the way, is absolutely one of the goals of UDD). Have I been the unintentional antagonist? I felt immediately convicted: I’ve certainly been guilty of looking at someone with a disability or handicap with a sympathetic disposition, almost as to say, “I’m sorry.” Have I inflicted my sense of guilt upon them, and treated them as the weaker vessel? Have I treated them as if, and I’ll just quote Gloria here, "You can’t be strong and have flaws too?” No one wants to be pitied, but unknowingly we can give people a hard time about things completely out of their control or things they may never have seen as different. We make them feel guilty and ashamed of their normal.
Gloria Wavamunno is a beautifully complex being. She reinterprets the word feminist and redefines it on her own terms, which is what attracted me to her designs. The very story of her birth during a time of civil unrest is one of relentless triumph. She has no ill will toward anyone, despite the instances her family experienced during political upheaval. The very fabric of her being is love, a lesson from her parents no doubt. I adore that compassion is her superpower, something the world could surely use more of—especially since we have all played the part of the “unintentional antagonist" at some point or another.
I would love your thoughts. Please share your comments or your own stories. And let’s start the conversation.