HALF NERD-HALF CREATIVE.
I was a tall, quirky, tomboy with the geeky red glasses—thick rimmed, rose ombré tinted—think Sally Jesse Raphael. No, seriously. That’s what the kids called them – Sally Jesse Raphael’s. I was a nerd, but, in my mind, I was such a cool nerd - spirited, outgoing and always dancing. I would ponytail a towel around my head and simultaneously pretend to be Vanity and Bruce Leroy, karate-chopping one minute, and wiggling my hips the next, as my "floor-length ponytail" fell to my waist. My wardrobe was denim and sneakers, much to my mother’s despair, and my tomboyish flare lasted all the way until college when I finally wore my first dress of my own accord. I loved big wheels and muscle cars, and I prided myself on being able to outrun or out-climb any boy on the block. But that was okay. I was me, perfectly free to be in my world.
I think once I hit grade school, things began to change. The name-calling began — Four eyes! Coke bottles! Giraffe! Darkie! etc. .and I do mean etcetera. In all fairness, I guess I was an easy mark, not that it was right. But it just seemed like my life was a constant source of comedic inspiration. I wore special shoes for my narrow, pigeon-toed feet. Even my last name, Taiwo, inspired cruel nicknames and brought on a whole slew of other jokes, like jungle sounds and names like, African Booty Scratcher. Really, what is an African Booty Scratcher? Yes. I’m half Nigerian, but..really??
Then, at age 6, an unfortunate perming incident (don't ask) made all my hair fall out, so I had to walk around with a buzz cut. Tomboyish or not, this androgynous look wasn't my cup of tea. I lived constantly on edge waiting for someone to say the inevitable, "Hey, boy!"—which would send me flying, arms flailing, into my adversary yelling, "I'M A GIRL!!!" Not even my gold stud earrings, as subtle hints to my girlishness, could help.
There was one incident at summer camp I remember, when some ranchers visiting for Rodeo Day, unbeknownst had the bright idea to dress me in chaps and make me stand with the boys for pictures. He even commenced to calling me "Little Ranger," which sent all the other kids into hysteria. If you can imagine living every day of your life in complete, utter humiliation, that pretty much summed up my existence at that point. Needless to say, my self-esteem took even more of a nosedive. If I could’ve just lived my life as a flamingo, with my head stuck in the sand, I would have. I definitely tried. Between this and my awkward height (I was taller than most of my friends’ parents by age 10, wearing a 10 shoe!), I started walking hunched over to blend in with my shorter friends, which was pretty ridiculous. I really just wanted to shrink. My mother got so fed up she made me walk with a stack of books on my head for an hour every day after school. (Consequently, I now have great posture : )
I had a weird under-bite thing going on. . and I was still in a training bra with exactly enough lack of cleavage to be voted president of the Itty Bitty Titty Committee. . .
By the time I hit the tween years, a.k.a. "The Acne Years," I expected a swift transformation from ugly duckling to swan. A girl can dream. Instead I seemed to get a double dose of pubescent confusion and insecurities. I had a weird under-bite thing going on that had me in braces, twice, and I was still in a training bra with exactly enough lack of cleavage to be voted president of the Itty Bitty Titty Committee by my friends. I couldn't get a break!
To top it all off, I hated my skinny size, and I know most of you are thinking...really?. You have to realize, I grew up in the South, a region where references like "she's thiiick!" is considered a compliment. So, I decided to handle the situation by consuming weight gain drinks, 3000-calorie body building shakes and concoctions of peanut butter, wheat germ and bananas—disgusting! And it didn't work.
So this chapter in my life, well, I call it, "The Character Building Years." They built me
If you asked anyone who knew me as a youngin, this would probably come as a shock. To most, I was this funny, animated girl involved in just about everything. Yes, I encountered cruel kids and my share of mean girls, but I loved school! I was this kid that could somehow always find her smile — a gift, I swear. And when things got really tough, I learned to go into my “space” and cry when I needed, but to emerge confident. I learned it was my choice what I shared of myself, and I divulged only when I felt I would not be judged. My mother taught me at a very young age to fake it until you make it — and I gave Oscar winning performances. So this phase of my life, well, I call it, "The Character Building Years." They built me.
THE CITY OF ANGELS
Life is so much more liberating for me now. I live in Los Angeles, where I swear the sun shines brighter! I'm surrounded by an array of cultures and people from all over the world that further influence my ideals of beauty. Everything and everyone in my life is genuine — and that's by choice. Unlike high school where being an "it girl" was so important, I now make the conscious decision to surround myself with people who support me and inspire me. I do not compromise my personality or peace of mind for the sake of friendship. I hang around people I enjoy and who enjoy me. It was gradual and took time, but I found me in the process, and I really like this girl! Like, I dig her and her last name!
I see myself now, for who I am: This smart, witty, still quirky and fun girl that just so happens to be gorgeous! I realize my early years of awkwardness actually gave way to parts of me I now adore. The things I hated about myself then are now all things I celebrate about myself, and, yes, I'm still long and slim. And even still, I can be quite coy. But, despite the heartaches and the tears, the pain was temporal and the scars heal. Life is still just a playground, and I remind myself I've played this game already. I no longer wear confidence. I am confident — confident that whatever comes my way, I can handle.
It's crazy, because if you asked me if I had a good childhood, I would tell you I had a GREAT one. If you asked if I regret any times from my childhood, I would respond, "Abso-frickin-lutely not!" You see, no matter how little, seemingly insignificant, awkward, or out of place it may seem — every piece is required for the puzzle, the masterpiece. So, I guess the end does justify the means.
Those character-building years gave way to a tenacity and a toughness. I have been teased, bullied, mocked, pranked, embarrassed on a grand scale, laughed at — I'll just stop there. I have experienced it all and heard it all. After all, the ugly duckling is no stranger to rejection. I learned self-coping skills the good ole-fashioned way—by dusting myself off and getting back up again. I realize my childhood was a training ground, and from it my superpower emerged — RESILIENCY!
my Mantra . .because you gotta have one, right?
I believe self-love is everything. It's the basis upon which anything else can organically grow. It can't be taught, bought or birthed. It must be chosen, continuously. So stay the path and, most importantly, let it evolve as you do.
To my younger self, I apologize. I put so much pressure on you. I bullied you! With everything else you had to deal with as a young girl coming of age, I made it 10 times worse! I depressed and stressed you out. Everything I disliked about you is what made you, YOU! And, you know what? You were and are alright! Stay brave and never lose that sense of wonder towards life. It will be your saving grace. There's strength in vulnerability. And one day, you will write your story, tell the world, and it will be one of the scariest, most wonderfully cathartic and liberating things you will ever do!
— TANIA TAIWO X UDD