How has the cultural perception of beauty influenced how you see yourself?
"Being from a different culture with its own standards of beauty and then seeing how westernized standards were imposed on me, it was sometimes difficult sorting the two things out. An example being that in Nigeria, a gap in your teeth was not considered special and was something you took care of, with braces usually. But in the U.S. a gap was something a lot of people desired and saw as special. All of my siblings got braces to get rid of their gaps and straighten their teeth but I decided not to. This was hard, then, watching how my parents responded. Their reactions made me self conscious growing up so I was less willing to smile because I started to feel ashamed about how I looked. This got better over time but it was just hard to reconcile those feelings.
This also came up in terms of skin color. In Nigeria, lighter skin tone is considered better…I am sure this comes through from colonial standards…but I was one of the darkest in my family and having been born in Nigeria and being a part of that culture, it created this sense of “other” in me.
One of the coolest things, though, is that over time I have learned beauty is not in how people look but in who accepts themselves for the way they look no matter what. I have lived in so many different places, cultures, etc and have seen so many different perspectives on beauty and the more different types of beauty I saw, the more concrete the notion became in that beauty lies in our own skin. Now, I try to work toward and encourage others, especially my siblings, to uncover these beliefs and help them navigate their journey in their own way. Like one time, my brother called me and said he wanted to buy a pair of Chubbies and my first response way “don’t buy those”. I told him not to spend his money on stuff just to look and feel like everyone else but to uncover his own style and figure out what he, himself wants because all that matters is that your style agrees with you."
What effects have you seen your cultural influences have on your siblings?
"I think what I notice most is the way my mom has unknowingly put a lot of pressure on my sister. Maybe it was easier being a guy so it didn’t impact me in the same way when my mom would point out when things weren't ‘right’ or that there was something that could be improved about you and I am beginning to understand just how much of an impact this all had on her. But the hard part is I can understand my mother’s point of view as well by understanding the world she lives in."
How do you nurture and celebrate your beauty?
"I think about the concept of texture and how people experience these same textures and to truly be a part of the experience, we need to expose ourselves to every fiber within the texture. I have a really close friend living with lupus who calls from time to time when she is struggling with her own negative thoughts and difficulties and we remind each other of this."
You are someone I have known for quite awhile and I have heard numerous times how people describe your physical beauty as perfection. What does that feel like to hear those things? Does it resonate with you?
"That wasn’t always how people responded to me - there was a long time when I didn’t get positive attention like that at all. As a matter fact, the first girl I liked, I tried to ask her to play kickball or something like that and she spit on me.
I think this carried over with me for awhile and I had a lot of negative self talk that still continues to come up from time to time. SO now, whenever I start to think about the things I don’t like about myself or hear those negative things in my head, I try to pump my mental breaks and accept and appreciate their appreciation.
And now, I realize how great it was to have grown up in that more peripheral category throughout school and my early life because I had the chance to meet people who worked hard and accepted themselves for who they are. And I am working on getting there myself."