By Marion Mbiyu via UN Online Volunteers
I feel like the older I’ve become, the more aware I have become of my shame. I find myself constantly scrutinizing and doubting myself in a lot of things especially when it comes to making personal decisions. I also find myself more embarrassed about the most mundane things. For instance, I try to say less a lot of the time because I might say something stupid. It’s as if there are invisible standards that I am trying to confine myself to.
Growing up there wasn’t much discussion on sexual intercourse, relationships and even female healthcare and hygiene. There was so much secrecy and shame when it came to these sorts of conversations. I remember being on my period and I would be in excruciating pain and would lie about the cause of the pain. Or even going swimming as part of the lesson which was mandatory, and having to ask the nurse to give me a letter stating that I wasn’t well.
Worst of all, was a school matron in boarding school and among the most absurd, dreadful advice she had given us. I remember her explaining how a girl is at her worst when she is on her cycle, she’s disgusting and no man would want to see that (the blood stains). She then went on to say how girls need to hide their period and that it is a shame for people to know.
Now I am able to look back and understand why these conversations barely happened because there’s still a stigma attached to these topics till this day.
Between the ages of 14 to 19, I feel that I slowly and subliminally started becoming more aware of beauty standards, which were completely unattainable on my part. Between the ages of 14 to about 16, I saw beauty and prettiness equivalent to lighter skin, which seems absurd, but at the time it seemed like the lighter skinned (mostly mixed race) girls and boys were instantly beautiful and likable, purely on the complexion of their skin.
Around that age, I was also aware of how much difference “curves” made to a girls physic. By the age of 18, I remember asking my mother why my body just wasn’t developing the “right way” and like most mothers, her response was that sometimes it takes time but things would change the older I got . It was all fun and laughter when talking to my mother, but I remember on one occasion playing rounder’s and a group of older boys (whom I didn’t know) saying how “I looked masculine”. At the time, I also had really awful acne, and then again I remember a boy (whom I didn’t know) saying how my body was okay but my face was “something else”. In another occasion, I remember two boys saying how my face was dreadful from a closer view.
I think the thing that bothered me the most from these kind of comments was because they weren’t confrontational and part of me felt that there must have been some truth to them. I walked away hating myself even more and being ashamed of my appearance. Worst of all was how I became insecure, and I acted out and said the most unpleasant things to others as a way to make myself feel better.
Now I am 22 years old and I feel like I’ve learned to love my appearance and appreciate my feminine body. I am much more aware of social issues, gender being one of them and the shame that society burdens girls and women with. At my age, I feel that I am much more critical of the social norms and standards.
So what if I have cramps and aches, it is part of what happens to my body when I’m on my menstrual cycle.
So what if I have a stain on my trousers or skirt, it happens.
So what if my body is not up to societal standards and my appearance isn’t “fit” enough for people’s liking.
I am aware that when it comes to gender issues such as FGM, the right to education, healthcare etc. there is an urgency to tackle them due to their magnitude. But, I also feel that there has to be a huge shift in society’s mindset, and conversations on sex, relationships, female healthcare etc., should be discussed freely. This, of course, will not happen instantly but it is worth having these conversations with both boys and girls at a young age and save girls years of unnecessary shame.
I’ve grown to suppress a lot of what I have experienced, but I’ve also grown to be more mindful and happy with myself.