This story was written by Marion Mbiyu from KENYA.
I feel like the older I have 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 than I used to because I might say something stupid. It is as if there are invisible standards that I am trying to confine myself to.
Growing up there was not much discussion about sexual intercourse, relationships and 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 in excruciating pain and would lie about the cause of the pain. Or going swimming as part of a mandatory lesson, and having to ask the nurse to give me a letter stating that I was not well.
Growing up there was not much discussion about sexual intercourse, relationships and female healthcare and hygiene.
Worst of all was the school matron in boarding school and the dreadful advice she had given us. I remember her explaining how a girl is at her worst when she is on her cycle, how she is disgusting and no man would want to see 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 about.
Now I am able to look back and understand why these conversations barely happened – because there is still a stigma attached to these topics even to this day.
Between the ages of 14 to 19 I slowly and subliminally started becoming more aware of beauty standards, which were completely unattainable on my part. From the age 14 to about 16, prettiness seemed to equal lighter skin. It 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 bodily curves made. By the age of 18, I remember asking my mother why my body just wasn’t developing the ‘right way’ 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 rounders and a group of older boys (whom I did not know) saying I looked ‘masculine’. At the time, I also had awful acne. Another boy whom I didn’t know said how my body was okay but my face was ‘something else’. On another occasion, two boys said my face was dreadful from a closer view.
The thing that bothered me the most from these kind of comments was that they were not confrontational, and part of me felt 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 said the most unpleasant things to others as a way to make myself feel better.
I walked away hating myself even more and being ashamed of my appearance.
Now I am 22 years old and I feel like I have 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 am 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 Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), the right to education and healthcare for example, there is a real urgency to tackle them because of their magnitude. But I also feel that there has to be a significant shift in society’s mindset, and conversations about sex, relationships, female healthcare and so on 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 to save girls years of unnecessary shame.
I have grown to suppress a lot of what I have experienced, but I have also grown to be more mindful and happy with myself.
This story was part of Safety First for Girls (SAFIGIs) #SharingNotShaming campaign.