Black Beauty

When I gave a talk on ‘Self-Esteem and Confidence’ to teens I showed them this image:

Khoudia Diop

I then gave them 5 seconds to think of one word to describe the lady in the image. I did this for two reasons: to evaluate the way they viewed things and to prove a point. They had to shout out the first word that came to mind. When I counted down to zero they all shouted a mixture of “dark” and “black”. I had expected this. I then let them know the truth – that the first word that I had thought of was “beautiful” but “dark” indeed followed close behind. The reason “beautiful” came up so quickly is because my outward perception is now driven by my new inward viewpoint. If you had asked me the same question a couple of years ago I would have definitely fallen into the former category. However because I now view all aspects of myself in a positive light, even the not so pretty things, I can now project that positivity on others and point out the things that make them unique and special with ease.

This young lady is called Khoudia Diop. Born in Senegal she moved to Italy to study. Obviously she was an outlier in that region and if you didn’t already know, being different makes you a target for hate, so hate her they did. There were those that could not accept the melanin clad beauty that was Khoudia and she was verbally attacked and called all sorts of names (as you would expect). Under such intense scrutiny (in that environment someone that dark will ALWAYS attract attention) it would have been easy for her to bow down under all the pressure and crumble. She was bullied constantly on every social platform and in person – enter Bullying: Make Or Break. Khoudia spoke out. She acknowledged her dark skin (dark it is – there is no denying it) and embraced her natural beauty. Bullies may have directed barbed words in her direction but she made sure they didn’t hook to her coffee coloured skin – instead she let them bounce off like it was a trampoline. She allowed the pressure to turn her coal to diamond, to ‘make her’ and eventually her mature responses as well as her uniqueness opened doors. This is her now:

Melanin Goddess

She’s an Instagram star with half a million followers and thousands of girls looking up to her as a role model. She is also a professional model even though she left for Italy without the prospect ever crossing her mind. Khoudia is now a symbol black girls and any girls that may have felt marginalised because of their appearance or some unique quality they possess look up to. She even hangs out with celebrities as shown by this pic of her with Lupita Nyong’o.

Khoudia x Lupita

All because she didn’t let bullying break her.

Let’s get this right Khoudia is dark! Khoudia was attacked for it!

But Khoudia didn’t let bullies define how she views herself!

Will you?

Sticks And Stones

My name is Ayanda Joe Munikwa. I love my name, all of it, but that wasn’t always the case. If you’ve been here awhile you would know that this was once titled “Joe’s Blog”. There’s a reason for that.

I attended one of the most hyper-masculine high schools in my country. My Christian name, ‘Ayanda’, Zulu in its origin, isn’t native thus is relatively unknown to the Shona-speaking people that dominated the college. As a result by association people would often link it to the more popular ‘Amanda’. (By the way I just Googled the definition of the name Amanda and there is an article claiming the name is documented in a birth record from 1212 somewhere in England! That’s absolutely nuts.) Where was I…? Right.

So Ayanda was considered feminine and in that toxic environment there was a lot of ridicule directed towards it. The most popular guy in the year above made this painfully clear one afternoon. “Ayanda?!” he exclaimed with his posse sniggering all around him. “That’s the name of a girl I made out with a whiiiile back. She was ugly as sin!”

When you think about it afterwards it’s utterly ridiculous that he would call a girl he kissed in the past ugly as sin. But I wasn’t sharp enough to see the ruse for what it was and I allowed my feeble self-esteem defences to crumble. Immediately my name became a trigger point for self-defence so much so that when I left to study in London I intentionally introduced myself as Joe under the guise that it was easier to pronounce than my first name – and forbid anyone getting my first name wrong! Therefore to save them from righteous judgement I allowed them to use the single-syllabic name ‘Joe’ instead.

This went on for a while and probably would have done even longer were I not corrected one day by one of my parents.

“Why Joe? Why not Ayanda?” they asked.

“They can’t pronounce it right,” I lied.

“Well… then you teach them.”

I couldn’t come up with a suitable response to that.

Still, as stubborn as I was I needed a little bit extra. That bit extra came in the form of my Thermodynamics lecturer.

“It’s impossible for me to know everyone’s names,” he complained. “It’s all Alexs and Johns and Michaels and there are so many of you. See?” He went on to read the names of people in the register and they seemed to all prove his point until he came to mine – ‘Ayanda’. He asked who that was, I raised my hand. Ever since then he would refer to me as Ayanda but everyone else was just “you over there” or “the guy in the pink”. That’s when it hit me. In trying to hide my insecurity I had taken away a vital part of my identity. I thought I was shielding myself from ridicule but in actual fact I had shielded myself from prominence and significance. In taking the mantle of ‘regular Joe’ I had allowed myself to fade in the background, fitting in instead of standing out.

It needed to sink in. My name is my name. It is mine. Because it is mine – I should cherish it. I needed to increase in understanding, to increase in wisdom, to increase in the self-esteem I’d robbed myself of just because of childish ridicule. I needed to increase in a lot of things… which would probably have happened sooner had I embraced my name which means just that.

Next time you bump into me – call me Ayanda.

photo cred: CrossFit Odyssey

Bullying: Make Or Break

Photo cred: Talkspace

One of the major contributing factors to a lack of confidence is bullying, which makes a lot of sense when you think about it. I am sure we’ve heard that old childhood saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”

Wrong.

Our brains are a collection of all of the information we “download” throughout our lives. Therefore it is not an astronomical leap of logic to assume that the words that others say (or their behaviour towards us) affect us in some way. It can in fact affect us massively.

Bullying is repeated aggressive behaviour towards someone

In the UK 1.5 million young people bullied in 2016

145 000 bullied everyday

14% consider suicide – 7% attempt it

Source: www.bullying.co.uk

You’d think that those that engage in bullying suffer tremendous lack, therefore they need this sense of superiority to make up for what they don’t have. Maybe they do suffer lack in one area of their life (emotional, social, etc) but I chose these statistics to point out that even a first world environment like the UK can still breed people who seek to harm others. Monetary lack may have nothing to do with it. Therefore if you are experiencing bullying – don’t allow yourself to sink deeper into self-pity by believing you are alone. You are NOT alone. And one other thing – yes the words and actions performed by a bully may hurt you… but guess what? They don’t need to define you. In fact – they can be the very springboard you need to flourish more than you’ve ever done before. It’s all in the attitude.

Intrigued? Get ready for two case studies coming up tomorrow.

What Confidence IS NOT

I could have made this whole series one long post but I know not everyone has the time to invest in such a thing and because I want to impact as many lives positively as I possibly can I’ve split it into several chunks that are easy to swallow.

The things I will touch on this week actually work. I’ve seen them in action. I recently gave a 25 min presentation on Confidence and Self-esteem to a group of teens. On the first day the smallest one from this group, this tiny little girl, could not look anyone in the eye and would waffle or even remain mute when put on the spot. On the 3rd day this same girl, boldly said something in a presentation I will remember for a very long time. 

Confidently she declared, “I am who am I am. I am me.”

That’s what I want everyone who reads this blog this week to come away feeling.

“Low self-esteem is like driving through life with your hand brake on.” — Maxwell Maltz

“Everybody is a genius but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree , it will spend its whole life believing that it is stupid.” — Albert Einstein

There are some things confidence is not, namely:

  • presumptuous
  • proud
  • disrespectful
  • beating oneself up
  • feeling unlovable, incompetent or awkward
  • something that fluctuates day by day
  • something that you CANNOT build (yes that is indeed a double negative)

If you tick any of these boxes, this series is for you.

 

Importance Of Confidence

Confidence:
●Helps prevent or protect against depression
●Able to take risks, increasing opportunities
●Rejection disappoints you less
●Reduces anxiety
●You can feel good when you are alone
●Better social interactions
●Eliminates jealousy
●Makes you more attractive
Sold yet?
Confidence QuoteConf qoute 2Conf quote 3

Self-Confidence Vs Self-Esteem

photo cred: T C North

Worry not, this will not devolve into a war of words or transform into an ultimate rap battle between the words self-confidence and self-esteem. Instead I would just like to add some clarity on what we will be discussing and how I plan to move forward with this series. Let’s dive into a definition, shall we?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary describes self-confidence as:

a feeling of trust in one’s abilities, qualities and judgement

The same source sites self-esteem as:

a confidence and satisfaction in oneself

I always used to believe that self-confidence and self-esteem were synonymous. They are indeed similar, but not identical. Self-confidence has to do with perception based on what one can do whereas self-esteem has to do with one’s perception on who one is. Clear enough?

This wonderful graphic should help make things even clearer:

Self-esteem vs confidence

They are different but one thing is certain, to function to the very best of your ability and to enjoy your life to the fullest: YOU NEED BOTH!

For the purposes of future posts not becoming too wordy I will refer to both self-esteem and self-confidence simply as confidence from this moment on. This is to prevent confusion by interchanging the terms and to avoid the mental block that comes with associating the word esteem with the more negative low self-esteem.

Tomorrow we will discuss the Importance of Confidence.

Confidence

photo cred: https://youtu.be/hLtxKNgBzUg

For the next 7 days we are going to talk about ‘Confidence’. This will cover ‘Self-Confidence’, ‘Self-Esteem’ and ‘Self-Love’. I’m genuinely stoked about what we’re going to walk through together and I am 100% convinced that this will impact your life positively. If you’ll be a darling and be your brother’s keeper, share the content that will be coming up in the next week with someone who needs it.

Creativity: Killer Ending

photo cred: Fog Hill Of The Five Elements

I remember considering writing a story for my collection: ‘Unrealistically Plausible Short Stories’. I shelved the idea for later as I felt the fantasy element would clash mightily with the more believable stories in the collection. I am certain my high school English teacher would be proud of that decision. I did come up with a killer ending for it though and would like to use it as an example of a story I would like to read.

The plot goes like this: Imagine a world where certain deities ruled over kingdoms that were basically territories equivalent to continents. These beings were imbued with great power and mirrored certain elements. The ruler of the kingdom to the South was made of flames, to the North ice, to the West earth, to the East gold and central air. The being of air was the weakest and the most humble but God had granted him territory from all the other 4 nations with the greatest resources. The 4 conspired to murder him but he got wind of it (LOL) and escaped. He hid himself somewhere as they held a meeting to divide the spoils. Meanwhile Air was listening in…

“So I propose we split the land equally, each one of us incorporating the land on their side,” Gold’s words were gilt-edged and sweet as honey.

“Right… that’s because you know the mines are to the East you sly dog!” scoffed Fire. Immediately he started boiling with murderous rage… the same rage that had inspired him to plot the murder of Air. “Keep this up and you and all your kin will be molten.”

Worry rippled across Gold’s face. He simply nodded. Ice laughed a bitterly cold laugh, she shook her head and snowflakes slowly drifted down to the ancient oak roundtable between them. “I don’t know what’s stoked your flames so, but keep this up and none of us will ever see the next millennium.”

Fire shot to his feet like a rocket, flames flaring behind him like a wedding dress burning with eagerness to shoot a fiery retort… but found that he couldn’t. Air had had enough evidence of Fire’s murderous intents and lack of restraint. Air was finally going to use his God-given right. See, the others thought Air to be the weakest of the 5 rulers of the earth… this was in fact false, he was just the most cautious with his great gift. He knew it was to be used only in the advent of a serious threat to the peace of the land. So with foam tears of carbon dioxide dripping down his face, Air pulled the Breath of Life out of Fire leaving him to sputter and die right there on the roundtable; collapsing into a cloud of ashes, leaving the other 3 deities shellshocked.

Tomorrow we start the Confidence series. Buckle up.

 

 

Creativity: End In Style

I rate all stories I read based on the prevailing feelings at the end. If I don’t feel anything or if I feel frustrated that I had wasted my time – that goes down as a bad book or even a bad series in my eyes. Some books can be mediocre for the most part then have an absolutely banging conclusion. I believe anyone who wants to write a compelling piece (if your readers are anything like me) should put a lot of thought into the ending. Avoid at all costs putting an expected ending (unless the entire plot is meant to be predictable and produce cozy feelings i.e a ride more than destination kinda book) as this may leave a reader like myself pondering why they even bothered picking up the book in the first place. Also – no cliffhangers, please? Open endings are fine but a cliffhanger is the most cruel form of torture one can conspire (aside from any other kind of real torture).

To keep it short, if you’re going to end a story, why not end it in style?

Creativity: Exposure (Television Part 2)

photo cred: www.sclance.com

To wrap up the Creativity: Exposure mini-series I would like to throw in a simple suggestion. If you’ve been watching American television or British television or Bollywood films all your life – to expand your creative thinking I suggest consuming products from different parts of the world than what you’re accustomed to.

We’ve already talked about the benefit of watching shows from different genres, now we will look at watching films steeped in different cultures. There was a stage in my life where shows like ‘Passions’ and ‘The Bold And The Beautiful’ were a staple. Those soaps and the mostly American and British books I read formed the bedrock of romance in my mind. It was no surprise then that my stories would mirror the themes that were the hallmark of those two cultures (which are more similar than most). Enter Bollywood – and there was a substantial shift. Now it wasn’t mainly about deception or conniving or charming your way into someone’s life but there was all this colour and impressing through talent (mainly musical) that I hadn’t encountered. Relationships were no longer founded just on power and money and beauty but on far much more. Furthermore in the ideas bandied about during the draft stages of my writing there was the introduction of a class barrier and finding love in arranged marriages… or the pursuit of forbidden love – concepts that were rare in Western media but commonplace in the Bollywood movies I watched. Did I mention the use of music to drive home whatever emotions the director wanted the viewer to feel? That was the time my writing rhythm underwent a revolution. Then came the Korean drama era where there was far more emphasis on the spoken word and the way they were delivered than in any other form of television I had seen up to that point. Lastly came the anime phase and there was another complete 180 degree shift with creative humour not only based on crude innuendos or the use of vulgar language (apparently they don’t specialise in Japanese) but the introduction of jokes based on the culture and tradition of the time.

My mind was learning the art of contortion, performing complex acrobatics to cater for all of these different ways to tell the same story… all because it wasn’t limited to watching films from a localised geography. Yours shouldn’t be either.

This concludes our Creativity: Exposure mini-series. I will talk about The Importance Of A Creative Ending and give an example in another double post to cap off the Creativity series tomorrow.