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.

Lying Is Good For You

Lying is good for you! Yup you heard that right. So what does that even mean? I’m not telling you to practise perjury if you’re a lawyer or to hide evidence if you’re a cop. I’m not advising you to commit fraud or not pay taxes. I am saying you have got to lie, every single day of your life. That’s going to set you free from mental prisons, transforming you from the chicken you’ve been told you are to the eagle you were always meant to be.

Let me elaborate on what I mean. The world has given us a series of truths that have already seeped into the recesses of our minds and in most cases have shaped our view of self. You may have been branded as unintelligent, unwise, ugly, terrible at communicating and relegated to a place or position you think (or formerly thought) you don’t belong to. Allow these words to build up and be the only thing you listen to then you’ll believe them to be truth. Do you know why the words hurt you so? It’s because you’ve believed them to be the truth. If you know you are intelligent even your professor can’t make you think otherwise. If you know you are a success you won’t entertain being told you are a disappointment. If you know you are beautiful even Ms. Universe can’t put you down. But how do you know something when it isn’t ‘the truth’ based on what you hear? Simple. You lie… everyday. Tell a lie enough times – you’ll eventually believe it.

Unfortunately your way of thinking is an ensemble of the information you receive. You are bound to hear negative things daily – social media is the bullhorn of negativity. I know not everyone can extricate themselves from it like I’ve done. But you need to come up with a way to hear the ‘lie’ you want more than you hear ‘the truth’ of the world. Enter affirmations and confessions.

Daily speak the things you want. ‘Lie’ and affirm yourself with the traits you desire that you are told you don’t have. Say these things often enough to overshadow ‘the truth’ of this world.

If you can’t switch off or drown out the outside noise, pump up the volume of what you say to yourself within.

If you don’t think you can do that, find a good friend of yours to do it on your behalf. If you can’t even ask them to do that for you maybe check your friendships. I’ll talk about how to pinpoint the right friends on Friday in ‘We Are Not In This Together’.

Below are some confessions you can try out that may change your life:

I am intelligent, wise, focussed, driven, patient, creative, organised and a solution provider – I am mentally strong.

I am confident, outspoken, friendly, honest, great at listening and open-minded – I am a great communicator.

I am beautiful, handsome, kind, healthy, composed, courageous, humble, loving and loved – I am enough.

I am strong, enthusiastic, charismatic, patient, trustworthy, a role model, authentic, a visionary – I am a leader.

Add whatever you need to that list and ‘lie’ till that’s all you know!

I challenge you to test the contents of this post to see if they work or not.

See you tomorrow for part 2 of Lying Is Good For You:  Building Habits.

Living the Standard Life

Now we know to appreciate my traits as an individual and to be grateful for others’ gifts and talents. We know too that we shouldn’t compare myself with my neighbour or it will cause us unnecessary, unwanted stress. Our neighbour is our neighbour and we are ourself. Yet we’ve also learned that we can learn certain good traits from them, observe and apply what we’ve seen to add to ourself so we can be a better version of ourself according to a personal ideal. Today I want to address that concept of an ideal self – also known as a standard.

If you read all the posts I’ve written in the last week in the worst possible context you would probably come out with the conclusion that you are perfect as you are and don’t require change. As the author of the posts I’ll let you know that wasn’t my intention. You are wonderful and you should not allow yourself to be stressed out or condemn yourself for past actions or undesirable traits you possess. Instead, come to an appreciation of who you are and develop an ideal that will spur you on to achieve personal growth. If your goal was to become the world’s best assassin, look at information about assassins, compile a list of the traits that you want to attain and start planning practical methods you can practise to achieve that dream. If you check the name of this blog you’ll know I don’t advocate for such I just wanted to choose an example that you probably haven’t encountered this month.

Christians look to Jesus as an ideal. Believer or not, it makes a lot of sense as he preached and practised loving one’s neighbour as one loves oneself. That statement alone is an ideal that one can live up to for the rest of their life. If you aren’t a very loving person and decide to live by this ideal, you’ll be forced to develop loving attributes. The same applies if your ideal is an incredibly hard worker, an avid reader or a world-renowned communicator. Having an ideal that is or was a real life person is good in that you know it is achievable. It is also limiting in that person may have had traits that you would not like to associate with (they are human after all) and that may stunt your belief in the great traits they have. In comes the idea of ‘ideal agglomeration’ where you come up with a mishmash of traits from people you would consider role models in the areas of life you want to be exceptional in. This is the next level of what we have been talking about. This becomes your ‘Life Standard’ and is something you move towards all your life. It should seem almost impossible to achieve so that you keep growing. If you achieve the landmarks, well done and keep going… maybe  you too will be someone’s ideal role model for something and in that you would have impacted their life positively. That’s what this page is all about.

With that we conclude that comparison series. Tomorrow we enter into the series ‘Individuality’ starting with ‘Singleness Is Underrated’.

What’s Your Weight?

I’ll start off by saying I don’t know the stats so this post is mainly based conjecture, therefore perhaps a rhetorical question is in order. Has there been an increase in mental health issues with the rise of social media? I’m sure you’ve read a post or two thousand by now detailing the adverse effects that social media can have on an individual. How could you come out feeling better about the muck you are walking through right now when everywhere you look your ‘friends’ are blinging and showing off their best life? That’s all you ever see isn’t it? Only the very best is what is portrayed on social media. If you don’t believe me, have a look at the very best pictures on your gadget, then have a look at your instagram posts, is there an overlap? I rest my case. What then? Because the comparison we undergo naturally kills a piece of us every time we take a glimpse of the glory in others’ lives should we stay away completely? I’m one of those that doesn’t subscribe to that train of thought. Yes, personally I have taken a step back from Twitter and SnapChat. Yes I haven’t been on instagram in months and I’ve ditched the Facebook app for Messenger Lite – but that’s just me and I realised that’s what I wanted. But one can’t lie to self and deny how powerful a tool social media can be, if used correctly. Your business can thrive because of social media, as a student you can get recognition, opportunities and even scholarships if you use the tools correctly. Perhaps we need to come to the realisation that that is what all these apps are: tools. And like any tools, if you don’t know what they are for, you’ll abuse them and may hurt yourself in the process. My advice? Build yourself up first, get to a point where you know where you are and where you are going such that someone else’s words, someone else’s likes or someone else’s posts won’t move you. Once you’ve built up your self-esteem to a point where comparison isn’t your basic mental posture, you’re free. Otherwise maybe it’s best you stay away until then.