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Opinions of Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Columnist: Efua Idan Osam

The true measure of a man is not found in his appearance

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Appearances they say can be deceptive and that is the story of my life. I am petite in stature and certainly do not look my age. I’m in my late 20s and I just finished my graduate programme in Communication Studies.

Some say I look 16 and I won’t argue with that and wearing braces hasn’t helped the situation either. It took me years of constant encouragement, reaffirmation and good counsel to begin to love myself, appreciate my own worth and walk about in confidence.

Honestly, I have lost count of the numerous adjectives I have been described with and the many absurd, annoying and sometimes, insensitive and intrusive questions people have asked me. “Eeei you are small oo!” “Do you know you are very tiny?” “How much do you weigh?” “So do you get clothes your size?” “Abi you dieer if there is water shortage in the system aa, you can even bath with one pail of water.” “Is your boyfriend not killing you?”

And when old school mates meet you 10 years after school – “Eeii, na you dieer won’t you grow fat small?” Back at the University of Cape Coast, some “concerned people” actually discouraged my boyfriend not to date me and their reason was that I was too small for him and that he would ‘kill’ me.

These are just a few and oh, these questions and statements are accompanied by facial expressions and other gestures I don’t even want to touch on. I remember putting up a post on Facebook about my experience with a total stranger who felt I wasn’t qualified to be at the graduate section of the Balme Library at the University of Ghana and asked me if my mother was aware I was at the library that late. Over 90% of the people who commented laughed at my experience and said I shouldn’t take to heart because it’s one of those things.

Well, after a few hours of anger, “is your mummy aware you are here?” became a catchphrase between a friend and I. I have seen a lot of articles written on how insensitive it is to call someone fat and a few more blog posts on the challenges and body shaming ‘fat’ people go through. Anytime I read such posts, I ask myself how come I never see similar posts and articles about petite and slim people.

If you think losing weight is difficult, try gaining weight. Whether fat, tiny, slim or petite; we all have our very own battles. Now to the work place – The hardest part of being petite is always having to prove your worth and capabilities because people naturally assume you are young and inexperienced. I know my worth, I know what I am capable of and I am great at what I do but no, sometimes, people won’t even give you the chance.

Usually, their minds are made up just when they set their eyes on you – that you are incapable. Every now and then, you need to wear high heels or make-up just to look a little older than perceived but what if I don’t want to dress that way? What if I just want to be comfortable in my flats? What if I just want to go along with my natural look? Because of standards society has set, people are forced to pump all sorts of medication into their system just to put on weight or lose weight.

Some bleach their skin to cover a scare or dark spots on their skin. I’m in no way glorifying bleaching but my point is that people are secretly doing all sorts of things just to fit in. Those who don’t have hips, sizable backside and boobs end up undergoing plastic surgery [that is if you have cash], applying creams on their bodies to enlarge their assets or wearing padded underwear so as to look ‘perfect’ for society.

You may sit there and judge but see, people are struggling because of the weird stares they get and the uncomplimentary comments they receive and the gossips they hear about themselves. You think it’s no big deal? Well, sorry but it is. So what I am driving at? Words have weight and it could make or unmake a person. God knew this which is why Colossians 4:6 says “Let your speech at all times be gracious and pleasant, seasoned with salt, so that you will know how to answer each one.” You should be sure to taste your words before you spit them out.

Your words could add to someone’s struggles or lessen their burdens so be kind. If you are out there and you are struggling because you are ‘different’, well, this is how I have learnt to manage amidst all the comments and weird looks. You are not alone; everyone has insecurities: People have insecurities and are daily fighting internal battles and figuring out ways to keep up appearances. Don’t try to fit in. Be you and do you because keeping up appearances is a lot of work and living a pretentious life is not worth it.

Comments and weird looks won’t stop: You must know that humans will always be humans and some won’t taste their words before spitting them out. The unsavoury comments that are thrown at you in addition to you getting passed over will not stop. People will always have an opinion about you and they can say the meanest things to you so recognize that they exist and they always will exist. Don’t let them define you and take away your happiness and make you bitter.

You have something others don’t, use that: I remember when I was growing up, there were nights I’d wake up my parents and ask them why I look the way I do while crying uncontrollably. My mum would put me in front of a mirror and say, “see your face, your hair. You are intelligent too and that is what is matters.” See, we all have something others don’t so thank God for that attribute or feature He gave you and use that to build your confidence. Learn to be a pleasant person inside out; do the best you can, work hard and the real and discerning ones out there will appreciate you for who you really are.

You were made this way for a reason: I know in your quiet moments, you question God as to why he made you this way and not that way. Have you ever wondered that it may be for a reason? You must find that purpose and fulfil it. Your experiences may end up being an inspiration to someone who may be in a very dark place.

Speak up: Speaking up helps you to stand up for yourself, be noticed and also helps you to blow off a little steam. At times, I would tell it to your face if I feel your comments are unsavoury. No matter the circumstance, find a way to get it off your chest. Keeping it in only hurts you more and will make you feel less about yourself and hurt your confidence.

However, do not sink into the gutter by using mean and unsavoury words. Get a support system: You must surround yourself with positive people who know your worth, appreciate you and encourage you every step of the way. It could be someone who may have had a similar experience, your family or your friends. Let their comments and positivity impact how you see yourself.

Learn to laugh at yourself sometimes: There are days I laugh at comments and jokes made about my stature and I play along. If you learn to laugh and make jokes about yourself, you will be less hurt and angry. This is how I’ve coped and still continue to cope because each day comes with its own struggles. This is what I learnt in church yesterday: The true measure of a man is not found in his appearance.