I remember the night I stood on a stool in front of my mother’s mirror, I swept my hair to the side, tilted my chin and puffed my chest. I tried to imagine myself as a woman, no longer four but twenty-four. I tried to imagine a time when everyone would refer to me as “ma.” I reached for my mum’s red lipstick contained in a bright green tube and it reminded me of my fat chunks of crayons. So I took off the cap and coloured. I loved colouring but I could never really stay in between the lines so I created the illusion that my lips were twice its size with the oily red. I slipped on her black patent leather shoes. In my head, I was taller, older and wiser. I had become a woman.
Now, I wish it were that simple- lipstick, heels, voila! a woman at last, without having to go through the necessary but complicated trials and tribulations of growing up. Honestly, I still don’t understand this art of “becoming”, let alone mastering it. In the eyes of a four-year-old, becoming was simple. It was either black or white, no in betweens; a straight road with no detours, breakdowns, diversions, go-slows or T junctions.
As I grow older, becoming has turned into a colour wheel with so many hues and shades in between, colours continuously blurring into one another that I can’t tell which is which. Becoming is no longer a straight path but a jammed highway with too many road blocks and the constant fear and paranoia of what’s hiding in the alternative route.
At seven, becoming meant being like my sister and cousins. It meant being like Aunt Bidemi and Aunt Tola who were getting married. It meant being able to drink Maltina or Malta Guiness and use makeup. At nine, it became praying to have big breasts; at eleven, wanting wide hips and to be like my seniors in pleated skirts who talked freely with boys, and accentuated their waistcoats to show off the ample shape of their breasts. It became making plans for the future- four kids, a loving husband, and my own business. It became getting my first period.
Becoming, in Mrs A’s terms, was learning to be a prude so that boys would respect you. It meant shaming my fellow girls because they hung out freely with boys and acted “loosely”. It was shunning and turning away love advances because boys just wanted to ruin lives, or so she said.
Becoming was moving from pinafore to skirt, and that shift alone became being automatically despised by female teachers. It became feeling things emotionally and physically, craving the touch and attention of the opposite sex. It went from being shy about my growing features to flaunting it for male approval. Then it switched from wanting my first kiss to wanting who could have been my first love to want me back. It became this full-on awareness of my insecurities and flaws. It became this repulsive obsession with perfection and a constant feeling of inadequacy. Becoming was losing the bold, confident child that I was and becoming this insecure pushover.
Becoming was a trail of heartbreaks and rejections. Sometimes, it was subtle and other times, it was hard, leaving me dishevelled for weeks. Becoming was losing friends over silly little things, over major arguments, and over nothing. It went from shouting BFFS/ soul sisters from rooftops to being afraid to whisper the words ‘best friend’ because I am scared that it wouldn’t last. Becoming was learning to deal with outgrowing childhood best friends, burnt bridges, and soiled dreams.
It became days when my mother and I would go about without saying a word to each other. Both of us loathing what had become of us. I blamed her because she didn’t understand me and she wasn’t like the rest- she was strict, religious and always making assumptions. I’m sure she blamed puberty because she had lost the adorable little girl who always wanted to be held or to be in her presence, who also loved God and church. She missed her star child, not this cold pompous person I had become, one who always wanted to be alone or preferred the company of friends to family.
Becoming was realizing that those friends come and go and blood is much thicker than water. Though I’m still outgrowing this rebellious stage, I can finally appreciate my mother’s sacrifices and I love her more for being different.
Becoming was being tossed into the world of relationships. It was learning to compromise and be vulnerable. It was trusting the opposite sex with my heart and my body. It was learning to trust myself. It was being young and reckless. Becoming is still being reckless.
Becoming now is shining my eyes wide so that I can view the world clearly for the first time. It is realizing the world around me is on fire and I’m not allowed to help extinguish it. It is realizing that my worth will be consistently judged by face value. Becoming is learning to be apologetic for speaking up:
“Hush now, child. As a woman, you don’t say those things.”
“Stop being so aggressive, you won’t find a man o.”
It is learning that no matter what I achieve in this life if I have no man, I will never be taken seriously. It is understanding that if I’m ever in danger, I will be blamed even when I’m the victim. Becoming is learning that if I dare embrace my sexuality, I ought to be ready to be shunned for it. Becoming is understanding that my body is not mine but society’s and ultimately a man’s. It’s only good when they say it is good and I can only do what they deem acceptable with it.
I’ve now come to realise that society isn’t there when I cry myself to sleep at night, society isn’t living with my unhappiness and insecurities. So now, the art of becoming is learning to break free.
Becoming is understanding the full scope of my responsibilities- that I owe a duty to myself to make waves, break boundaries and not succumb to societal expectations. It is becoming the best me I could possibly be for me and not what society tells me is the best. Becoming is accepting myself and all that I stand for, while I master the tortuous language of patience and forgiveness. It is realizing my full potential so that I can get to a certain level of euphoria because all my dreams and aspirations are within my reach.
Becoming is loving myself- loving every nook and cranny- wholly and unapologetically. Becoming is learning how to.
Becoming is forgiving myself over and over again without losing a bit of myself, my kindness and warmth.
To sum it all up, I am no longer that little girl but I’m also not a woman. I am at that tricky stage in between and my definition of becoming a woman has evolved from the most trivial things to understanding the complexity of our reality. Now, I understand the pains we go through and I know that we will be tossed about and sucker punched so many times by the society we populate in order to break us. But I also understand that we will adapt because we are malleable. So, the art of becoming is embracing the thickness and resilience of our skin. It is looking at the intricate linings of our souls, biology, nature and understanding that we are phenomenal.
Five years from now, I hope to look at this and write again and I can’t help but wonder what becoming would mean by then.
Side note: Listen to Titilope Sonuga’s short poem “becoming” which provided me with a great deal of inspiration – Becoming by Titilope Sonuga