It’s Okay to Be Myself
My mum is pretty strict. She’s the typical African mum, but a lot stricter. My entire life has always been subject to whatever she says and wants, but I thought that things would turn out exactly as planned and by age 20 I would have complete control of my life. I am 24 years old now and I can not say I am living the life I truly want to live. My mum’s expectations of how my life should turn out are weighing me down.
She expects me to get a master’s degree right after my service year, and then get married or at least have a fiancé. I don’t want to. You might say that it’s not bad to further your education or find a life partner; but the truth is that sometimes women don’t go after certain things because they want to – they do so because those things are the world’s definition of being a strong, independent woman. Make no mistake, I want to be strong and independent. We all do. Still, we sometimes don’t see that there are many paths to being strong, independent women. There are many paths to fulfillment and success. And right now, I don’t want a master’s degree or a husband/fiancé and I wish my mum would listen to me.
I realized I wasn’t living for myself but for my mum when I learned how to sew. It was her idea for me to learn a skill but then I fell in love with it. I started sewing a lot and the drama began. She complained about all the outfits I made for myself: too tight, too short, too flashy, too revealing, indecent. According to her, it didn’t matter that I was the one wearing the clothes, as far as she didn’t like them. I had to start making dresses for myself based on what she liked just to avoid conflict. I learned to wear clothes I don’t like. I learned to keep quiet when I’d rather speak up. I learned to do a lot of things I’d rather not just to please my mum, or at the very least, to avoid conflict.
A lot of women live like this, always subjected to other peoples’ opinions and toning down their lives to suit other women/people. It might not be your mum like it is for me; but it might be friends, co-workers, your husband, and so on. With these people and society generally, we always try to fit into their definition of how a woman should live, act, dress, or just be, generally.
I’ve found that one of the most difficult things about being a woman today is the courage to be your authentic self and the determination to stay true to that. We grow up learning that we can only be fulfilled when we get married. As we grow older people tell you that you have to work and be independent but then again they tell you what kind of jobs best suit you as a woman. They tell you that you have to look a certain way and dress a certain way. They decide what decency is for you, as you must not tempt a man because whatever happens you are to be blamed. You are called names (ashawo, for instance) just because you want to be free.
They tell you that as a woman you can’t be (too) confident in yourself; you must not show how good you are at what you because its disrespectful and will intimidate men. So we grow up and form ourselves by putting together pieces of what the world wants us to be. We convince ourselves that this is truly who we are. We want to be independent so bad that we believe that being this put-together, toned-down version of ourselves is true independence.
But I’ve recently discovered that real independence is about finding yourself, it is about accepting who you are, damn the consequences, and not trying to fit into that picture of perfection and docile behaviour that the world has created for us. It’s about choosing what you want. It’s about being able to make the right, informed decisions about yourself. It’s about taking responsibility and bearing the consequences of the decisions you make.
We have to understand that it is perfectly okay not to want to get married and it is still perfectly okay if marriage has always been your biggest dream. It’s okay to want to be a stay-at-home mom. That is a full-time job in itself. It is also very okay to want to focus on your career full-time and nothing else. It is not an issue if you don’t want to have kids – it’s your body and your life. It’s okay if you don’t want to grow out your natural hair. It’s okay if you want to marry someone younger than you. It’s okay if you want to put on leg chains and nose rings. It’s okay if you love cooking and it’s okay if you don’t. Just do you. Do what truly makes you happy.
And it’s okay if you haven’t figured out what makes you happy yet. Just don’t settle or get lost in trying to fulfill the expectations of others so that you lose sight of who you truly are and what you want from life.
This is a message to you and to myself. It’s okay that I want to do fashion full-time. It’s okay that I don’t want a master’s degree. It’s okay that I don’t want to get married now. It’s okay that I want to dress the way I want. It’s okay that I want to choose the life I want.
About the Author:
Favour Egwu is a fashion designer, writer, and graduate of Mass Communication. She co-founded and organised the Benue Summer Fair and volunteered with LEAP Africa. She has also interned with Women United for Economic Empowerment (WUEE).