I was very carefree and tomboyish at primary school, I was self-assured and confident but this changed as I reached my adolescent years. Throughout my teenage years, I’d begun to develop a more complex relationship with my body.
Growing up my mother was a naturally slender, stylish woman. She didn’t wear much make-up and wore her hair shaved very low. To me, she was the height of feminine and I think seeing my mother look this way opened me up to the notion that there was no one way to be feminine, no one way to be a woman. However, I still struggled to accept my developing womanhood.
I attended an all-girls secondary school and found that this environment in many ways either highlighted or reinforced some of the negative ideas I had begun to adopt. There were definitely things I liked about myself, however, I felt the pressure to place more value on my appearance and was extremely critical of my perceived imperfections. I was suddenly part of a culture that placed a lot of importance on physical appearance and had a very narrow idea of what it was to be feminine.
This culture was pervasive and you’d find yourself comparing yourself to what had been set up as the ideal. And as a tomboyish black girl, I soon came to realised that I was not considered an ideal if considered at all.
As I grew into my teens I couldn’t reconcile myself with my developing curves. I refused to wear a bra and instead tried to mask the curves by wearing tight vests that would flatten my chest. I hated my ‘big’ African bum and looked for ways to cover or disguise it. I went through years of feeling awkward and ugly and somewhat inadequate. I hated makeup so, for the most part, felt like a plain jane as my friends experimented with make-up looks and inevitably began to attract the attention of the opposite sex.
Moving to a mixed sixth form college was good for me as it introduced some balance and broadened my friendship circles. I found my little collection of artsy misfits and felt for once that how I looked didn’t matter as much. However, I was still crushingly shy and unsure of myself in this new environment and this fed into my low self-esteem.
After University, I felt I needed a clean break and to create real change in my life. I found a publishing internship in Stockholm, saved up 3 months rent, booked my flight and quit my job.
I call this the beginning of my wellness journey as it began a process of healing that I was not consciously aware of needing.
During this time I felt liberated from my old life, I was literally able to start again and become the person I wanted to be. I naturally began to explore my own interests and creativity.
In Sweden, for the most part, women are brought up knowing that they are equal to men, this was very different to the culture I had grown up in the UK and that of my Nigerian parents who were very traditional. This had a profound influence on me and began to shift some of the ways I had come to view myself. Although I had always been fairly self-sufficient, the framing of this would be a negative, another thing that a girl should not be, this way you are always in some kind of opposition to what is seen as normal. These things can be burdensome to the psyche.
I nurtured my strengths and learned that my feminity did not need to be suppressed in order to compete with men.
In fact, the more I tapped into feminine energy and sisterhood the more energised I became. Being there brought me back to my childhood awareness before the social conditioning that knew that there was no one way to be a woman. With this, I found an inner confidence that I had lost in my younger years.
Stockholm turned me on to a more grounded and active lifestyle living in Stockholm, very outdoorsy I cycled everywhere, went on long walks amongst the stunning landscapes. The kind of lifestyle that challenged me physically and brought with it natural highs and a glow of self-confidence. All of which were amazing for changing how I felt about myself. I felt strong and present in my body no longer comparing myself to a rigid ideal. I found my style and enjoyed fact that I could be equally feminine and ‘masculine’. I let go of a lot of the hardness I had developed as a survival mechanism and began to breathe easier, in a newfound self-acceptance. I was developing self-love and self-respect and for the first time in my life feeling beautiful and at one with myself. This shift in my lifestyle made me more intentional in other areas of my life. From the food that I ate to the beauty products I used, it was in fact here that the seedling of my current business grew.
Years later motherhood brought with it physical changes, however, I have been less harsh and more accepting of myself. I’m in the best season of my life so far and feel very grateful for it. It had taken a long time for me to let go of silly ideas formed in my youth and really step into the woman that I am. When I look in the mirror, I like the person I see, I enjoy spending time on my beauty rituals with the emphasis on cherishing and nurturing what I have, rather than wishing for what I don’t have.
Find out more about Ibi’s brand: https://www.theafrohairandskincompany.co.uk