my face with the edge of my cardigan. He stood up from the chair and tames to sit beside me on the bed. He grabbed my hand and squeezed gently. ‘Are you okay now?” “Yes, I am…fine. I am fine, “I said and managed a smile. “Aliya, I want you to listen to me.
I had no idea this was happening, but I totally understand. I’m with you on this and I promise you, I’ll deal with it. Thank you for telling me.” I sniffed and looked at his face. Sitting so close to me, I was struck by the resemblance between us. It always came as a bit of a surprise. For a moment, I almost felt like I glimpsed my own face in a moving mirror. “Thank you, Daddy.” He drew back a little, so he could look directly at me.
“I remember another Gandhi quote: ‘Nobody can hurt me without my permission’:That’s what Gandhi said. ‘Nobody can hurt me without my permission’.” “Nobody can hurt me without my permission, “I repeated after him. “You see, my darling, no matter what you do, you would not be able to control how other people behave towards you. But you know what? You can control how they make you feel.” “I hear you, Daddy, but it’s so difficult when people just pick on you that way.” “I know.
But I want you to know something else; how you feel about yourself is more important than how other people make you feel. You need to develop confidence in how you look. For me, you are the most beautiful girl in the world, “he said with a big smile. “I know you said that just to make me feel good,”I said, shyly. “Well, I guess that’s miles better than saying something that makes you feels bad.
But seriously, when I said you are the most beautiful girl in the world that is in a manner of speaking. But there is no doubt that you are a very beautiful and exceptionally intelligent girl. Do not allow anybody to make you think any less of yourself.” “But sometimes, I think maybe they are right. How come all the beauty contestants and the models are always like that? As in, tall and stick-thin? I mean, I have never seen a model that looks like me.” He sighed and seemed to be thinking of what I just said.
“Well, Aliya, I want to assure you that what you see in the media is the media’s representation of beauty, which is also rooted in some people’s narrow idea of beauty. Reality often differs from what the media likes to present to us as standard. The only place I have seen everyone looking the same is in a can of sardines.” I actually found that funny.
“People come in all shapes and sizes,” he continued. “Fat, slim, tall, short, dark, fair, round, square. They are all beautiful. Everyone needs to embrace the way they look and should not allow anyone to define them. If you feel good about yourself, feel confident about yourself and carry yourself with pride, for me, that is beauty. You know what I’m thinking?” “What?”I asked. “I may be wrong. But I suspect that somehow, you have also accepted the standard definition of beauty as tall and skinny. You may not even be aware of this. That is what the media does to you.” I pushed further. “Hmm… maybe you’re right.
But that’s what everybody thinks. How come that on TV, for example, clowns and stupid people are always fat? Also, I’ve never heard anybody say ‘ugly slim girl’. It’s always ‘fat and ugly’ that go together.” “Aliya, listen to me. I have told you before, everybody can be wrong. Everybody.
Secondly, the examples you’ve given are just some of the ways the media promote stereotypes while presenting some people’s culture as the global culture or the standard that everybody should live by. This is just not true. I know some cultures where the norm is for women to put on weight in order to attract suitors for marriage.”
“No, Daddy that cannot be true!” “Yes, it is. Do you know that in Mauritania, they used to have what is called ‘fat-farms’, where girls were force-fed to fatten them up, because in that society, an attractive woman is the one that is plump? I guess it’s not that different from the ‘fattening rooms’ among our own Efik people of Calabar, where girls are held in seclusion and fattened up in preparation for marriage.” “Wow.
That’s quite interesting, “I said. “It is, isn’t it? The point here is that different cultures have different definitions of beauty. In some cultures, a beautiful woman has to be curvy. In some, a woman is not beautiful unless she has a long neck. In others, she must have full lips, sometimes referred to as ‘thick lips’. This even extends to skin color.
In some cultures, the beautiful woman is the one with pale white skin. In others, she has to be dark brown. Yet, in others, the most beautiful woman is the one that is ebony black.” “So, Daddy, which one do you like?”I asked mischievously. “You are a silly girl,” he said, and we both laughed. “if you want to know which one I like, just look at your mother.”
“But seriously, Daddy, why do some girls bleach their skin?”I asked. “I guess, it boils down to lack of self-confidence. Girls who bleach their skin are obviously trying to fit into some people’s definition of beauty as light skin. But it is a dangerous thing to do. The chemicals used in bleaching creams and other concoctions come with long term health risks, including skin cancer.They can even cause damage to internal organs.” “Don’t the users know this?” “Self-hatred can be an overwhelming thing. Some people just hate the way they look,”he said. “But the women who bleach their skin, I guess they do so because they want to make themselves more attractive to men.” ” Well, I have also seen men who bleach. So, what are we to say to that?”
“Yuck,”I grimaced. “I know. But the bottom line is, people have to accept who they are. You have to be comfortable in your own skin. If you accept who you are and you are proud of yourself; other people will love and accept you for who you are.”
“I would hate to change who I am because of a man,” I said, almost defiantly. “Well, I definitely would hate to see you change who you are because of anybody.
Whoever likes you must accept you the way you are. For me, the way you are is just so beautiful,”he said and we both laughed. “But on a more serious note, Aliya,” he said and sat up as if he just remembered something very important.
“Beauty is total. Physical beauty, however it is defined, is very important. But you see, a truly beautiful person is one who is beautiful in character and comportment.
If you speak kindly to people, you treat everyone with respect, you are not vulgar, you carry yourself with grace and self-confidence and you are generous. To me, these qualities are even more difficult to find in people than the physical beauty.”
“Is this is meant by ‘beauty is nothing, but character is needed’?”I asked. “I suppose so. I think the intention of that expression is not to say that physical beauty is not important. I mean, you have to like someone and find them attractive before you may even have the opportunity to see all these other qualities. But physical beauty alone is not enough.
A truly beautiful person is someone who is a real human being.” “Daddy, when you said ‘generous’, do you mean… like, giving people things?” “Yes, to a large extent. It means going out of your way to make other people happy without expecting anything in return.
Sometimes, this may not be more than just a smile, you know.” “A smile?” “Yes, a smile may be just what some people need to make their day.” “Well, I really don’t smile a lot. Maybe it’s something I need to improve on. Smile, smile, smile, I hummed to myself. “And he smiled.
“That reminds me, Daddy. You remember what you said in your letter, that I should expect to be treated with respect by everybody? I read somewhere that Muhammad Ali said the same thing to his daughter, even though he did not put it in exactly the same words.”
When I read what Ali told his daughter, I felt that was exactly the kind of thing my father would say to me. “How did Muhammad Ali put it?”Daddy asked.
“He told his daughter to always expect to be treated like a queen.” “Yes, Ali was right. Every girl should expect to be treated like a queen. But you know why a queen is treated like a queen?” “Because she is… powerful?”