Introducing SCHICK’s #SeeHerSeries, a month-long celebration of women’s voices, aimed at honouring femininity and womanhood in all its variations, with all it brings. In line with the theme for Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, this March, female contributors from all around the globe will be sharing their thoughts on the female experience – from career, business and finances, to health, motherhood and style. Join us!
As an outspoken young female in Nigeria, I have faced quite an amount of challenges, most of which could be categorised as rites of passage for any child living in Nigeria. However, there was one challenge that stood out and became a hurdle not until recently.
For the whole of my life, I’ve always found myself in spaces and institutions with me as the youngest in the room. From the outside, one would see it as a non-issue and I thought so too until I became aware of the subtle nature of snide remarks made by supposed colleagues or teachers in a learning institution. At the beginning of my secondary school journey, I had caught on this ill-nature and I decided to do what I thought was best at the time – lie about my age – it was perfect! I made everyone believe we were all the same age. I didn’t have to deal with them asking “what I thought I knew” and in turn, not being able to contribute to conversations, although it was slowly eating me up as I’ve never been comfortable with lying of any sort.
You see, being young, smart and female isn’t something the average Nigerian society encourages because “who are you?” “how dare you?” and “who is even talking to you in the first place?” you either have to sit conversations out to avoid the risk of being the topic of ridicule. I cast my mind back, over 15 years ago, to a time I was with extended family and we were watching BBC on the television, an uncle asked a cousin of mine if he was familiar with the environment shown in the news, I jumped up to say I knew the place and all I got was a stink eye in response. At the time, I had been to the UK a couple of times and you know how the red-bricked architectural nature leaves every area looking the same? The following morning after that simple occurrence, my aunt said to me “if you want uncle to be nice to you, you need to learn how to not talk all the time” that left an indelible mark and in addition to lying about my age in school, I started talking less and dumbing down my expression.
For a long time I dealt with a lack of self-esteem and a hyper-independent nature, I would internalise my opinions and I never really asked for help if I needed it, I never even thought that I could ask for help at all. It was no until I paid attention to different podcasts and YouTube content with young ladies like me sharing what seemed vaguely familiar. I didn’t realise I had built walls and I was slowly struggling for a very long time.
Unexpectedly, COVID-19 came and there was a compulsory lockdown, I was forced to pay attention to myself, I was forced to spend time with myself and see that it was very okay to breathe and take time off if needed. Although it was a tough time for so many across the world, I’m grateful for the compulsory break it came with; it forced me to reflect on so many things.
A couple of years before the pandemic, I had already stopped altering my age and I had started speaking in groups, but I still got the comments regardless, only now, I was dealing with it in the work environment. I still internalised my feelings and thoughts and it was completely bizarre. On several occasions a particular friend would tell me “you’re doing such a poor job as a communications professional” and I knew he was right.
The global lockdown came and it forced me to find my essence and be comfortable with it. I was in tight proximity with the people that mattered, who watched me crumble and helped me build gradually through words, prayers and friendship. And so, even though I wasn’t so shy of speaking publicly pre-Covid, now I address things from a firm point of view without being timid of who my audience is. Pre-covid, I would tear up when being put on the spot and asked to answer questions or explain facts in a corporate setting.
I have come to realise that you don’t have to be male or the oldest in the room to be the source of wisdom. It is completely okay to be the smartest in the room and you don’t even have to be the smartest in the room for your voice to be heard! I also learned in this period that it was more than okay to ask and receive help to avoid the risk of burning out. It’s okay to speak when you’re not comfortable with a certain situation and it’s completely okay to have preferences.