For Black Girls Who Are Afraid To Be Themselves
* Written by Damola Ogunjobi Ndukwe for YettiSays Self-Love Month | “For Black Girls” post series
* photography credit – Park Street Weddings
Growing up as a Nigerian American woman, I constantly felt the need to conform to who I was “supposed to be.”
At home, I was “my little doctor Ogunjobi.” I was a child who could not question authority, the epitome of a pious young woman, and always the dutiful first child. I was not depressed, but I was moody. Getting straight A’s was the minimum requirement and even knowing the long days I would likely work as a doctor, I knew also knew that cooking and child-rearing were my responsibility as a woman.
At school, my motives and blackness were constantly questioned. To my peers and sometimes their parents, I was seen as too ambitious by my peers and consistently told that it wasn’t fair how often I was ceremoniously rewarded or that I was only doing something to “look good.” I never quite fit in and was viewed as a poser, or worse an “oreo” – black on the outside but white on the inside. Somehow, I was always the butt of the joke in a game depending on who I was with. I was acceptably White, not Black enough, or not African enough. I was so afraid of what people would think. Something as simple as liking different types of music turned into a habit of quickly switching radio stations depending on the ethnicity of the people in the car with me.
As a young woman, I fought the ideals of femininity and beauty through, often conflicting, American, Black American, and Nigerian standards. Approaching 5’7 with an athletic build, thick thighs, a larger chest than my teenage peers, dark skin, and unmanageable hair, I was not acceptable. I wore baggy clothes to hide my growing body, shameful of my size and feminine form. Aunties told me to be proud of my shape but spread rumors at church when I hung out with boys. I felt the lack of attention from family/family friends who constantly praised my sister’s thinness and long manageable hair. I was laughed at by black peers for not having a huge butt and prayed for an “apple bottom” all while obsessing over every calorie and working out 3 times a day to be thin like the people in the media that my white peers aspired to.
As a mechanical engineer, I had to be “corporate.” Culturally, aesthetically, and socioeconomically I was surrounded by the opposite of myself. I had no connections or networking opportunities. When I did get an interview, I agonized over straightening my hair and finding pants that hid my curves. I was scared to be turned away from an interview, like the friends who were denied at the door because “braids are not professional.” On interview day, I regularly walked into the unfamiliarity of my name being turned into a joke or the genuine surprise that I was a woman.
Four years ago, I woke up and thought, “I wear hoop earrings everywhere except work… why?” That day, I decided I didn’t care what they would say. I went to work, hoop earrings and all. As sure as the sun rises, I got comments applauding how sassy I was: “Look at you in your hoop earrings!” I knew it was a mix of genuine praise, back-handed compliments, and an unconscious code for “looking black.” That same year, I went natural and every time I went home, it was: “Are you going to do something with that?”
During that time, I realized I was tired of being who I was supposed to be. If I continued to be a shadow of people’s ideals, I would never grow into who I am meant to be.
My name is Oyindamola Ogunjobi Ndukwe. I am a proud and ambitious Nigerian, Black and American woman. I love all parts of me, and no one can tell me which are “acceptable” to partake in. I demand mutual respect. I will listen to Green Day and twerk to “Savage.” I will correct you if you don’t respect my name. I will try not to hide that I am not always as strong as I appear and be vocal when I need the same grace. I extend to others when they are vulnerable. I am proud of the many abilities of my natural crown and body. I will speak on topics of race to my non-Black peers. I will be unashamed of my ambitions and will never let anyone minimize my accomplishments. I am the one, the only, evolving me.
Oyindamola “Damola” Ogunjobi Ndukwe, Sr. Product Engineer + NASM Certified Personal Trainer