Coming from a shameless family, in which my mother would flagrantly curse me in her African mother tongue, wolof, and with a father who would never be too shy to pass wind in public areas, the idea of these acts being an expression of self-confidence never really dawned on me. What I took as awkward and humiliating ‘never-going-to-die-down’ moments, my fellow companions took as my family’s expression of autonomy and self-assurance. Therefore, when a close friend of mine once announced to me, after coming along to my mother’s Zumba class, “gosh Sophia no wonder you’re more confident in yourself than I am, your whole family put themselves out there”, it was only then did I come to acknowledge, what an incessantly odd bunch of people my family were, in seemingly always defying social etiquette and protocol. Now before some of you are too quick to classify the acts I have mentioned above, as being uncouth and unsophisticated, let me explain just how I came to recognise and appreciate the aptness and refinement in those very acts, which ostensibly, appear to be some vague form of primitive behaviour.
From a young age my mother used to tell me never to compare myself to other people, to always lift my head high, and to always be true to myself- along with whatever else it is, mothers are prescribed to tell their children in order to boost their confidence. The difference between my mother and other parents was that she would also add a few drops of lemon to her advice, turning a simply sweet and mollified piece of guidance into a bitter, solemn warning. “Sophia hold your head high ohh, if you nosabee hold your head high what man go take you ohh! No man wants a woman who does not know how to be proud of who she is”(African accent intended). Ironically, my self-confidence would always have to do with proving to my hypothetical future husband that I would be the appropriate candidate to carry on his family name with pride.
I remember one time in primary school; my childhood best friend had come over for a little ‘play-date’ and in our animated and energetic reconstruction of Atlantis: The Lost Empire (in which, for some reason I always had to be the male protagonist) either Chandra or myself had managed to knock down my mother’s flower vase. Unable to ignore the damage done (it was an obnoxiously large and a garish neon-orange colour), I resignedly went to the kitchen to tell my mother. As expected I was met with an array of colourful African cusses and was made to do the monkey-dance in front of my friend. I remember at the time feeling utterly mortified, to the extent whereby I did not even want to approach my friend at school the next day, lest she had told the other people in my class what had happened. Now however, looking back on the event I realized how from an early age my mum was exemplifying to me an important life lesson: that one should not comprise who you truly are, regardless of the circumstances. And so throughout these years my mum has sworn by such a philosophy, continuously disciplining me in public when she saw fit, and never hesitating to challenge someone if she is unsatisfied and discontented with a response or service. I apologise, if in attempting to conjure up my mother’s character, she comes across as rash and explosive, but truly she is a strong-headed woman of such rare and exceptional confidence, that I understand just why it may leave some people, unused to such brusqueness, on edge.
So what does this actually have to do with society as a whole? Well, I thought you’d never ask. The very nature of today’s Western society is deeply fixated on the concept of image and appearance in the public eye. Even within my own heritage, the concept of cutting a brutta/bella figura, is of very great significance to Italians and their identity (who of course like to think that they cut themselves a very ‘beautiful’ figure with their fast sport cars and delectable dishes). Now, I could go on and on about the detrimental effects the celebrity pop culture has on the ‘youth of today’, but this is not what this post is about. In fact I would like to take this short piece in the complete opposite direction. The phrase “don’t fit in, stick out” has become so cliché and centered on the materialistic and aesthetic need to be distinct, that alas, it has lost its original sentiment (in my opinion). In attempting to “stick-out”, many of the youth’s of today have turned towards ‘alternative’ and ‘outrageous’ modes of dressing and accessorising themselves- at least so it appears for the older generation. Now I myself am no different, I have about 14 body piercings; conspicuous pink and purple braids in my hair, and on an average day can be spotted walking down the streets of London in my furry leopard print coat. It’s almost as if in trying to become unique, the majority of people have been infected by an obsessive pathogen, which compels them to prove to the world that they are indeed different from the 7.1bn other people, when in fact their very existence is testimony to their inimitability (unless of course you’re identical twins, then in that case you’re only half as unique as everyone else). I guess the fundamental thing to remember is that whilst confidence can be expressed in how we dress and our physical appearance, our clothing is also just as much a masque for our insecurities and reservations. Indeed, if possible we ought to aim for confidence of character; there seems to be something innately pure and unsullied in being confident in your own skin that seems to filter and permeate into all the rest of your being.
Till this day I still get embarrassed sometimes by my mother’s cusses and loud character, and as much as I would like to say that I don’t care about what other people think, I would not only be a hypocrite but I more significantly, I would be lying to myself. Sometimes I feel that growing up in the ‘big brother’ society that we live in, the emphasis on image and appearance is so great that it’s almost impossible to completely dislodge its influence on one’s own personal confidence. But, as not to end on a melancholic note, self-confidence has a lot to do with the people you surround yourself with. I recently read this quote on one of those cheesy facebook group pages: “surround yourself with people who make you hungry for life, touch your heart, and nourish your soul”, signed UNKNOWN (so if you feel like getting famous pretty quickly, this quote is up for grabs) I’ve always been fortunate throughout my life to have been surrounded by a good, ‘solid’ group of friends who never valued me for anything other than who I am, and indeed it is true that once you feel confident with the people in your immediate surrounding, you are able to project this confidence when with other people.
Honestly, I don’t really know what I expect you (yes, you) to get out of this mini-rant, but if you’ve endured my writing this long, without being completely consumed with the urge to break your computer screen, I feel like some thanks is due on my behalf.
So thank you.