Navigating life as a woman in the world today is interesting. From Nigeria to Timbuktu, it’ll amaze you how similar all our experiences are. Every Wednesday, women the world over will share their experiences on everything from sex to politics right here. This is Zikoko’s What She Said.
This week’s #ZikokoWhatSheSaid subject is a 22-year-old Nigerian woman who’s 5 ft 10. She shares her childhood insecurities about her height, how her best relationship was with a short guy and how she’s learning to love her body.
Were you always taller than average?
I used to be average height, or even a little bit shorter than my agemates, until I turned 13 and got into SS 1. The growth spurt hit me really hard during the JSS 3 break. When I resumed school after three months, I noticed I was the tallest girl in my class. And people kept asking what I ate during the break.
How did that make you feel, suddenly being taller?
I wasn’t really bothered until it began to draw unnecessary attention. When you’re really tall, people notice you immediately, and it made me tense all the time. I was an A+ student, but I wasn’t popular. Teachers were quick to notice me, which made life more stressful.
I would copy notes for teachers and almost became the class president; being tall strangely came with many responsibilities. The only benefit was my literature teacher forcing me to join the school’s debating team. As an active debater, I became outspoken and very good at public speaking. Now, I’m a year from being called to the Nigerian Bar.
Anyway, the new attention didn’t affect me mentally until one unfortunate incident.
Please, tell me about it
There was a boy I liked when I was 14. We attended the same church and lived in the same neighbourhood. We weren’t really friends, but we talked from time to time, and I’m pretty sure he knew I liked him.
One day, I told him. He just laughed it off saying I was too tall, he was sure I would still grow taller and only a few guys liked tall girls.
I acted like I wasn’t moved by what he said, but deep down, I was so bothered I even stopped eating beans. He would tease me about my height anytime he saw me, so I started avoiding him, which was hard because we had a lot of mutual friends.
OMG. Did you tell anyone about how you were feeling?
My mom always adored my height — I think it’s because she’s on the shorter side — so it didn’t feel right to complain about it to her. And of course, I didn’t say anything about the boy because it would’ve been awkward; what was I doing with a boy at 14?
Ah. True. Have you been in any relationship since?
Hmm. My experience with that boy affected me for almost five years. Even when I got into uni, I was still very conscious of it. My internet search history at that time was so ridiculous. It was all “how to stop growing tall” or “how to reduce my height”. I thought being tall was a masculine trait. Imagine being 5 ft 9 at 16.
But I’ve been in like five relationships now, and the best was with a shorter guy in 2020. He was probably 5 ft 8. I was 20 at the time, and the relationship lasted a bit longer than a year. It was awkward for me at first, but normal for him because, for his height, he was used to dating girls taller than him.
HERE’S A HELPFUL GUIDE ON: How to Be a Tall Girl in Nigeria
How did you manage to enjoy the relationship despite your insecurities?
I actually had a “no” policy when it came to dating shorter guys, but he was different. He was the sweetest guy I ever dated, and I had the best relationship with him in almost all aspects. I don’t know how he grew on me, and I realised height didn’t really matter in a relationship.
Was there any part of the relationship that bothered you?
I didn’t want people to stare at us when we went out together, but people didn’t care that much. It was all in my mind.
How did you figure that out?
I hated anything that reminded me I was taller than average. The funny thing was people complimented my height a lot, but I hated it. I hated the compliments even more.
I don’t think there was any particular defining moment or event. It’s just something I realised along the way from my own perception and what I read or heard about.
So how did you navigate your insecurities after that?
Asides from being tall, I was slim, almost skinny. But I didn’t have a problem with it until I got into uni. People would compliment my height but tell me I would be perfect if I added a little weight.
I think that’s when the insecurities really began. I would take different kinds of weight-gain pills, but they wouldn’t work. So I became obsessed with adding weight to balance my height. It was a mental war; I could either become shorter or chubbier to balance my height.
How did that go?
There was a time one of those pills worked, and I was so happy, the happiest I’d been in a while. Then I decided to stop taking them. One day, a friend saw me and said I’d lost a bit of weight. I became triggered all over again. I’d look in the mirror, and all I saw was a skinny girl even though, deep down, I knew I wasn’t skinny. I was gradually getting to a size 14.
READ THIS RELATED STORY TOO: Sex Life: I Was Missing Out Because I Hated My Body
Did you find the perfect weight-height balance?
It was a cycle. I would add a bit of weight and be happy, but a little comment from someone that I was losing weight would make me sad all over again. Most of my fat is deposited in my hips and butt area, so people would always commend my body shape whenever I added weight.
What about now?
I was and still am fond of comparing my body with others. I’m a size 12 currently. I’ve been this size for almost a year, and I’m a bit content with it. I try not to compare. I’ve learnt that pictures are deceiving and social media is not real. One thing that’s worked is making a list of the physical features I’m most proud of.
What’s that like?
I start by reminding myself I have a very pretty face; beautiful hair that’s almost magical because I cut it regularly but it doesn’t take time to grow long and full again; great skin that when I tell people I don’t use any special skin care, they never believe me; beautiful legs — it took me years to notice this particular feature — my stomach that’s always flat no matter my weight; round hips so even when I lose weight, I still have a nice shape…
Listing these features really makes me feel good about myself. This method works every single time.
Self-love is powerful
Yes, very. I’ve also realised people might bring up how I look once in a while, but they don’t think about it deeply. I overthink things a lot. They might say I’ve lost weight as a compliment or just to voice what they noticed, but my brain would interpret it in so many different ways.
And how have you overcome this?
Having people who constantly remind me I’m beautiful is a big factor. My mum always does this. She knows about my constant weight gain journey and tells me I would gain weight naturally once I start giving birth.
My friends too. They’re the type of friends who’d hype you to death. They don’t know how many times their “hyping” has made me feel better about myself.
I don’t think I’m perfect, and I don’t think I’ll ever be. But for the first time in eight years, I don’t have those intrusive thoughts about my body.
DEFINITELY READ THIS NEXT: Surviving Body-Shaming In University of Uyo: Martha’s Aluta And Chill