Safia is a recipient of the 2019-2020 MALA Scholarship Program, which seeks to assist rising leaders in the pursuit of higher education through the art of storytelling.
Identity! How do I identify myself? What is identity even? As a Muslim Somali girl growing up, my identity was masked by my comparison to my cousins. As a child growing up with 6 siblings and over 20 cousins, some who were my age mates, it was hard to have a concrete identity. Among the cousins was one that I was close to; as a result, I constantly compared myself to her (let’s call her Salma for now). You see, Salma was 2 years older than me, but she had a petite body and looked younger than me. Therefore, with every class we took together, with every place we went together, I usually braced myself for two questions: “Who is older between the two?” “Is Safia older than Salma?” Whenever my mother would try to explain the difference between our ages, no one was able to believe it, let alone my teachers! Consequently, I would try to become skinny like her, mentally beating myself up for having a bigger body and looking older than her. Obsession it became as I tried to wear the same clothes as hers, and imitate her way of talking and walking! It was no big surprise that I got my menstruation and matured before her; thus, feeling this deep sense of shame inside me as I struggled to come to terms with the fact that something might be wrong with me.
After my menstruation, I started being noticed and catcalled by boys and men alike as they tried to hit up on me and ask for my number. I got marriage proposals from older and younger men as my family members tried to justify that I was a 13-year-old-girl, who still had so much future and potential in her life. Moreover, I remember how my dad warned me against men by giving me the analogy of a deer (me) and a wolf (the men); the deer had to be careful not to be eaten by the wolf, as I am like a piece of meat that men are chasing after. This really affected my identity as I associated my worth with how many times I got asked for my number or asked out by boys.
I wish I could say it was easy to break the shackles, and deep roots that my childhood and my teenage years planted inside of me regarding my identity, but alas NO! It wasn’t and still isn’t easy. I had to undergo a lot of deep analysis and thinking, lots of tears and emotions, inner self-reflection, and therapy. I NOW choose to define myself as a strong, empowered, independent, confident, hard-working, and determined woman. I gained this new identity of mine through self-love; it is an important part of me as I choose to shower myself with love, rather than hate. The stigma surrounding self-love makes it challenging to practice it, but not impossible, nonetheless.
My identity has evolved so much, from being a small girl who felt insecure around her cousins, to trying to find my worth in boys, to realizing the double standards and struggles of being a girl, to finally learning to accept and love myself as I, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve my love & affection.