I had skew teeth, pimples for Africa, wavy hair, thick eyebrows and wore no make-up. I wore jeans, a black hoodie and no name-brand shoes. And there I was — wanting to fit in with the most fashionable teens who were dressed to impress. On my first day at college, I thought fitting in wouldn’t be so hard because people’s priorities were to get a qualification and not to look good and make a fashion statement. I quickly found out that my expectation was far from reality. In actual fact in college, getting recognisedand being popular is a top priority.
When I imagined college, I expected to see people sitting with their books in the cafeteria or the library, wearing skinny jeans and hoodies, and no make-up. Instead, I saw girls with perfectly straight hair dyed in different colours, from red, to dark blue and blonde. The girls wore ridiculously short skirts with killer heels, dark purple lipstick and heavy foundation. The guys had on expensive brand-name shoes with tight-fitting white shirts and skinny jeans. You would think people were in South Africa’s Next Top Model instead of enrolled for a course.
It wasn’t easy being me
Making friends was hard. People didn’t want to talk to me because I didn’t dress the way they did. They had a standard or a certain type of person they let into their cliques, and I didn’t fit into any. I looked nothing like them, didn’t dress or spoke like them, which made it hard to just be me.
I typed out some of the student’s assignments just to make friends. I thought I was getting somewhere because they all sat around me, and thanked me for saving them time. After a while it became a platform for them to tell me how they really felt about me. They practically insulted me to my face and tried to convince me it was in good faith because they were “giving me advice”.
They would say things like, “Oh your hair is so soft but it looks like steel wool from the middle down,” or “I like your eyebrows, they’re nice and thick but you just need to thread them, because they look nasty.” They even went as far as, “Your teeth are nice and white, pity you need braces. You would look more attractive but your teeth are all over the place.” All of this was very traumatic for me.
I told myself there was no way I was going to go through my entire college life with people insulting me because of my appearance. So, I went to the mall with my mom and had my eyebrows threaded and tinted. I cut my hair in layers and dyed my tips blonde. I started wearing a bit of eyeliner and lipstick. The second week, I focused on my wardrobe, bought some funky jerseys, jeans and bags, and I changed it completely. Then came the ultimate part of my transformation — which meant convincing my mother to allow me to get braces. Eventually she took the bait and I had them put in. The bonus was that colourful braces were in fashion at the time.
The attention was flattering
Finally, people genuinely started complimenting me. Guys’ eyes dropped, and girls were shocked that I could be hot. They felt intimidated but I didn’t really care, I just wanted the insulting comments to stop. You might think I changed who I was, but changing the way you look doesn’t mean you changed your morals and values. So what that transformation has taught me is that the world is not asking you to be someone else, but to be the best version of you, by adapting to your surroundings. And just know that you can be fashionable, cool, smart and still be yourself at the same time.