This was sent to us by a teenage girl within the Shona community. Our website is a safe space for young women to share their experiences and how they have overcome tricky situations. By sharing our stories, we can ensure that girls across the country will know that they are never alone, no matter the situation. A big thank you to this girl for sharing her story with us!
Trigger Warning: This piece includes discussions around tricky relationships with your body and racism. For help on any of the topics discussed, please see links to Irish support organisations at the end of this post.
When I was younger, my cousin and I watched a series of gymnastics videos. I guess my toxic trait was believing I could get up and recreate the tricks those girls did. I didn’t miraculously become flexible, as you can imagine. But I did decide that one day I would.
I stretched for an hour every day after school. To this day I still wonder where I got the motivation to stay consistent.
I finally found a club to go to (through a friend), and it was the best thing in the world. No exaggeration. It’s quite hard to find a group of girls that nice. It felt like we were a family with an unbreakable bond. But the issue arose when I was told the club was going to shut down. My eight-year-old self didn’t know why at the time, but apparently it was because they were bankrupt.
So, I found a new club to go to. At that new club, I didn’t feel at home, or comfortable. In fact, I endured years of discomfort. Awkward daunting stares across the gym. Nobody came up to talk to me. Even when I tried, they all looked at me as if I didn’t belong. I knew I looked different from the other girls. Obviously, I couldn’t change my skin tone to white, but I tried so hard to compensate for that. At the time it felt like my body was working against me. I didn’t look graceful, elegant and feminine like when the other girls did their routines. Instead, I looked awkward, masculine and as if I constantly wanted to throw up. Which, by the way, was true. I didn’t like the way my growing body felt. It was all happening too early for me. Everyone else still looked like girls and I was this…woman. And I didn’t want any part of it.
I’d look at myself in the mirror and wonder why I was cursed. This sounds very over the top and extreme, I know. But I legitimately added two hours of exercise to my daily routine, to shed extra calories. Sometimes I’d even cry after a long workout when I’d look in the mirror and see nothing had changed.
I thought that maybe if I was skinny like the others, they’d overlook my blackness and choose me. ‘They’, being the coaches. In that gym, people would be picked to compete at an elite level, and I wanted that so badly I could taste it. I trained every day. But it wasn’t good enough. Let’s just say, to make a long story short, the coaches never thought I had the right ‘look’. Most of the gymnastics I actually had to learn myself. Not to be rude or anything, but they taught me nothing and were essentially money hungry. There was a visible difference in how they treated the girls who paid all their fees on time and those who were late.
But, I continued being my biggest hater because I had this belief that if I stuck it out, things would get better.
Until that is, one day after another 3rd place competition, I was fed up. I told my mum I wanted to quit because the fees were too expensive, which was true, but not the underlying reason. I quit because that place ruined the love I had for the sport and myself.
Now, this story isn’t all grim, there’s good that came from it. I later tried dance, before soon realising I was not gifted in that department. So then, I landed on athletics. It was convenient, and the sport my sister was doing, so I thought why not. And I could go off listing all the things I love about athletics. (Cough cough* they don’t gatekeep competing…) But that’s where I’m at now and not important.
So that story about gymnastics I just told you, hurt like crazy when I lived it, but with evaluation looking in, it taught me everything I should watch out for in both sports and spotting racism. I now don’t accept coaches that go on rants about fees and show favouritism. Now, I can clearly see the red flags. As for the racist comment, I came to terms with the most common and unfortunately socially acceptable forms of it. The looks, and forgetting you exist and signalling you at, etc, etc. A lot of the stuff one wouldn’t typically notice unless they were watching out for it. So I guess the experience made me resilient and vigilant.
I’m incapable of being a pushover. As far as my relationship with myself, I’ve gotten a lot better, and my struggles only really make me human. I feel like I never hear anyone talk about how growing up can be an uncomfortable thing. Well, I’ll be the one to tell you. I didn’t love the way my female body felt all the time. Sometimes it’s not so beautiful. If you’re struggling, regardless of what it’s about, it’s human to struggle. You won’t meet a single person in this world who hasn’t struggled at all in their life. It reminds me of how complex life is. But, I needed to know that it was ok to grow. I wasn’t the problem, I didn’t need fixing, I just needed to go in a different direction. I found something I could excel at, but more importantly, somewhere I felt I belonged. Just needed a change of environment. I couldn’t just stay, and hate everyone and everything. The worst thing to do was hate myself.
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If you are struggling with any of these issues, look below for a list of supports, or ask someone you trust for help.
Remember, the most amazing, compassionate, successful and inspiring people we know are those who faced challenges, and managed to overcome them.
Hang in there, you can get through this x
BODYWHYS: Online, phone and group support for eating disorders.
Black and Irish: An organization highlights and celebrates the identity of black and mixed-race Irish people. They aim to spread awareness around the world of the experiences, struggles, and successes from within the community.
SPUN OUT: This is a one stop shop for all mental health issues. The articles are very matter of fact, helpful and all bases are covered.
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