When I was younger and would play make believe,

I always had a sweater on my head falling on my back,

the long blonde hair I had always craved.

I always wished my skin was lighter because in more than one way,

that was the beauty I’d heard of.

I danced along with great effort to the music videos I saw on Trace,

Blatantly disregarding my mama’s traditional dances.

I vowed to always say mummy because mama was crude,

I thought.

Boy! I even got sick from the sight of matoke and muthokoi.

When I was a little girl, I absolutely adored my barbie doll,

Plainly and simply put; no one could be beautiful in my eyes –

including my own self – if they lacked some resemblance to it.


Then I grew up.

And I was eager to embrace my Africanness.

The afros were now not only socially acceptable, but largely admired,

and so, I washed my hair, hardly any butter, and bravely combed it into an afro.

Finally! I needn’t sit in the salon for hours to get my hair pulled at!

The world then revered what was called ‘African curves’.

Translation; an African woman was no petite woman.

I became a crazy lover of my kangas and prints

and smiled widely at the mirror at my once disgusting melanin.

Adoration for the muthokoi and matoke, however, failed to manifest.

Therefore, I felt, much the same as before – inadequate.


Well, my hair wasn’t as dark as it should have been,

my body barely had any curves and I definitely was not crazy about Bongo.

I just couldn’t fit either category as well as I needed to.



Now, I’m older. Wiser? I would argue yes.

Now, I genuinely do smile with great pride at myself.

At the different variety of the African women that I represent.

While the body has undergone metamorphosis,

the hair colour and bulkiness (rather, the lack of) remains pretty much the same,

Even as I learnt to crave ugali, I still accept that my obsession with pizza isn’t going anywhere,

Sometimes I sing along to zilizopendwa,

the difference between now and then being that

I can do so switching it up with country music without feeling like a traitor.

I have learnt to enjoy my people’s music and dance,

but I can’t move as rhythmically as the ‘African’ should.

I have grown to admire and embrace what they called barbaric

without entirely blocking foreign influence.

I am unapologetic for the things I enjoy.

My heart still breaks a little, for women much older than I

who still wear sweaters on their heads,

would die for my Barbie’s skin tone and can hardly ever keep their food down.

Needing to cut a little here and a lot more there.

It perhaps equally breaks, for others who,

in pursuit of their Africanness, have altered much to measure up.

Rounding here, enhancing there.

I am an African, what I wear, sing, eat, say, does not diminish this, neither does it enhance this.

I’m not ashamed to speak my language neither am I ashamed to get excited over learning Spanish.

While I can’t ‘Shaku’ properly, I’ve tried it as excitedly as I have tried to ‘Shuffle’.

I am proud, and I am shameless in my Africanness and that is what makes me African.

And that is one thing no one can take from me.


Natalie Kiilu (18)

Student of Advocacy