Sam, over 40, UK (Hertfordshire)

What is your story of strength?

I have always been a bigger, curvier woman and at a young age, people would make comments about it. I won’t lie… people can be cruel and the first thing they go for is physical attributes so they would make comments about my appearance. Unfortunately, it would even come from friends and family sometimes. For years, I went on believing I was fat and ugly. My strength came finally came when I had a particular comment from someone. We had gone out for a drink and then he told me to leave before him, as in, for us not to be seen together. At first I didn’t understand, and I asked him why? He said something like “its not that I’m embarrassed to be seen with you…” and that’s when the switch came to me: I’m not here to please everyone. I am me and it’s as plain and simple as that.

I decided to stop thinking about what people think of me and embrace myself. If people don’t like me and the way I look then that is their choice. As long as I am happy in myself, then I know that I am in a good place. Women do get upset when people make comments about their looks and yes it would get me down. I tried dieting and it wasn’t working or I ended up in the opposite direction when you comfort eat and then you gain weight. I have never in my life judged anyone on the way they looked, I will talk to anyone and everyone so when that comment was made, the light switch came on and I realized I am not here to please everybody, the first person to please is myself.

I also used to be very shy and I am a very homely person. That strength continued a few years ago when I got a job opportunity in Dubai. A lot of people thought that I wouldn’t do it because of the fact I am so close to my family and friends in the UK. I think the old me wouldn’t have done it but these opportunities don’t come very often. I thought in the end, that if I can be offered an opportunity that people from all around the world were competing for, for me not to even try would have been a disaster. When that switch happened, everything in my attitude changed and I took the role here. It was hard, even now it is hard because I am so far from my family but I am blessed to have found friends here. There are times when I feel a dip but I am amazed that I did it. I had to prove it to myself. Women should believe in themselves more. I knew I was good at what I do and so I needed to prove to myself that I could actually take this new challenge. It’s hard but luckily, I have a good support system and speak with my family regularly. I may not have been able to do this 20 years ago when we didn’t have access to social media/Skype as waiting for a letter in the mail might of left me devastated. Everything happens for a reason and at the right time and so this continued to provide me strength in what I do and belief in myself.

Till now however, I still have had to deal with a lot of situations with people saying hurtful things about my size. One day, I was out with friends for a brunch. They were a new group of friends and someone came up to me and said; “you are so pretty, but for your size and what you look like, you cannot be happy with yourself.” I responded that I was happy and he replied, “you can’t be, how can you be? The way you look.”

I can look in the mirror and smile everyday. Some women whether bigger or smaller than me cannot do that. That is where the self-love comes in. I didn’t always have this but now I do. Sometimes people don’t realize how they can hurt people by saying such things. Happiness has to come from inside you. Only recently, I also received a comment from an Instagram follower that he thinks black women are beautiful but all his friends seem to think black women are unattractive because of the colour of their skin. Another strong statement and another thing, unfortunately that I have to deal with.

What does being a woman mean to me?

I think we have gone through years of being treated as inferior to men but we have also come a long way from when I was younger and it was assumed that women could only be secretaries and receptionists. We have grown as women to be whatever we want to be whether it is a secretary or receptionist or whether it is a lawyer or solicitor, we can even be priests. I see a lot on social media that women feel they have to wear fewer clothes, be provocative, be sexual etc. in order to get acceptance. That should not be the case for women. We need to embrace who we are and show our strengths and show our intelligence. Yes, we do have that element in us but it’s not what being a woman is about. We are strong women and should be getting into roles in the community that we couldn’t get into before. So I think being a woman is being that strength, to be everything we want to be and to be treated as equal to men.

Can you tell me about a time when you failed or disappointed yourself?

It goes back to the way I looked and how I handled people’s comments. I began not eating properly. It’s not something I am proud of. A lot of women go through it…the whole not eating or eating a lot and then vomiting. It’s not a good thing to do. It ends up becoming your whole life until you work out to accept yourself. People will always, always make comments. Unfortunately, there are cruel people in this world that will always talk about how you look. I have changed the way I felt about things. I am now a person that will not get upset about what people say but now try to change the perception. I am a dancer but when you compare me with other people who typically dance, you would not say I am a typical dancer.  But I can dance and I will prove that and I will encourage women who are curvier to dance. If it is something they enjoy, they shouldn’t be embarrassed to perform or dance, I refuse now to not do things I enjoy because of the way I look. At the end of the day, who is anyone to say what I should look like? It’s the same to say with the clothes we wear. I am very much of the belief that we should wear what we want if it makes us feel good and comfortable.

How can woman better support each other?

We need to encourage each other more. I remember only a few years back when my niece was dancing. She knows I have a dance background; I have done ballet, ballroom, rock-in-roll, hip-hop and so fourth. She was in a Latin and ballroom competition and she asked me for some advice. One of the other mothers overheard me giving her some tips and she said, “oh you sound like you know what you are doing”, I responded, ”well yes, I used to dance before.” The first she did, and I recall very clearly, was she looked me up and down and said “oh.. really…you used to dance!” the old me would have been upset about that. The woman that I am today decided I was going to prove a point. There were a few adult classes that occurred that some of the same mothers went to so I decided to attend just to show her that I can dance and it doesn’t matter how you look. We are very critical of one another. As women, sadly we have this stereotype of being bitchy. We need to stop doing that. We need to encourage women to do what they want to do. People get shy performing, so we should encourage them, if its what they enjoy. Don’t ridicule them because they don’t look like you. That shouldn’t matter. It’s the same thing in the work place; if a woman gets a promotion, congratulate her! We need to build on this and encourage each other more.

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