By Tabitha Thomas
Nia Adeyemi looked at her reflection in the full length mirror. She was wearing her favorite outfit: a long white flowy skirt, a lavender knit sweater, and a pair of nude ballet flats. Her tight 4c curls were in two big poofy buns.
“What do you think Brownie? Should I put my butterfly clips in?” Nia asked her dog.
The dog briefly glanced in her direction and then looked away. He was laying on her red duvet covers on her bed. She had literally tried on ten different outfits in the past hour and she hated every single one. She studied her Rihanna poster that she taped on her wall hoping to gain a little inspiration. Nothing came to mind. As she studied Rihanna’s facial features, her eyes began to water. She had to look away. She reached for her eye shadow kit and decided to go with the color gold. Gold always looks amazing against her dark brown skin. For her lips, she decided to go with a nude brown.
“You’re going to school, Nia, not a runway fashion show,” she whispered to herself.
After she put on her favorite rose scented perfume, she studied her reflection again, turning from side to side. Her body had developed rapidly since she was ten. She was now fourteen years old. Her breasts were already full and rounded as well as her hips. She was still quite short, only five foot two, but she accepted the fact that she was never going to be tall. She was the first in her friend group to develop breasts and her friends often praised her for this. But deep down inside, she hated having a curvier figure because everyone at school noticed. School. The word school had her paralyzed. This was gym class day which meant that she would have to change and shower in front of the other girls. As Nia tried to think of something positive, she couldn’t help but notice the little pooch that she had on her stomach.
“Ugh!” she said out loud. “I wish I had a flatter tummy Brownie!”
Nia considered her stomach to be a problem area. Most of the boys in her grade, especially Trevor, the class bully, would constantly make fun of her weight. The teasing and taunting at school was never ending, yet Nia accepted the fact that this was her life at school. She glanced around her bedroom and looked at her Rihanna poster once more. She loved Rihanna and everything that she stood for. Rihanna was beautiful with piercing green eyes and high cheekbones. She was an absolute beauty and everything that society deemed as attractive.
“Then there’s me. Short and dumpy,” Nia said to herself.
She kept thinking about her mother, Yolanda Adeyemi, and her powerful words. “Rewa, you have such beautiful skin. Don’t you forget that.”
Rewa was Yolanda’s nickname for Nia and is Nigerian for beautiful. She tried to believe in her mother’s words, but she was running out of faith.
“Nia, come on now, it’s time for school! I don’t want you to be late!” Yolanda exclaimed. “I’ll be right down!” Nia shouted back.
She checked her appearance one last time and finally made her way downstairs. This was as good as it was going to get. Five minutes later, Nia met her mother in the kitchen.
“Hi, rewa! You look so precious in that lavender sweater,” Yolanda exclaimed as she wiped down the kitchen counter.
Nia forced a thankyou to come out of her mouth. She couldn’t help but marvel at her mother’s beauty. Yolanda had a striking bone structure with beautiful almond shaped eyes. Just like Nia, she had curly 4c hair that she kept in a large afro. Her mom could have easily been a model, but she chose to be a nurse practitioner. Yolanda immigrated to the country well before she was born. She met Nia’s father, Tobey Adeyemi, in college back in the nineties. He was tall and handsome and thought the world of Yolanda. He died when Nia was only six years old of leukemia. Nia had missed her father dearly and she knew her mother did as well. Every now and then she saw sadness in her mother’s eyes, but she would always tell Nia that she was alright. Her mother, though a very optimistic person, was very good at hiding how she truly felt.
“Alright, I am officially ready. Let’s go,” Yolanda said in a rush.
Nia grabbed her lunch and walked towards the front door. She paused. She felt a jolt of electricity transpire throughout her body. She knew that today was going to be dreadful.
During the car ride to school Yolanda would tell Nia the usual. She reassured her that everything would be alright, but this usually went into one ear and out the other.
“Just remember, it’s only gym class,” Yolanda said.
“Mommy,” Nia groaned.
“I’m serious Nia. I don’t want you to be self conscious of yourself.”
And here it came- the speech. Yolanda gave Nia the “inner beauty” speech every morning.
“Nia, you know I’ve said this time and time again, but don’t forget how beautiful you are. I don’t want you to listen to any of those knuckleheaded boys at school. You get your shape from your grandmother, you know.”
But Nia had a hard time believing her. As Nia looked out the window she gazed out at the sky. The sky was especially clear today. She wondered if her father was looking down on her from heaven. If so, she needed him now more than ever. Suddenly, her mother’s voice started to interrupt her thoughts.
“And don’t forget how kind and how smart you are,” Yolanda said.
Nia had forgotten her mother was still talking.
“Do you understand, Nia?” remarked Yolanda.
“Sure mom,” said Nia. “Whatever you say.”
They had arrived at Robinson High School and she started to feel a little lightheaded. Yolanda touched her cheek tenderly and whispered in her ear.
“Remember, rewa, how amazing you are,” said Yolanda.
Nia hugged her mother as tight as she could. She didn’t want to let go of her. “Go on now, rewa, try to have a good day at school.”
Nia got out of her mother’s car and headed inside the huge building. It smelled of coffee and Axes body spray, typical of middle school. Posters that read, Go Robinson Bobcats Go! were plastered everywhere on the walls. As she walked toward her locker, she could see Trevor and his friends lurking around the corner. She took a deep breath.
“Maybe they won’t notice me today,” Nia thought to herself.
And then came the insults.
“Uh-Oh, here comes fat pants Nia!” shouted Trevor.
She tried not to respond as Trevor and his friends started laughing. As she opened her locker door, a bunch of protein bars came flying out.
“Just in case you plan on losing weight, Nia,” Trevor said smugly.
She looked around and saw other kids laughing at her. Nia’s face felt very warm and she started to feel her heart beat really fast.
“Hey Trevor! Why don’t you pick on someone your own size!” shouted her best friend Danielle as she came to Nia’s aide.
“Oh, is that supposed to hurt my feelings!” Trevor said as he and his friends began to walk away.
“Don’t pay any attention to those jerks Nia. There’s nothing wrong with how you look.” “Yeah, I guess you’re right Danni,” Nia said in a somber tone.
As Nia grabbed her gym bag, Danielle briefly touched her hand and gave her a great big hug.
“Remember, I want you to tell me everything that happens in gym class today. I’m gonna tell my older brother about Trevor and his friends. Maybe he can put them in their place,” said Danielle
“I’m sure I’ll be fine,” said Nia as she put on a brave smile. But deep down she knew that something was going to happen.
Nia entered the girls locker room with precaution. She waited until all the other girls were finished so that she could undress. She looked at her naked body in the mirror. All she saw were lumps and bumps. She knew that Trevor and his friends would get a field day out of making fun of her. She took her make-up off, put her dress clothes away in her locker, and headed towards the gymnasium.
“Just get through gym class and you’ll be fine,” Nia whispered to herself.
She sat down on the gymnasium floor with the rest of her classmates. Then, came Trevor and the rest of his friends. Nia could feel Trevor’s eyes on her. They all sat behind Nia making a bunch of mooing sounds. Just then, Mr. Marks, the gym teacher, entered the gymnasium.
“All right class, I want each of you to run ten laps around the track. Come on, let’s go,” said Mr. Marks enthusiastically.
The whole class groaned. Running laps was something that they all had to do each morning and Nia despised it. As Nia stood up, she suddenly fell hard to the ground.
“Don’t trip fat pants!” Trevor exclaimed at Nia.
The whole class erupted in laughter.
“What’s going on? Why are you all laughing? Trevor, this better not have anything to do with you!” exclaimed Mr. Marks.
“It’s nothing Mr. Marks. Nothing at all!” Trevor said mischievously.
Nia could feel her eyes starting to tear up. This was going to be a long, hard day.
School had ended at around two thirty. Nia saw her mothers smiling face and quickly got into the car.
“Hi baby! How was school?” Yolanda asked.
“Fine, mom, just fine.”
Nia felt bad lying to her mother. She had another terrible day. Trevor and his friends tripped her numerous times throughout gym class, in math class, and during lunch. He had repeatedly called her “fat pants Nia” throughout the day while making cow sounds.
“You don’t seem okay, rewa,” Yolanda said observantly.
“Mom, please don’t. I told you I’m fine.”
“I know you’re not okay Nia. I can see it in your eyes. I’m your mother. I can always tell when my baby is feeling down.”
But Nia just looked out the window and stared up into the sunny blue sky.
“Is that boy and his friends still picking on you?” asked Yolanda.
“Mom I already told you,” Nia said as her voice began to trail off.
“Don’t you ‘mom I told you’ me. Answer the question, Nia, is this boy still picking on you?”
At this point Nia couldn’t avoid her mother if she tried. Her mother knew when something was up. In fact, Yolanda knew all along. She knew that her daughter was being bullied and by a group of boys nonetheless. This made Yolanda feel helpless. She tried to handle the situation quietly because she didn’t want to worry her daughter even more. She had even tried talking to the school principal, yet she did absolutely nothing.
“We can’t move Nia to a different class because they’re hurting your daughter’s feelings, Mrs. Adeyemi,” Principal Williams remarked in a meeting three months ago.
This aggravated Yolanda. She was running out of options and she was afraid that Nia would harm herself. Yolanda also knew that Nia missed her father. She knew that if Tobey were alive today, he would have hunted those boys down like a dog.
“Lord, my baby is in so much pain and there’s nothing that I can do. If only Nia knew how beautiful she was,” Yolanda thought to herself.
For the remainder of the car ride, Nia and her mother sat in silence unaware of what to say next.
As soon as they got home, Nia ran straight upstairs to her room, threw her book bag on the ground, and collapsed on her bed. She began to cry. She didn’t know how much longer she could take. She cried for a good hour or so. Brownie, their house dog, tried to cheer her up but it was no use. She tried to watch a little bit of tv, but that made her feel even more depressed. Why is it that every television show always features a white, thin actress? Or if the actress is not thin and white then she is typically something that is closest to white. As soon as she saw the image of Kirsten Stewart in a war movie, she began to cry even more. Is this what society considers to be the most beautiful? Not that Kirsten Stewart isn’t beautiful in her own right, but doesn’t society consider other women to be beautiful as well. She tried to watch an episode of Euphoria. Of course, Nia wasn’t allowed to watch the show due to its graphic nature, but that didn’t stop her before. The image of Zendaya startled her. Even without make-up, she was absolutely gorgeous. Zendaya had to be at least five foot ten with a slender physique. And then Nia thought of her friends Danielle and Teresa. Danielle, like Zendaya, was also biracial. She played a lot of sports and was athletically built. Her friend Tersea, on the other hand, was a brain and had blonde hair and blue eyes. All the boys worshiped Danielle and Teresa at school. Would anyone ever find Nia as beautiful as her friends? As beautiful as Zendaya or Kirsten Stewart? The thought of that began to make her cry all over again. She noticed that there were no dark skinned black girls on the show Euphoria. Come to think of it, they weren’t really a whole lot of dark skinned black girls as the main lead of any show. Not only was there a lack of dark skinned representation, there was also a lack of plus size diversity as well. Frustrated, Nia threw the remote at her television screen. This made Brownie bark out loud. Suddenly, Nia heard a knock on her bedroom door.
“Nia, are you alright sweetie?” said Yolanda in a soothing voice.
“I’m fine mom,” Nia said as she wiped away her tears.
But, as always, Yolanda knew. She opened her daughter’s bedroom door and saw Nia’s tear stained face. She held out her arms to her daughter and Nia embraced her.
“Shh, It’s okay, rewa, Mommy’s here,” Yolanda whispered.
“No, it’s not okay mommy. I…I don’t know what to do. I just feel like there’s something wrong with me!”
“Oh, Nia, there is nothing wrong with you babygirl. You are beautiful. I promise you that.” But this made Nia cry even more.
“Come here, rewa,” said Yolanda.
They both walked towards Nia’s full length mirror. As they were standing in front of the mirror, Yolanda put her arms around her daughter.
“What do you see when you look in the mirror?” asked Yolanda.
Nia didn’t know how to respond to that question.
“You want to know what I see. I see these large beautiful eyes looking back at me as well as beautiful luminous dark skin,” Yolanda marveled.
“All the boys at school say that I’m ugly and fat.”
“You’re not fat Nia. You have beautiful curves to your body. Don’t you know that some of the most beautiful women in the world are shaped just like you. Think of Tyra Banks or even Selma Hayak. They have beautiful curves to their bodies as well. You don’t think those two ladies have ever felt fat or ugly.”
“Mom, those are celebrities. I’m nothing like them.”
“You have more in common with those ladies than you think,” Yolanda said to her daughter. “I just wish that I can look like everyone else sometimes. You know, like Danielle and Teresa.” “You don’t need to look like them, rewa. I wouldn’t trade you for a thousand of Danielles and Terseas.”
Nia began to study her reflection again, this time she really studied her features. “You know who else you look like,” said Yolanda.
“Your father. I swear, sometimes I can see him through you,” said Yolanda. “I really miss him, mommy.”
“Me too baby, but just remember that your father is in a better place. He’s no longer in pain. You know your father would be very proud of you.”
“Absolutely, rewa. I mean, you’re sweet, considerate, and you feel your emotions deeply. Ever consider becoming a nurse?” Yolanda said jokingly.
Nia began to laugh. A slight smile appeared on her face. But, then her facial expression had changed to a bit of sadness and confusion.
“So what do I do?” asked Nia.
“I don’t know rewa, but we’ll figure it out together. I promise. I’m your mother and I always got your back no matter what,” remarked Yolanda.
Yolanda continued to hold her daughter in her arms. Suddenly, Nia felt a beam of light shine on both her and her mom. It was coming through her window.
“Daddy,” Nia whispered to herself.
She knew it was him. She felt her father’s presence around them. It was as if he was shielding them from the outside world. He had answered her prayers. At that moment, nothing else mattered to Nia. The spirit of father, combined with her mother’s warmth and kindness was all she needed. Nia didn’t know what would happen next, but in that moment, looking into mothers soft eyes, she knew that everything was going to be okay.