Beautiful but not so intelligent

by Phebean Taiwo

My name is Phebean Taiwo and I would like to share the journey of discovering the confident me.

At a very young age, I battled with low self-esteem, even though I didn’t know what it was at the time.  A young girl between the ages of 7-9, will not understand why she has to go through certain challenges. This was me. Since I started nursery school, I had been academically challenged.

It is often said, “There are no bad students but bad teachers.” Could this have been my case as I grew into teenage-hood? Consider the Nigerian environment where the schooling system has no way of assisting the academically challenged, rather innocent students are tagged as failures. Growing up this way, I struggled to be acknowledged as ‘brilliant’ but no matter how hard I tried, my grades showed the opposite of my efforts.

Psychological Challenges

Now, it would be easier to say I wasn’t open to learning at all, however, I was desperate to gain knowledge, but not given the chance to do so.  Hence, the challenges affected me psychologically. It wasn’t easy to tell that I was a struggling child because I was naturally outgoing and had many friends.

Also, I was often complimented as being a very beautiful girl, but it didn’t matter when my academics was nothing to write home about. I later learnt that I was not the problem, but the teaching methods were. These methods did not give room for slow learners. Yes, we would eventually understand, but it takes a little more time.

The teachers focused more on students that could comprehend faster than the average and slower learners. Being one of the slower, learning was not fun and the little confidence I had managed to maintain, dissipated. My efforts weren’t paying off and listening in class wasn’t helping either.

Beauty vs Intelligence

The people around me, including teachers, made it worse by making comments that scarred me: “She’s just beautiful but not so intelligent”. Comments like this made me wonder what physical beauty was all about. I began to hate my looks, and cried many times in private, preferring to be ugly and intelligent. Then, I really desired to be defined by more than just my looks. But now I am beginning to appreciate the beauty that God gave me, after a long journey to regaining my confidence.

When I got to year 3 of junior secondary school, I became more conscious of who I was and decided that I wanted to be better. With little motivation from others, I gave time to my studies, and although the results weren’t as I wanted, I saw an improvement in my performance. 

That boosted my confidence, and I slowly began to believe that I could actually do well if I studied harder than everyone else. I kept this up when I entered senior secondary school and became one of the best performing students in class. I continue to maintain these efforts now at university.

Lingering Scars

But even with the good grades, the scars of my childhood struggles remained. I still didn’t believe I was good enough. The desire to be acknowledged crept into other areas of my life, and I would hide from things that seemed bigger than me. Perhaps, I thought someone would think I’m not as good as I seem. I craved my comfort zone a lot. That outgoing girl became a young lady of few words.

Not until early this year, when I took a deliberate step to work on my confidence, did things begin to turn around. I sought online resources on confidence and found a practical book titled “Confidence For Dummies”, which gave me a head-start on my journey. I studied the book like I would a university course and practised what I learnt daily.

I then grabbed the opportunity to attend a series of workshops run by AFFIRM, which further boosted my confidence. This was my feedback especially after the workshop on Taking charge with confidence:

The other thing that worked for me was the conversation I had with my “therapist” (my twin sister). She renewed my mind to realise that I have always been smart despite what I faced, and that my past struggles do not define the future for me.

The truth finally dawned on me, and I regretted not loving myself more. That young girl that I was didn’t deserve the harsh treatment that I gave her. I have always been smart, but the environment did not give me the opportunity to thrive.

A student who struggles is NOT a dummy.

Now, I am more confident than I have ever been. I am learning to say only positive things to myself, cheer myself on, recognise my potentials, acknowledge my qualities, and appreciate myself as a whole.

The past no longer scars me but the experience has made me understand others who are currently in the same shoes as I was. Whenever I get the opportunity to teach, I know that a student who struggles is NOT a dummy.

Phebean Taiwo is a student of Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria, and a lover of music, art, and fashion.