When I came to America, I didn’t speak a word of English and entered school in the last few months of seventh grade. I was in an ESL class, I didn’t have any friends, I didn’t speak the language… it was a really tough beginning. But for some reason I learned English quite easily and after high school I got into a really good college. I’m just a really blessed person and so happy that somehow my life is working out.
I never wanted to be a model. My mom decided I was going to college and be a doctor and that was it – there was no question about it. I was really, really skinny in high school and a complete nerd; nobody really paid attention to me so modeling never actually crossed my mind until I went away to college and people started saying I looked a model. I thought they were joking because nobody had ever told me that I was beautiful. It took me two years to process the idea that I could be a model.
Mom, I’m Dropping Out Of College
At the end of my junior year, I went to Spelman College and became a little more comfortable in the way I dressed. I used to wear sweats and big sweaters, but at Spelman, it was like a fashion show everyday. I met a few friends who really pushed me to become more fashionable. A friend of mine told me about the show and I just auditioned. I really never thought about applying before, and I didn’t really watch it that much before I got on. It was a very random, last-minute thing for me to be on the show.
My mom, surprisingly, is supporting me. I love her for that; my mom surprises me everyday. I actually didn’t even tell her until I was on the way to the house! I called her and said, “Mom, I dropped out of college and I’m going to do America’s Next Top Model.”
I thought she was going to wish me good luck with my life and never talk to me again. Instead, she got upset that I didn’t tell her sooner! Ever since that day, we are so close – the competition has made my mom and I closer than we ever were.
Female Circumcision: It’s Time To Talk
There’s nothing wrong with sharing your story...with being vulnerable and weak. Sometimes that’s what makes us strong. People who have courage are the ones who can share their deepest secrets. In a way, you’re helping people when you share something so important to you because you never know if the person sitting next to you is going through the same thing. If you don’t share and speak about those things, all these people have all these bottled up experiences that are never talked about.
I always used to write poems in high school and college, but I would always write it in the third person. I just felt uncomfortable reading something so personal in front of other people, so I would write it like it was about my cousins and other people that I knew, and their experiences with female genital mutilation. But I never talked about me.
I never shared it with anyone else. I never even talked about it with my mom – it’s such a hush-hush topic. There were times when I just wanted to just write a poem about me and perform it, but I knew I would cry in front of everybody.
Most of my friends were completely shocked to find out I was circumcised. And some of them actually felt very betrayed that I didn’t tell them, but on the show, something happened. They asked me the right question and everything came out; the tears came out and the emotional journey began.
I was unraveling things that I had never talked about before, and doing it on national television. I don’t think people really understand how much it took for me to share that. It was a whole part of me that I presented to the entire world and I felt so vulnerable.
I’m not going to lie; I still feel vulnerable. But I glad that I did it finally and I’m so proud of myself.
I’m not here to judge or criticize our culture and say these people are so bad for practicing female circumcision. I think culture is very important – I studied anthropology and I know a people’s culture is sacred. I’m nobody to tell people that they shouldn’t do this or that – I’m trying to find a way to just talk about it. Sometimes it helps women to be more expressive if they talk about these issues. I want young girls to be able to express themselves because I feel like there’s a whole part of them that’s dead, and that they just don’t talk about.
I’m just to figure out possible ways to make this experience a little less horrendous than it is right now. Right now, you have women who can barely see operating on girls. If it’s a cultural thing that will not go away, maybe a doctor can operate on these girls so they don’t bleed to death.
A Final Thank You
If I do have fans, I want to thank everybody. I hope I didn’t offend anybody in the process of being on the show. I don’t regret anything I said or did, but I do have that problem of being less tactful at times. Maybe I was sometimes misunderstood, but I really want to thank all my fans.