My Style Journey: Muthoni Njoba
Is it safe to say that a woman’s fashion journey began with her mother? Mine certainly did. When I was 13 years old I remember planning for a school trip when I made the worst mistake of allowing my mother to pack for me. As an overweight teenager, my insecurities got worse when the “best outfit” chosen for this particular trip happened to be a pinstripe jacket with huge buttons and an odd length pleated navy blue skirt. Not to mention, my already broad shoulders were exaggerated even more by my mother’s favourite shoulder pads of which she so lovingly stuffed and sealed into the lining! I still have this picture of me with a group of female classmates who were in cute little black dresses and fancy denim skirts, yet there I was looking like the head teacher supervising students on the trip!
In hindsight, I cannot blame my mother for this mismatch as she did her best to dress a body type that she did not understand; she was a model in her late teens and after I was born her pregnancy weight disappeared almost instantly and thanks to her slim physique and natural charm she earned herself a position working for Pan American Airlines as a stewardess with the inflight crew. As you can guess, she was naturally slender, and now here she was with an overweight daughter to dress. At the time, finding fashionable plus size clothing was rare and she resorted to dressing me from her adult collection, which made me look so much older throughout my early teens. As a result of this frustrating process, I grew fond of and found great security in my school uniform and I dreaded the times I would have to dress in anything else. Not surprisingly, I embarked on a mission to find a diet that would get me looking like the other girls. I kept a diary (which I still have today) and I cringe reading the negative messages I would write to myself, hate message after hate message towards my body. It got so bad I remember crying and asking God if all this suffering was necessary.
Then just when I thought I would never get Aaliyah’s perfect flat stomach and tiny waist, Missy Elliott came to the rescue; finally there was a big girl on the celebrity scene who was cool, hip and everybody loved her! Even the girls and boys who called me fat were hooked on to Missy! I threw out all my clothes and convinced my parents to buy me tonnes of Adidas and Fubu wear. My style was all about baggy tracksuits in all colours imaginable and I even threw in some Tupac inspired bandana head ties.
I love everything about Missy’s creativity and her unique makeup looks. I somehow managed to get my hands on a purple pony tail and some very cool sneakers to complete the look. To top it all I would wear brown eyeliner that I simultaneously used as a lip liner to darken my lip shape very precisely, keeping the centre nude. This was the beginning of my individual style journey. I was and still am a huge fan of Missy Elliott, I would buy everything she touched and I distinctly remember getting lost in Covent Garden in London, searching for the store that stocked her clothing line. I would literally stalk Missy Elliott daily, using her expression of fashion to define mine. So you can imagine how I almost fainted when she followed me back on Twitter after sending me a shout out!
When I was 16, I flew out to England to complete my A-levels. Being in a school where I was the only black girl, I started to embrace my African heritage after being far away from home. Name any African print, I was in it, and at some point I even accessorised leaves in my wool locks just to get the point across to my school mates that I was proud to be African. I was no longer a representative of Kenya but of Africa! I now look back and laugh at myself, but being homesick and so different to the rest can make one do crazy things.
In university my affair with black clothing began and it has never ended. Only briefly did colour make it back into my wardrobe when Missy Elliott lost tonnes of weight and so of course I did too (yes I know what you’re thinking I took fanatic to whole new level!). I lost an impressive 35kgs in less than 4 months and I went from a size 20 to a 12 dress size! Contrary to my expectations, I lost all my confidence after my weight loss! I was constantly insecure about the weight piling back on, and this pressure arose from people’s comments. I was now investing in an entire new wardrobe that was full of colour and cute tiny clothes that I should have worn as a teenager. The highlight of my short lived skinny body was the sunset bikini I wore on a trip to Zanzibar with friends. I was slim for about 8 months before I got pregnant soon after which was a relief as I now had an excuse to put the weight back on. I loved the compliments I got being slim but I hated feeling like I was trapped in a foreign body. I came to learn that what others appreciated about my body was nowhere near what I appreciated about it. Finally my curves came back and I was grateful for what I once disliked so much.
After having my son, I found myself loving my body but hating my wardrobe because of the boring clothes I had to wear to my corporate job. For 2 years I wore office suites and felt like my entire reason for living was being swallowed up into a deep dark hole every new day by having to dress up in clothes I hated and working at a job I hated; it was time for some major changes. After leaving the corporate world and following my passion in makeup, the first thing I did was shave my long hair into a cropped style much like Rihanna, and I wore anything that expressed my new artistic lifestyle if I could get away with it. This daring phase led me to get my first (and only) tattoo, spend tonnes of money of oversized jewellery and pretty much mismatch everything.
The past six years living my passion as a makeup artist has given me the opportunity to explore my personal style which mainly includes black, casual and comfortable clothing due to the nature of my work. When I turned 30 last year, something changed in me. Not only was I suddenly very comfortable in my body but I became confident about who I am as a woman. In January this year, I stepped out of my comfort zone and participated in a photoshoot, representing plus size women for the Kung’ara boutique, an experience I have fond memories of. As the lead brand ambassador and official makeup artist for Maybelline New York Kenya, I now have a dynamic platform through which I can genuinely embrace every aspect of myself. It has, without doubt, been a year of experimenting with different styles and allowing myself to find deep appreciation and happiness within my body.
In August, it was very exciting to model for Kung’ara in London right by Big Ben and the London Eye. There was something about posing for the camera as strangers stared and walked past that was the ultimate test of my confidence.
All in all, the clothes I wear, the makeup I put on and the hairstyle I choose all have something to say about the season I am in on this journey of life. As I grow older I enjoy the fact that I’m doing it more for myself and less for what other people will think. It’s a great thing to see how the plus size fashion industry has evolved to give women an opportunity to dress up, embrace their curves and stand out as stylish, sophisticated, beautiful women… Who would have thought that this insecure overweight teenager would one day be thanking God for the gift of curves!