I was born with a head that was too big for my body and quite severely clubbed feet, so it feels like I have always required the people in my life to have a certain width and depth to their character. I have since grown into my big head and surgically corrected my clubbed feet, but I have kept my killer instincts and my unique ability to figure out who belongs in my life and who doesn’t.
Full disclosure: young Nini was bullied extensively for years, for how she walked and how she looked, so I learned quite early on to quickly detach myself from physicality and look beyond what I see. That being said, I absolutely love fashion and I’m easily distracted by good style because it is something that I can easily connect with, but I also know very well that I can’t build or sustain a real relationship or a real friendship solely on a few good outfits, and I don’t expect to.
I’m grateful for the way I have evolved and grown since middle and high school, because if anything, being bullied has made more sure of what I want out of my friendships and relationships. I’m not bitter about the way people treated me at all. When I get along with a person, I am all in, I don’t wait for the other shoe to drop. I’m still light-hearted, I’m not damp at all, in fact, I like to think I float. Like a glass of Prosecco, I float and I bubble at the top. I’m the most bubbly and chatty person in a room full of people I have never met, and I have no problem starting a conversation with just about anybody, but the difference is I am just as good at protecting my heart when the vibe feels off and young Nini taught me this.
For over two years, I worked in the beauty industry where the only thing that went beneath the surface was the product, and I used to resent this but I don’t anymore. I learned that this is not necessarily a bad thing. Aside from an insane knowledge of active ingredients, I learned that it was genuinely possible to connect with people on a surface level, and I became quite good at it. I learned how to compliment a customer’s hand bag because I genuinely liked it and not because I wanted them to open it and swipe their card. I learned how to compliment a co-worker’s outfit because I genuinely thought they looked cute, and not because I wanted an earlier shift. I learned to get along with people and make connections that I did not necessarily see blossoming into the long-term. I used to think that every relationship that fizzled out required a fall out, but some just end naturally and that’s ok. Not to mention, fallouts are nothing but an endless cycle of “he said, she said” and I recognize now that I’m too lazy for that, so instead I have mastered the art of conscious uncoupling.
Knowing who I am and what I want out of my relationships can be a good filter and source of confidence because it means that I don’t need a thousand people around me at all times to feel secure and sure of myself. I learned quite early not to depend on what other people thought of me to feel good about myself. When people saw a big head, I saw a sharp mind and a wild imagination. When people saw clubbed feet, I saw proof of real life. It isn’t all rose gardens, rainbows and cotton candy though, knowing who I am and what I want out of my relationships works against me sometimes. My disaster of a 21st birthday party stands out in my mind because it taught me that 1) doing something because it is what everyone else does is not a real reason, and 2) it is possible to invest in a relationship even if they don’t tick all your boxes and you don’t necessarily see it lasting very long. It is possible to have friends that are just good for a good time, those who bring good energy, the kind of energy you want to have at a party for your 21st.
I’m not mad at me though, I’m not mad at the quality of relationships I have built. Not at all. The friendships I enjoy the most, the friendships I have kept are the ones that feel the most honest and that looks different for each one. I have club friends and church friends, career friends and creative friends, each one as valuable to me as the other.
My relationship with my best friend of 13 years is probably my favourite, outside of my immediate family. She lives in New York and she works as a surgical resident, so that gives her 2.2 seconds every two weeks to have a real conversation with me but we manage to make it work somehow. We are constantly sending each other hilarious memes on Instagram because that’s all we have time for in the midst of such busy schedules and there are times when we have two hour conversations on FaceTime where we both cry our eyes out and bare our souls to each other. I don’t value either communication one more than the other. We both recognize that life is a roller coaster, and full of ups and downs. We have learned to be there for one another, and be just as present at the peaks and in the pits, and the connection we have is everything to me.
I also absolutely adore my “new” friends. I don’t do the whole “no new friends” thing. I love new friends and old friends and yellow friends and purple friends, whoever is honest and matches my energy, I keep them. There’s too many weird people out there, so I trust myself and if I find a good one, I keep them. Plus, I find that I don’t have to work hard to get rid of bad energy anymore. I have already done the work, so most times, when a friendship runs its course, there is no fuss. Plus, I also have accepted the fact that sometimes a good person is not good for me and it is my responsibility to protect my joy and peace, no matter how impossible it feels in the moment.
It is also important to resist the urge to self sabotage and let go of the toxic notion that “real friendship shouldn’t be easy.” Why not? Real friendship can in fact be quite easy. I started working on a documentary about three years ago, right out of university where I made a total of 2 friends in 4 years, one of which was my little sister. My goal was to profile eight Black creative entrepreneurs who also worked a full-time corporate job. I approached this project expecting nothing and to my utmost surprise, I met one of my absolute best friends. At first, I was intimidated by how easily talent just oozed out of her, but I mustered up the courage to reach out to her on Instagram because she was absolutely perfect for the project. We filmed her interview and the rest is history. We immediately hit it off and realized we were absolutely on the same wavelength. Between working as an engineer and dancing full-time, she also has 2.2 seconds to herself every two weeks, but she is the only friend I have that randomly calls me to check on me. She takes the time to show me that she is just as invested in our friendship as I am and I absolutely adore her.
Shoutout to young Nini, being her and having her in my corner has brought me here to my friendship with so many beautiful queens. All those years I spent being Young Nini, years I sometimes wanted to skip, have actually served me so well because I am now surrounded by queens and I’m so grateful for it.
Nini Kunu is a Toronto-based writer and content creator. She is driven by the pillars of skin, self and storytelling. She currently serves as a Instagram Community Curator at London-based magazine, Magnify and a Senior Contributor at Toronto-based magazine, Zhuri. Most recently, she began a video series on Instagram called #OrdinaryBlackness where she explores what it means to be in and take care of Black skin. Her videos have since gained over 9,000 total views. She believes her purpose is to help women of colour and colourful women feel more comfortable in their skin and feel empowered to embrace their unique stories.