Shit you should care about … Adwoa Aboah
“I had everything but felt nothing” – Adwoa Aboah
Mental Health Awareness Week may be over, but that doesn’t mean our conversation around the subject will stop. Mental health doesn’t have an agenda – so even though it’s no longer “awareness week,” I’ve done a profile on Adwoa Aboah, because mental health is something we should be constantly aware of.
Adwoa Aboah is a world-renowned supermodel, heading campaigns for brands including Burberry, Giorgio Armani and Versace. She has won ‘Britain’s Model of the Year’ award, and has been plastered on the front of countless magazines. With a resume like that, you’d assume Adwoa would be happy as larry, but her own personal experience is much darker than what these superficial details suggest.
Adwoa has been labelled as an ‘unconventional beauty’ of the fashion industry, pushing against traditional expectations. This acceptance hasn’t always existed, however. Her striking bald head is her most famous feature, but it was motivated by embarrassment from her naturally ginger afro. She is fiercely real in her struggles for identity – “I just didn’t want to be Adwoa,” she puts simply. Instead of facing her emotions, she used drugs as a coping mechanism, favoring ketamine, a powerful horse tranquiliser. Her modelling career only spiraled her life further out of control, wrapping Adwoa in crippling depression and addiction.
“If you don’t like being in your skin it doesn’t matter how many times people say you’re beautiful, or how many jobs you get.”
In an extremely raw video for the What’s Underneath Project, Adwoa is asked a series of questions about her journey whilst slowly removing garments of clothing, expressing that style is not about the clothes you wear, but feeling comfortable with what’s underneath. She breaks her solemn exterior when recounting the group of older women who took her in during her first stint in rehab. Tearfully she admits it was these women who helped her to feel again.
In the aftermath of her first stint in rehab, however, she fell back into her old ways. In October 2015, Adwoa attempted suicide which left her in a four day coma. Her parents then put her into psychiatric care for a month to keep her safe from herself.
But, following her darkest moments, Adwoa proved there is always light. She discovered her love for activism and founded an online platform, her ‘baby,’ called Gurls Talk. It is an inclusive space designed to give value to everyone’s problems no matter how big or small. She stresses that it was not as if she woke up one day and was suddenly fine. “That self-hatred is something I work on on a daily basis,” she says. To combat this, she encourages sitting in your emotions and feeling them because they are all valid and shape the person you become.
An imperative feature of Gurls Talk is giving as much salience to the small things in life as the big things. For Adwoa, her own mental illness snowballed from minor events in high school which consequently lead her into grips of addiction and depression. Allowing for validation of these small moments of hopelessness is important as it can stop the triggering of something more sinister. This is why Adwoa hopes to bring Gurls Talk into schools, to encourage education around mental health and ending the stigma.
Not only is her mission to help young girls, but to change the inherent structures of the fashion industry. She has vocally called out “rampant abuses of power” that allow for sexual harassment and exploitation. British Vogue editor-in-chief praised Adwoa saying: “You’re an activist, you’re helping guide young women, you’re modern, and you bring a sense of honesty to the industry we’re in.”
Personally, I think Adwoa is so damn refreshing. The pressures from social media can be almost debilitating at times, but she is using this platform to create something good and I am all for it. She is so candid in her struggles, providing a space for other girls, women, men, ANYONE to join the conversation too. Most importantly, she communicates that mental illness can affect anybody from any background, but your problems are still valid, no matter how good your life may look from the outside. And, ever since she faced her demons she’s been thriving. “I put so many limitations on myself… Now I set absolutely no boundaries.”
Banner Image courtesy of LONDON EVENING STANDARD/EYEVINE/REDUX