Adwoa Aboah (@adwoaaboah) is a British fashion model and founder of Gurls Talk, an online community for young women discussing critical issues like education, mental health, sexuality and self-care. We connected with Adwoa to explore her journey of self-discovery, her thoughts on personal style, and the pros and cons of our increasingly complex online culture.
So much emphasis is placed on success versus failure—but what has failure taught you that success never could?
In many ways, failure has only strengthened my resilience because I’ve had to sit with that failure and that rejection and push through. It has showed me what perseverance looks like and how important that is. I’ve learned to sit and embrace the failures because in many ways it has pushed me to achieve what I want.
What advice would you offer to someone feeling unsure about truly expressing themselves for the world to see?
I would encourage anyone feeling unsure about expressing themselves to take the time you need and to be kind to yourself. It’s something you should only do when you feel ready to do it. There should be no pressure surrounding it. When you are ready, show the world who you are. Before, take time to think about what that looks like.
In what ways do you feel online platforms can have a positive effect on mental wellbeing? And conversely, in what ways can online platforms be detrimental?
The good thing about online platforms is that they have the ability to show us different communities that we might want to be a part of, like my organization Gurls Talk. You are always thrown into groups, whether it be in school or where you’ve been brought up—especially in your adolescent years—and online platforms show you what’s out there, waiting for you.
On the other hand, I think online platforms can be quite detrimental when you’re continuously looking at other people’s lives and what they have, and who they are, when you’re trying to figure that out for yourself. The overwhelming sense of comparison is very damaging to someone growing up. You can start looking at others and feeling like you have to match their efforts. It’s all about navigating the internet carefully, and with intention, so that you don’t fall into that bad side.
As a creative leader and activist, how do you balance staying true to yourself while also serving as a role model for the next generation?
I don’t think I would be able to call myself a role model if I wasn’t being my true self and being authentic. I think that is the backbone of being a role model. There is no balance—that’s just what you have to do if you decide to take on that responsibility, because the influence that you might have on people is a reflection of how true you stay to yourself.
Self-confidence and self-love sound very personal, but community can play an important role in both. How have you found community in ways you’d never expected?
With community, there comes a sense of honesty and truth and the importance of storytelling. Within those stories, you can see yourself. You can see how people have fought and persevered through hard times—and that is inspiring and shows you the possibilities of your own reality. You see and hear people who have lacked both self-confidence and self-love, but who come out on the other side, and you realize that is very much a possibility for yourself.
When you have support, it encourages you to be yourself and makes you feel like you’re not alone. Throughout my journey with my mental health specifically, I’ve always felt isolated. It is fascinating to me—and unexpected—that by sharing my story, I have been welcomed into a humongous community that has felt the same way as I did, and still do.
Where does courage come from? How have you found the courage to be who you are today?
Courage comes from being curious enough to look at yourself and learn from yourself. I found the courage to be where I am because I know what I’m capable of, and I don’t want to let myself down. Although it’s quite terrifying to do all those things, I’m continuously shown the positives that come from walking through things instead of running away from them. I think that courage comes from the people you surround yourself with as well. It comes from hearing different perspectives and different stories. Courage comes from knowing that you never want to be in that place again—and that you’ll work really hard to make sure that never happens again.
What is the first step in making a commitment to loving who you are?
The first step is to be kind to yourself. Far too often, we would never say the things we say to ourselves to anyone else, so you must be kind.
What can personal style communicate that a person may not be able to say directly?
One’s style and way of dressing is quite a statement. I have mad respect for anyone who wears clothes just because they want to, and not because everyone else is. There are so many people on this planet—I think it gives you a chance to stand out and be an individual.
What does your personal sense of style say to the world?
My sense of style really depends on my mood. It can say many things, depending on how confident I’m feeling at that time. My personal style changes all the time, but I will definitely say it is influenced not by others, but by myself and what’s going on in my life at that point.
Is style an art or an attitude?
Style is most definitely an attitude. You continuously see styles that you might not go for, but the person represents that style. That’s what attracts you—the attitude that comes with it. When you do want to wear all those different looks, it’s because of the person in those clothes. It’s definitely an attitude.