When speaking with Adwoa you realise how caught up she is within this fine tension, between working in an overtly self-obsessed industry but at the same time as someone simultaneously trying to break free of it. This is a tough tightrope to walk and she is acutely aware of it.
One could almost sense that she feels ashamed for having been caught up with it at all. She has built a domain set upon the rallying cry, beauty is deeper than just skin.
In 2015, she started what is now the wildly successful podcast/Instagram channel Gurls Talk, dealing with a toxic digital culture that suffocates young woman with issues of enormous pressures and expectation.
Teenage girls have become one of the most exposed demographics out there, alone in the UK, suicide figures for younger woman have reached record levels, almost doubling in eight years. What makes Adwoa so unique is that she has transcended her early perilous years marked by a suicide attempt and persistent substance abuse to help heal other girls just like her. Adwoa is incredibly comfortable with sharing her vulnerability. One could call it her superpower. Maybe she really is a supermodel. Just, not the type that we’re all used to.
Image: Dylan Coulter
We both have something in common; we both believe in the power of dialogue. Conversations are essential at such a polarising time in the world. Why do you think dialogue is so important?
I think candid, open, unfiltered dialogue is essential. A couple of times in my daily life, I have meaningless conversations that have to be done. But I also celebrate conversation and discussion that take place between humans who feel comfortable enough to talk about anything.
I think the reason I value it so much is because I spent a lot of my life before this point never truthfully saying what was on my mind — never being honest about how I felt. It was highly detrimental to my well being. I decided that I would not live my life like that. I saw the benefits of what happened when I was honest and spoke with other people in an honest way. People then spoke to me in such an incredible way, allowing me into their lives.
Do you think it’s unorthodox for someone in their twenties to want unfiltered brutally honest conversations?
Explain to me what unorthodox is.
The idea unorthodox, meaning, different or unconventional. When I was in my twenties, I loved having unfiltered dialogue, but not everyone around me felt like that. So even today at 27, do you still feel like the odd one out?
That’s such a good question. I don’t necessarily feel like I’m the odd one out. If someone’s not willing to have a great conversation with you, there’s nothing you can do about it. I take it seriously.
Even at my talk at Cambridge University recently, I felt very much an outsider. I didn’t pass any exams, and I’m highly dyslexic. They had Bill Gates speak at the university, so all these fabulous, highly intelligent people have visited. What they celebrated and respected about me was my honesty and unfiltered conversation. It would have been a waste of time to go there and drop a few one-liners, instead of just telling them the truth.
"Everyone in some shape or form has experienced suffering."
Well, you might not be like Bill Gates, but you surely possess more intelligence of the heart.
Yes, I think I’ve learned from doing the podcast, and speaking to a variety of different people, that there’s a lot of things I don’t understand. There’s a lot of situations and circumstances I haven’t gone through. Still, I try to meet any person on a human level of understanding, I try to look at it in an emotionally intelligent way instead of trying to pick out differences.
I’m not going to delve into your early life because that’s all very well documented. But I do want to talk about mental health. It’s something that you’ve struggled with. You have talked about this idea that you’re not sure if there’s a more significant prevalence of it today or more people are talking about it.
My thoughts are that it’s a bit of both. That suffering is not an anomaly that it’s attributable to the human condition, and that suffering is part of one’s transcendence. Because everyone is suffering. I don’t know anyone who isn’t suffering, and if they say they aren’t then, they’re escaping it or lying about it. What do you think of that idea in itself?
I completely agree.
In essence, I think everyone has “mental health” issues.
Yes, a hundred per cent. I think that’s so true. I also think when one’s been through bouts of depression or has knowledge of those dark times, it is more evident.
It’s become apparent to me that everyone in some shape or form has experienced suffering. I think that not everyone chooses to talk about it. And I think it comes in different ways in different people; sometimes it’s a privilege to talk about it with them.
You’re inspirational to many people; you’re like a lighthouse if I can use such a fluffy analogy. People look to you because they think, well she’s done it, so then other people can do it, meaning opening up and healing, I think that’s important in itself.
Yes, I’m always looking for people out there and find them all the time, who have been through certain things, and are persevering, and speaking honestly. It makes me feel a lot better in times of depression or stress when I can see I’m not the only person on the planet going through this.
If I may be so bold to say, I feel like there are two Adwoa’s out in the world. One – the famous fashion model who appears on the cover of Vogue and ID and Time, then there’s this deeper Adwoah less preoccupied with vanity one that challenges people to find purpose and power in their lives. You’re probably acutely aware that you operate in an industry that prides itself on vanity and consumerism. How do you reconcile both of those things?
I feel like I’m in the mix of all that. I discuss and advocate for a lot of that in Gurls Talk, and raise awareness around these issues. I am aware that there is another side that triggers the ego part, that concentrates so much on what I look like, and I find that a hard battle. I am pulled between believing what I’m surrounded by, and all the amazing people that talk about who I am. I find that very difficult.
I feel that we’re putting so much good stuff out there in the world via Gurls Talk and that we’re conscious of who we associate ourselves with. But in the other world, I find it very hard because it goes at a slower pace, I sometimes worry if there’s even any point, I wonder if they actually care.
Even at age 27 I go and talk to these kids who are much younger than me, and they’re confused about what they see, and what it’s telling them, and even though they know that it’s not real, it’s still hard for them to navigate.
It still makes them feel like shit and worthless, and they feel like they’re not going to amount to anything. I get confused as well, even knowing what it is, and being around it, I sometimes feel I’m not good enough, and I battle with the idea that I’m part of that.
Image: Dylan Coulter
That is a really complex and tough paradox.
Yes, that was very honest, but that is the truth.
Are you saying that modelling hurts femalehood in general? These famous designers and people that you hang around, say, at the Met Gala. Do you have these kinds of conversations with them?
Oh no. Some people in the fashion industry, but no, none of those conversations are had at the Met Gala. I sometimes wonder if these little hiccups you see brands doing, the most socially unaware things, and I wonder to myself? They can’t be that stupid. To me, it looks like they don’t care. If you don’t care, I don’t know if I even have time to bother calling you out on it.
So what is your point?
My point is, well, I don’t know what my point is. I feel quite confused about the whole thing. I’m so grateful for having all the other work that I do. I’m also so thankful that I went through all the shit, and that I could come out the other side and have woken up.
As trite as this sounds, you are considered a face of Britain. And because of that, I wanted to ask you, we’re in a really strange moment in the UK. Things seem so out of sync. Where is Britain at in your head?
Oh god, that’s a hard one. In my day to day life, it’s exciting. There’s a real buzz, and there are lots of incredible people making significant attempts to change how things have been and are heading. But to be honest it’s all quite terrifying, and feel we’re on a path into the unknown.
I live in London and a major realisation I had when I was doing my school tour, is that as soon as you step out of London, it’s an entirely different world. I walk out of my house and see many different types of people, it’s quite a magical vision. But when I was on the school tour, I definitely saw a completely different picture. I feel misinformed about where we’re going.
"We’re on a path into the unknown."
Adwoah Aboah talks about Britain's future
I would love to discuss this idea of representation with you. It seems to be stifling us at the moment. The contradiction that we’re all looking to define ourselves, meaning our individuality, but I think it could be damaging as it’s moving us further away from each other. How do we as individuals move closer together collectively if we’re being encouraged to move apart? The work you do at Gurls Talk is a lot about that. Is there not an inherent danger?
Yes, I know what you mean, I speak to one of my best friends a lot about labelling yourself as something. I know that sometimes tribes can – I see it sometimes, when I’m with all my girlfriends who are black, maybe it makes some of my other friends feel bad. But for me, it’s a must; there’s something comforting about feeling part of something, even though you might want to be an individual. I don’t know. I’m not making sense.
You are totally making sense.
I went to this small event recently, and everyone there was only white. Growing up, my dad couldn’t handle continuously going to events with my mum, and being the only black man there. He’s been around it his whole life. Although he does get all the attention. But I was in that situation, and I thought, this is why, because I no longer want to be the only one somewhere. It’s nice to be part of something and not be the only one.
My last question to you is, your mum was once asked, what would she like to come back as in her next life, and she said an oystercatcher. So I’m going to return the question to you. What would you like to come back as?
I love that. My mum’s so weird; she’s so fucking funny. What would I want to come back as? Maybe a monkey. I like the idea of monkeys because even though their environment is being destroyed, they’re always with their family, and I’m quite a family kind of gal.