Though she’s graced the cover of fashion bibles and helmed campaigns for brands like H&M, Adwoa Aboah—poised, passionate, and well versed on topics ranging from feminism to media representation of minorities—exceeds all expectations. In a modeling scene dominated by social media, Aboah (whose mother is Camilla Lowther, the founder of the premier fashion management firm CLM) uses theInstagram account Gurls Talk for social justice rather than self promotion, posting messages of inspiration, female solidarity, and gender equality. Using the hashtag #letsgetgurlstalking as a call to arms, Aboah spreads a larger message of honesty and openness for young women, a message she also plans on taking into local schools via an upcoming workshop. We caught up with the game-changing beauty on the phone from Los Angeles to talk empowerment and the importance of staying true to yourself in the busy world of modeling.
Was modeling something you had wanted to pursue from the start?
What drew me to modeling was this idea of being independent. I knew that modeling could open doors and I would be able to travel and forge my own path. Being able to support yourself is amazing, and I think that was one of the things that appealed to me, but I didn’t want to be in front of the camera at first. I’ve always done other things on the side because I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t completely relying on modeling. As a career, I know that it is not forever.
What made you want to start Gurls Talk?
I bought the domain name maybe two years ago, and I had it in the back of my mind that I would start something with it. I had struggled dealing with issues of sobriety, and I got completely sober last year. What really helped me through that incredibly traumatic time were the women in my life, the things I learned while picking up the pieces. The idea of honesty and opening up to people. How important it was to deal with the truth about myself. I was never given that at school. I never felt like my feelings, emotions, and problems were important enough, and as a result, I never felt comfortable discussing them with anyone.
I was never educated on mental health; I was never educated on addiction. Emotions were never the most important thing when I was at school; it was all about academics and this constant performance of pretending that you’re okay and getting on with life. I came from a privileged background, which I am entirely grateful for, but it played a part in my feeling that I couldn’t complain about my own emotions. I also felt that I was completely alone in my feelings, and that was wrong. Since opening up and going on this journey with Gurls Talk, the amount of people who have reached out with their own stories has been overwhelming. I feel just a huge responsibility to give back, because I dealt with these dark experiences and was able to learn and grow from them; I came out the other side, and not everyone gets that chance.
What are your long-term goals for Gurls Talk?
The goal is to get women to speak openly about their experiences. I’ve had people write to me and sometimes the subject matter is dark or sad, but often they aren’t looking for answers or a solution, they just want someone to talk to. That is exactly what it is all about. I want women to talk about their experiences without fear or judgment. I don’t think you have to be a counselor to talk about what you’ve been through and experienced. It’s starting a conversation and giving a space where these girls can be heard and communicate with each other about the issues relevant to them. Instead of it coming from someone superior like a teacher, they get to speak with someone on the same level, a woman or girl they can relate to.
I had this very English, pessimistic view that I would have to wait until I was much older to start this, but I spoke to a friend in L.A. and they were like, “You just have to do it now.” That gave me the confidence. Long-term, the dream is to have my own space, a place where girls can come, but by the end of 2016, early 2017, I’ll be working with a few schools where I can go in weekly and do these workshops with them. That is the first bit, and I’m really looking forward to that.
Instagram served as a starting point for Gurls Talk—how do you navigate social media?
I went off Instagram for a year and a half, two years. I was in the process of rethinking everything I thought I was for the first time in my life. Posting pictures of this almost fake world was contradicting what was going on in my life in that moment. I needed time away from it to think about how I wanted to use social media. I do think that if you do it in the right way it can send a message to so many people from all different people from so many walks of life, but I’m glad I waited that long.
You identify as a feminist. How has feminism impacted your work as a model?
It’s allowed me never to feel compelled to do things that I don’t want to do. I’ve been lucky, due to the way I was raised and the situations I’ve been in, that when I go into these fashion shoots and meet new photographers or collaborate with people, I’ve never felt obliged to do anything I don’t want to do. I haven’t been pressured to take my top off or pose in a way that I’m not comfortable with, nor have I felt the need do those things. I’m very grateful for the experiences I’ve had in fashion and that I’ve been able to stick to my guns about the way I’d like to be presented.
I’m a lot stronger now than I used to be, but only now have I been able to look at some of the rejection I faced as a model and how that affected me. Only now that I’ve been forced to really take a hard look at myself have I understood the impact of that. Being judged based on how you look can be difficult, and it definitely affected me and the way I look at myself. It’s changing now and that is wonderful—girls are able to show their personalities and their true selves.
I call myself a feminist and I’m proud to say that, but I think the modern-day feminist can be anyone. It can be a model on the cover of a magazine, it can be a mother of five, it can be a working woman, a woman who chooses to stay at home, a woman who decides not to shave her armpits in protest—it really can be anyone drawn to the idea of equality. I really think it is about doing things for yourself and not being held back by what society views as appropriate.