You might know Chidera Eggerue as The Slumflower, the British-Nigerian blogger who fuses fashion and politics on her award-winning blog. Maybe you know her as the woman who inadvertently started a social movement around body positivity when she typed #SaggyBoobsMatter on an Instagram caption. Eggerue also just released a book called What A Time To Be Alone which is a colourful guide to self love and acceptance peppered with Igbo proverbs and beautiful design and illustration. We chatted to Eggerue about the book and what it’s like to be a woman in a capitalist patriarchy.
When did you first become interested in the connection between politics, gender and fashion?
That first began when I was about 21 and I found that the world didn’t look like what it needed to look like. I noticed that through my interactions with men, my interactions with other women, my interactions with grown ups. I felt like I was totally misunderstood and invisible yet highly visible at the same time. That conflict was something that I thought would be really important to our conversation.
You started a movement on social media when you captioned your Instagram photo #SaggyBoobsMatter and the message behind the hashtag is completely inspiring. Did you expect the message to touch so many people and spread so far so fast?
I really didn’t. I was so shocked when it picked up so much momentum. When I first started to have the discussion, I was just frustrated about the ways that women’s bodies are discussed – and not just on the internet, but in real life and from hearing how people around me talked about their own bodies. I thought this was something we needed to talk about because it was something that affected me pretty much my whole life. If I’m someone who has an issue with my boobs, I thought I can’t be the only one who feels this way. There must be a way that we can have a larger conversation about this, there must be a way to approach this in a way that I can engage and involve other people.
That was when I typed a random caption on my Instagram and decided to end it with #SaggyBoobsMatter. Women have been indoctrinated with this fear that if we aren’t married or in some sort of companionship with a man then we have failed and we’re not good enough. I really wanted to challenge that, and a lot of that idea comes from the way society views our bodies and if we’re desirable enough. #SaggyBoobsMatter is to encourage women to see that they’re more than just their bodies. They’re actual human beings with stories and experiences and opinions that deserve to be heard and seen and loved rather than just bodies to be desired.
The #SaggyBoobsMatter movement goes beyond just boobs. It addresses the expectations that are put on women about how our bodies are supposed to look. Why do you think it’s important to counter those standards or create our own standards?
Society has been built on a system known as patriarchy which allows men to have way more power than any other group. As much as men created this system, they’re still ironically victims of it. Men do deal with body image issues and insecurity issues that are absolutely valid but then it’s not the job of women to deconstruct that. It’s the job of men to say: I’m complicit in reinforcing a system that, not just harms women but, harms men too. I’ve got to be willing enough to do the work by myself and figure out where this fear of losing power comes from and why I feel the need to dominate people to feel like a worthy human being.
Let’s say, for example, men and women go on a first date together. I’m sure the man’s biggest worry will be what if she doesn’t like me? The woman’s biggest worry will be, what if he murders me? There are two very different levels of power interacting here. In any of these conversations to do with men’s insecurities and women’s insecurities, we have to make sure that power dynamics are heavily considered in the discussion because they’re not equal. For the world to be safer for everybody, men need to address their demons.
With women, of course, the pressure on how we’re supposed to look is more prevalent. We are seen as objects that need to be consumed. It means that we adapt the way we see ourselves around the male gaze. We make decisions based on how they will be perceived by men. Men get to think less about how they will be perceived by women.
Some people might say that politics and fashion are not related and should be addressed separately. You fuse them, does this draw any criticism?
I get people trying to tell me that I should speak less about politics because it makes me appear angry. For a woman, being angry automatically means that you’re less desirable. People assume that being desired is at the top of my priorities when it really isn’t because, for me, what’s most important is that I desire myself. If someone desires me as a person who desires and values myself, then it means that person has a high level of desire for their own self too and we’re already in good territory. But coming across as desirable is one of the least of my worries because my job is not to be desirable and that’s something that is, again, forced on women.
For men, I don’t see that conditioning as much. I don’t see that men are told that they’ve got to make sure they’re good looking and perfect because they were taught that the world is theirs. All they need to do is secure a job, have some money, have great jokes and they will get someone who is willing to serve them and look after them for the rest of their lives.
What A Time To Be Alone, to me, is a beautiful guide cultivating to self love and realising that we are enough. Why did you decide to write a book like What A Time To Be Alone?
I want people to use the book as a mirror that they can hold up in front of themselves and be able to address their own behaviours. This book isn’t designed to “fix” anybody; the purpose is to encourage you to understand that you have enough tools to start where you are right now to address your issues and take those necessary steps towards improving your relationship with yourself. That’s important because we all don’t really know where to start and it’s terrifying to give up on that journey of learning and growing yourself. That’s why the book hasn’t got page numbers either. I want people to be able to start where they are, to open the book on any page and finds something that they connect with. The whole point of self-improvement is to start now with what you have and not wait for the January 1, 2019.
Tell me a bit about your journey to self-acceptance and love?
My journey towards self-acceptance came from me spending majority of my teenage years hating myself and feeling that I’m never going to be good enough to be loved. I had to understand that you don’t have to earn anybody’s love you just need to show up for yourself. By showing up for yourself, that means understanding that you’re a fallible, flawed person but you’re trying. Every single person is a mess but you can endeavour to be the best, tidiest most refined mess you can be. Then you will be able to have a much healthier relationship with yourself and a much healthier outlook on life.
My aim is not to be perfect, it’s to try and shed as much of the conditioning that’s been imposed on me. Everyone needs to understand that detaching from the conditioning we’re all under is an emergency and isn’t something we can afford to lazily approach. We’ve got to do it for ourselves and understand that nobody is free until everybody’s free. We all have a responsibility to challenge things we benefit from in society and ask ourselves who we are in this position, how we benefit, who it harms when something great happens for or to us because that’s pretty much how capitalism works. We need to ask ourselves what we can do to be more conscious about the way we participate in capitalism – because we can’t absolutely obliterate it by ourselves.
What was your vision with the book – did you envision combining the Igbo proverbs and the original artwork from the beginning?
All the illustrations and photography in the book have been done by me. My team at my publisher helped me to lay it all out properly and make sure the words are hard hitting and the quotes are perfectly place. I really wanted the book to be an exciting way for people to approach reading. I really wanted it to be an experience, I didn’t just want it to be a book of words that could connect with you. I wanted people to enjoy reading again because for personally, I’ve got a weak attention span when it comes to reading books and I find that if a book doesn’t excite me visually there’s less of a chance that I will finish it. And so I wanted every page be something that stimulates all the senses and allows the message to sink in better.
Why did you decide to include the specific Igbo proverbs in your book? What significance do these specific ones have to you?
I’m Nigerian and Igbo and I wanted to introduce that side of me to the world. Before anything, I’m Nigerian woman. I’m black British but I identify more with being Nigerian because that’s my home, that’s the cultures and values that I’ve been raised in. Proverbs are really important because they are a traditional way of passing down really important messages. Why they’re so impactful, is because they allow you to relay certain messages without over explaining. They use simple examples that pretty much anyone who lives in this world for long enough can grasp like animals, nature and everyday items.
What has the response been to your book so far?
The response has been amazing. To this day, I have peoples send me pictures of pages that connect to them, I’ve had people tell me they’ve written some of the pages they connected with into post it notes that put them on their walls. I’m so proud and grateful that the book’s been able to reach so many people because this is what I wanted. I wanted to initiate a conversation that holds substance and let’s people take some time to think of the issues addressed in the book. These are problems that we’re going to keep having as human beings in different forms. I want to allow people to access clarity through the book and be able to reclaim their own power.
Images courtesy of Jonathan Ball Publishers