I’m a black African woman, born in the UK and raised by Nigerian parents. My dad is Yoruba and my mum is Calabar - though, both Nigerian they’re from very different parts of Nigeria so it’s an interesting dynamic!
My mother is an incredibly principled woman, really hard-working, and was very strict when we were growing up. I grew up with 3 other sisters (no brothers), and she was always very particular about our education, keeping the house clean and not going out. Hot-tempered and passionate, those who know me would argue that I probably share a lot of similarities with my mum - (bar the not going out thing!) My dad on the other hand is quite the opposite. Always much calmer, soft-spoken, and lot more liberal growing up - I think it’s this ying-yang balance that’s kept them going so long.
I think most first-gen black British children are probably very familiar with the saying that we have to work 10 times harder than our white counterparts. It’s not necessarily a lie either because that’s almost exactly how it’s always been in any sector of work you go into - doesn’t make it right or fair but it is what it is. My mum worked as a microbiologist in Guys and St Thomas’s for years and later did the same in Basildon hospital when we moved to Essex. She never talked at length about the racism she experienced in the NHS but I do remember catching snippets of conversations with her and her black colleagues about their experiences with white managers and members of staff. As an adult, she would later recount a number of her experiences to me because she understood I was now in a place I could probably relate. Having said this, I grew up in Essex so sadly, I didn’t have to wait very long before I had my first experience of racism. I remember being in primary school and the older white kids would call me burnt toast among other things. There was much more in secondary school, and I got into a number of fights over it (some physical - I know it’s hard to imagine). One in particular that stuck with me, was an older white boy who would spit at me whenever he’d see me. Let’s just say, I wasn’t very nice when it happened the third time and after that - it never happened again! There were so many experiences of racism I had here as a child I could write a book about it - with several sequels.
I think I finally came into my own a bit by college. I went to a college where I was surrounded by black people and though intimidating, as I wasn’t used to that having gone to a mostly white school, it was so refreshingly freeing to interact with more people that looked like me and that also had a multitude of personalities. I met the musically talented creatives, the fashion-forward, the singers, the dancers, the book smart academics -so many multifaceted black people that made me feel like I fit in somewhere because there was a place for everyone. I’d say this experience was somewhat mirrored in uni and I’m so grateful for that experience because I left with a wonderful group of black women - now sisters for life.
The modeling industry is an interesting place to be as a black woman. Whilst we’ve seen an increasing demand for black models I still remember what it was like visiting agencies and being told with a straight face, “we already have a model that looks just like you” - Ha! - in an agency with 200 girls, 195 of whom would be white and the remaining 5 Asian and black. Though things have changed since then, it’s difficult not to sometimes feel like the ‘token black girl’ when you’re booked for jobs (great jobs!) - often times with “MUA’s” and “hair stylists” skilled only in the work of white skin and European hair. It’s getting better but I’ve had some horrific hair and makeup experiences in the past that would make you scream. You get this weird mixture of feeling grateful and lowkey mad at the same time. Like, why should I feel grateful if I’ve just been selected for the sake of fulfilling diversity requirements? Maybe I wasn’t selected for that reason and they really do just think I’m gorgeous or perfect for the concept but now I’m mad I even have to have this internal dialogue with myself! I’ll be honest and say that the night before a shoot is always a pretty restless one and the journey there the following morning is often filled with anxiety. Aside from the natural worries of wanting to do really well on the day that most models will experience, for black models there’s the - “What are they going to do to my hair?” “Is the MUA going to be able to do my makeup well?” and the rest. I can count on one hand the times I’ve had my hair and makeup was done by a black man/woman for a campaign or commercial booking...that’s a conversation for another day though.
A lot has changed and continues to change and I’m happy about that, but the industry here in the U.K. still has a long way to go.
The black woman experience is so unique in that I don’t actually think anyone else could ever relate. Ever. And actually it’s quite difficult to put into words - as I’m struggling to do so now. We as black women are so multifaceted - we do so much and we do it well. But with it has come centuries of suffering - continued suffering that we don’t deserve. Our experience shouldn’t be about suffering or being strong, I think we’re all tired of that. When I think of the extraordinary vessel that the black woman is, I see my mum. I just see my mum. I don’t think I can quite put into words what I mean in any other way, but I think most black women raised by black mothers will understand. The only thing I would change about that image is the one of suffering.
What am I proud of?
This question is always hard because - Imposter Syndrome - but alas, I’ll give it a go.
I’m proud of my son. I have a 3-year-old and he’s an amazing ball of energy, incredibly intelligent, cheeky, and fun. I’m proud that I didn’t quit modeling because I’m doing It. Like... actually doing it - and that’s exciting. I’m proud of the fact that I’m starting to take risks in life. I finally decided after God knows how long to actually get serious about starting my swimwear line and f*** me it’s so much fun. I can’t believe I didn’t start sooner! I don’t know, there’s probably a lot more I should be proud of, but when I think about where I am right now, this is it.