i-D : Adwoa Aboah Opens Up About Mental Health
As her Gurls Talk platform spreads a message of openness across Instagram and beyond, the 23-year-old model-activist talks honestly about struggling with depression, addiction and an attempted suicide before detailing how a chance encounter with a women's meeting inspired her to first help herself, and then, a world-wide-web of women.
While only 23-years old, Londoner Adwoa Aboah has already carved out a successful career as a model. She’s been photographed by Tim Walker for the cover of Italian Vogue, walked for Marc Jacobs and starred in the Calvin Klein Spring/Summer ‘16 campaign alongside the likes of FKA Twigs and Justin Beiber. And though she’s making waves in the fashion world for her unique beauty and style, it’s her second job as the founder of Gurls Talk that’s kicking up a storm.
Gurls Talk is an instagram community that aims to open up the conversation around mental health and addiction for teen girls by fostering mentoring and communication between peers. The idea came to Adwoa in 2014 after she emerged from rehab in Arizona after attempting suicide, it was during her recovery that she realised that not all girls have the resources to get help. Using the hashtag #letsgetgurlstalking, Adwoa spreads a larger message of openness for young women, a message she also plans on taking into local schools through workshops. Currently in the process of turning the Instagram account into a fully-fledged charity, we caught up with the inspirational model-activist from her home in Los Angeles.
What made you realise that you had to turn your life around?
I had just come out of psychiatric care, this was about a month after I had tried to commit suicide and it was a very sensitive period. My parents were stepping on eggshells, there was this fear that if I left the house that I would never return. That’s just what happens, you have to deal with the repercussions of what something like that will bring up in other people. But, I remember leaving the house and I found this meeting down the road and coincidentally it was a women’s meeting. I walked in and for the first time I thought I have to do this properly – I realised I couldn’t do it my own way anymore because that just doesn’t work – these women let me cry and be myself. It was the first meeting I ever did in my chair, which is where you tell your story and I think it was there that I just woke up.
Did those women’s meetings inspire Gurls Talk?
Definitely, the format was so simple just a group of women talking without any judgement. Someone could put their hand up and say, ‘I’m not really enjoying being a wife or a mother’ and there was no judgment in that room. Their raw sense of honesty inspired me to be more open and made me realise what I wanted to do.
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 so 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. Gurls Talk is everything I wanted at school but never got, so now it’s just my time, my responsibility to give it to others.
Do girls reach out to you on instagram?
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. I’ve met so many girls through Gurls Talk and they are some of my closest friends. We talk on a regular basis, they know everything about me and I know everything about them. It’s this weird online relationship, but it’s beautiful and I hope they feel as good as it makes me feel.
How do you find the balance between modelling and running Gurls Talk?
I’m so entirely grateful for modelling because it allows me to fund Gurls Talk. I’ve met so many wonderful people and get to do all these amazing things through modelling, but it does take me away from my main focus, which is Gurls Talk. Gurls Talk is my life – it’s always at the forefront of my mind and what I want to dedicate my life to.
As an advocate female solidarity, do you think feminism and fashion are compatible?
I think fashion needs feminism. I feel like they contradict themselves a lot of the time because people aren’t willing to work outside of the box and take risks. The fashion industry needs diversity, they need those conversations opened and be willing for those changes. There are so many unknown women out there doing such amazing things, who are so beautiful in so many different ways – wouldn’t it be amazing to put them on the cover instead of a girl who isn’t necessarily contributing anything to the world?
Do you think Gurls Talk has impacted your relationship with modelling?
I was around 16 when I first started modelling and it wasn’t really something I wanted to pursue, it just happened. I was lucky enough that it fell into my lap without me necessarily looking for it. But when you have a particular view about yourself, it doesn’t matter how many people tell you how beautiful you are unless you feel that about yourself. I spent so many years modelling thinking that I wasn’t good enough but that’s definitely changed now. If I stay true to myself, it hurts way less than pretending to be the person people want me to be. I have other things that I love and if someone doesn’t want to use me for a job, it hurts for a second but I don’t dwell on it anymore because I know I have a different journey that I need to take.
Adwoa Aboah by Nazanin Shahnavaz for i-D