"As a woman who loves herself, I know who I am," Chidera Eggerue says. Eggerue, also known as The Slumflower, is an author, influencer and brand ambassador who embodies the notion that self-love is a radical political act.
If you are a woman and a child of the 1980s, this language of "self-love" might be slightly unsettling. For some, the term "love yourself" was once shorthand for criticism. To love yourself was to somehow be "up yourself" – a common criticism in a pervasive narrative in which women were routinely taught to self-edit their words and appearance. Do anything, be anything, buy into anything; just don't be yourself.
Eggerue is actively challenging this narrative as a vibrant cultural force who extends her passions far beyond the traditional confines of an "influencer". The award-winning author of What a Time to be Alone and creator of body-confidence campaign #SaggyBoobsMatter is the antithesis of a stereotypical "influencer" selling her soul for a skinny tea.
As a leading voice in the burgeoning self-love movement, Eggerue has not only fronted advertising campaigns for brands such as Adidas, but she has also helped ignite a global conversation about self-acceptance. Eggerue is successfully writing a new narrative about being a woman who loves herself and what that means for brands that may have historically targeted products to women on the basis that they can't simply be who they are.
Overcoming the fear
"What it means to be a woman is an ever-shifting concept. It is all rigged and if you try to play along with it, you will end up in despair," Eggerue muses. "Even today, there are women who are against women being bold."
Yet for Eggerue, now is an important and exciting time to make your voice heard. "You don’t lose anything by being yourself, but still there is this narrative in the media that if you are too opinionated, if you are in some way too much, you won’t succeed. But you cannot make decisions based on fear."
She urges women to think about their long-term aspirations and to be strategic in order to choose the future they want to have.
Eggerue’s empire was built on her decision to reject the insecurites she felt about her body. "I remember being 14 and feeling so self-conscious about my boobs. I carried that insecurity around with me every day," she recalls. When she was 17, she told her mother she wanted cosmetic surgery.
Yet, out of that insecurity, Eggerue built something beautiful. The #SaggyBoobsMatter campaign was a response to online criticism she received from a picture she posted. Out of judgment and hate speech, she created a movement for self-acceptance.
Aged 23, Eggerue used the opportunity to start a conversation with people insulting her appearance. "When you exist in a natural form, you are open to crictism, but I had to leave the baggage behind," she explains. By loving parts of herself that society and culture taught her to hate, she has taught her followers the value of self-acceptance.
‘I am not your role model’
Despite her success, Eggerue is clear that she does not see herself as a "role model" – a term she believes is used to dehumanise anyone with a public profile. She explains: "When a woman is in a fight, or pictured drunk falling out of a club, people will say: 'What does this say about all women?' We always have to speak for all women and I don’t accept that."
In the world of social media, where even influencers with the best intentions can be criticised for perceived wrongdoing, Eggerue warns against policing who has the right to be a feminist or to express themselves. "Some people think that in order to qualify as a feminist, you need to have read all these books," she says. "Don’t use academics as a stick in the same way that beauty standards have been used to exclude women and tell them you don’t belong here."
Like many influencers, Eggerue has found herself on the recieving end of social media’s notoriously cruel calling-out culture. From criticism of her financial success to the choice of her outfits, she has been in the epicentre of too many backlashes too count.
Eggerue believes a lot of work needs to be done when it comes to addressing toxic online cultures: "Imagine saying what they are saying to me to a four-year-old – you are a terrible writer, you shouldn’t have what you have… it goes on." Eggerue says that while status validation from people you admire delivers an endorphin rush, if you are not careful it will chew away at your self-esteem.
"Rage is an important emotion. It enables you to get shit done, but it can remove the room you need to get to the bottom of something," she says. "We need to reassess intentions when it comes to call-out culture."
The inhumanity of influence
On the forefront of a new wave of influence in a nascent industry, Eggerue describes navigating this new career path as akin to being involved in a "clinical trial". She explains: "The irony is you can have all these followers, but it is incredibly isolating. Being an influencer means something different to each person. Someone with very few influencers can still be very influential to a small number of people."
At times, influencer culture can be very difficult to participate in. "People expect you to have responsibilities that they wouldn’t expect from a normal person. They turn you into a brand, an idea, a concept. It’s dehumanising," she adds.
Yet Eggerue has her two feet planted firmly on the ground: "I think true love is living life on your own terms while minimising your negative impact on the world around you. Make room for yourself to be a full, fluid human being that doesnt have to be an opinion machine."
Representation is just the start
For Eggerue, making room for herself include investing the time and energy in writing a bestselling book, despite being a self-described "terrible reader" as a child.
An action-oriented approach is at the heart of her creative ethos. "Everyone can be a writer; everyone has a story and a journey," she says. "What stops us is the belief we are not good enough readers or writers, when we just need to start."
For the marketing and advertising industries, which often fail to capture and reflect the true diversity of society in their work, Eggerue advocates an equally action-oriented change.
"It is one thing being seen, but it is about more than that," she says. "Representation isn’t where it ends. I’m glad more brands are taking heed [of the need for diversity] and I'm hopeful we see people as fully formed human beings, not identity stereotypes or hashtags."
Eggerue would like to see more brands give their money to people working in grassroots organisations and communities: "There is so much more that brands can do with a ‘diverse’ campaign. I want to see more brands do more than simply insert a few diverse identities into their campaigns."
Raising the bar
It is all too easy for traditional media platforms to dismiss influencer marketing as a superficial, selfie-obsessed race to the bottom. Yet the impact that Eggerue has made reflects how this new wave of more diverse influencers don't just have a voice, but they also actively shape culture and brand campaigns. In effect, The Slumflower wants marketing to raise the bar.
"Slowly, brands will catch on," she says. "The fear tactics don’t work any more. Women aren’t as scared any more."
This is a shift that she sees as "liberating" for fashion, culture and advertising: "Once you stop being scared and you take away that fear element, what does that mean for advertising, what does that mean for masculinity, what does that mean for fashion?"
Eggerue says that now is the time to challenge the status quo. "I’m not going to accept that narrative of fear. I am not simply going to take what I am given. I ask myself: is this thing, person or opportunity going to take me closer to the person I deserve to be?
"Standards allow us to dictate the life we want for ourselves. We aren’t prepared to compromise."
Picture credit: @rachelsherlockphotography