Adwoa Aboah has walked in runway shows for Burberry and Versace, has appeared on the covers of Vogue Italia and Time, and currently fronts beauty campaigns for Giorgio Armani Fragrances and Revlon. But for years, behind the high-glam parties and photo shoots, Aboah had been battling depression and addiction, which brought her to a life-threatening low in 2015.
Since then she’s opened up about her trials and subsequent efforts to live with compassion and optimism: “I started being kinder to myself,” she says. “I look after myself and make time for things that fill my heart and soul.” She’s encouraging other women to do the same as the founder of Gurls Talk, a nonprofit designed to empower through open communication. Here, Aboah gets real about loving yourself and finding a new kind of confidence.
You’ve been so candid about your struggles. Does putting it all out there feel freeing?
Completely. The most empowering thing has been owning the flaws and being honest and open about the place I’m in, whether I’m happy or sad. Being true to myself is what keeps me sane. If I’m heartbroken, I sit in that feeling and see it as a challenge I need to get over, which I find quite exciting because before, I would run away from it. Everything seems a lot less scary when you’re being yourself.
You’ve opened major runway shows and landed coveted campaigns. Does self-confidence come easier now?
I started working on myself way before my career began taking off, and I still do that every day. There have been times when these things I’ve always wished for have come my way, so I definitely have moments when I [bask] in that success and that pride. But it changes – with my moods, with the weather, with how tired I am. There are days I walk onto set and I feel like a million bucks, but there are [days] when something as simple as not fitting into a dress can make me think the most awful things about myself. I still have times when I don’t know why I’m there. I have to take it back [to the root cause]: Maybe I haven’t slept enough, or maybe I’m not eating well.
Credit: Chris Moore/Catwalking/Getty Images
How do you find your groove again during a day like that?
It’s getting back to my routine, going to the gym, sleeping in my own bed. It’s seeing friends – but it’s also not seeing friends, because I very much appreciate my own space and time. Sometimes I isolate for the wrong reasons, but sometimes I really need it. The most beautiful thing is being aware of everything as I’m going through it.
Do you think there’s pressure in the fashion industry to slap on a smile even when you’re not feeling it?
When you go on set, you have to be switched on and look this way or that. It’s quite exhausting if you aren’t feeling [it]. There’s no room if you have a bad day or you’re bloated because you’re on your period. But I’m quite honest with the people I work with if I need to take a break once in a while.
Through Gurls Talk you’ve created a support network for so many. What advice would you give to a young woman struggling with self-esteem?
I say to my friends a lot, “We’ve got to be gentle with ourselves.” We can be so harsh. We would never be that way with a family member or a friend, but when it comes to ourselves, we’re quick to point out our faults. It’s a daily chore to feel self-confident, and it definitely comes with self-love.
You’ve hosted packed events in New York and London. What’s next for Gurls Talk?
I’m so blown away by what it is now. We’ll have more events. And we’ll keep giving a platform to people to share their stories. We’ll continue to build a community. It’s good to use social media, but [getting to connect] in person is brilliant. Gurls Talk is my support system.