'I wasn't white enough, nor was I black enough': Adwoa Aboah opens up about internalising shame as a teenager

Model says she ‘wanted so much to conform’ with everyone else

Sarah Young
Tuesday 21 July 2020 14:58 BST
Adwoa Aboah was 'appalled' by how 'uninclusive' British Vogue used to be

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Louise Thomas

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Adwoa Aboah has opened up about internalising shame as she was growing up.

In an open letter written for Elle magazine’s September issue, for which the model is also the cover star, Aboah discussed everything from mental health to the Black Lives Matter movement.

On growing up as a teenager, the British star, who was born to an English mother and Ghanaian-born father, said: “I wasn’t white enough, nor was I black enough.

“Boys weren’t into my braids, so I conformed – painfully relaxing my hair, which didn’t win them over either.”

Aboah also admitted that she struggled to fit in and wanted to conform and be like everyone else.

Discussing growing up, she said: “I’d watch from the sidelines as certain friends flourished in social situations, all carefree and glowing, while I quietly hid my insecurities and internalised my shame.

“I, like many others before and after me, never felt as though I fit in.”

Aboah continued: “I wanted so much to conform, to be like everyone else – something that today would be a massive detriment to my career but, at the time, was my deepest fantasy.”

The 28-year-old also opened up about the start of her modelling career and revealed that she often “put on a façade”.

(ELLE UK/ Liz Johnson Artur)
(ELLE UK/ Liz Johnson Artur)

“When I started receiving more attention and external validation, I hoped these superficial markers could carry me through,” she said.

“If I can just put on a façade and keep the messy feelings inside, I thought, they’ll magically disappear. Instead, they followed me into adulthood, compounding over time and pushing me to a dark breaking point.”

Aboah also addressed those graduating from college and university this year, stating how much she admired their ability to speak up when it matters.

“Between a global pandemic and the fight for racial justice, these are unprecedented times and I am floored by the strength and resilience that I'm seeing from your generation,” she said.

(ELLE UK/ Liz Johnson Artur)
(ELLE UK/ Liz Johnson Artur)

“You have been unapologetic and fearless leaders in the quest for equality and have stood up for the most marginalised communities, demonstrating that, indeed, All Black Lives Matter.”

The supermodel concluded by urging the younger generation to continue using their voices and find spaces that allow them to do so “without judgement or shame”.

“I previously did the opposite,” she said.

“I learned to not talk about things: the fears I had, that we all have. I wasn't able to articulate them. If I had opened up back then, I would have realised that these things were natural.”

Aboah has previously spoken out about the lack of diversity in the fashion industry and how she hopes to set an example for others.

Speaking about the importance of using her high-profile to make positive changes, Aboah told Refinery29: “I think my role in [the fashion industry] is just to be, like, f*****g authentic…to be unapologetically myself. I am myself through and through.

“And if that can set an example for others on their journey, then I think that that’s as good a message as any.”

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