Modeling, Empowerment, and New Femininity with Adesuwa Aighewi
I would say the new generation of women are fearless... All those rules have gone out of the conversation now. Women are in charge, women have taken charge of their own lives.
Adesuwa Aighewi is the thoughtful voice of a new generation of model. Raised between Nigeria and the US, she was discovered in 2010 on her college campus, and quickly climbed the ranks of fashion’s elite, modeling in major campaigns for luxury brands.
But it is Adesuwa’s outspokenness about fashion industry issues and causes that matter to her — like empowerment for young women in Africa — that have earned her a reputation as a fearless leader of social change.
We talked with Adesuwa behind-the-scenes at our campaign shoot about navigating the fashion world, her inspirations, and vision for new femininity.
Perfect Number: What do you wear for a typical day in your life?
Adesuwa Aighewi: I wear whatever makes me feel comfortable, strong, whatever reflects me. So it depends on how I feel that day… how I feel, that’s how I dress.
PN: What kind of clothing makes you feel most yourself?
AA: I could wear anything and feel like myself, because I feel like I’m not one-dimensional. There are so many sides of me. I remember coming to the States, and I wear baggy clothes, and everyone assumes I’m a lesbian. Why does me wearing baggy clothes equate to me being a lesbian? If you liked me, you like me for who I am inside, not for my physical garments. I could wear a miniskirt and wanna be a sexy lady and flirt, I could wear a hoodie, I could wear whatever. I think it’s about how you carry yourself that shows who you are, it’s not your clothes that show who you are.
PN: How do you feel that society’s perception of beauty is changing?
AA: I think now it’s more about your personality than the physical, which is tight. For me, everybody is attractive. I think it’s about interesting character — I like that about modeling, that’s why I’m here.
PN: When you think of a new generation of women, what qualities come to mind?
AA: I would say the new generation of women are fearless, and a lot of the clothes that we had to be in before don’t exist anymore. All those rules have gone out of the conversation now. Women are in charge, women have taken charge of their own lives. They’re saying, “I don’t want to shave my armpits because some guy invented that concept eons ago,” or “I don’t feel the need to wear mini skirts and sexualize myself to get attention.” I think there’s been sort of a revolution of the mind, wherein women and men, everyone, they’re just saying “no more old rules. I wanna do whatever I wanna do.” So the new woman is a blend of every different kind of thing you would never expect a woman to be. A lot of different juxtaposing characteristics are coming together.
PN: Do you think about femininity or womanhood in your identity?
AA: I never thought about that concept. I was fortunate to have parents who were very free and liberating, and they’re also not American, so a lot of the trends that people follow from American standards, they never followed. I grew up on my own rules of what a woman should be: My dad raised me as a guy, but my mom’s super feminine, so they raised me as this perfect blend of people.
PN: That was forward-thinking of them. Gender is shifting and becoming more fluid…
AA: My agent just had a baby and I gave the baby a pink elephant, but it’s a boy. I don’t believe in these color blocks, like who made these, it doesn’t make any sense! Why should I pick pink because I’m a girl? I’m all for it, because I think we should all be free. My boyfriend wears my clothes… I’m all about liberation and freedom and not living in boxes… I do think we as a society need to have these conversations of understanding and talking about how we’re feeling.
PN: So it’s a personal choice?
AA: It is a personal choice. A lot of these things are personal choices, they shouldn’t be a political statement, it’s ridiculous. Your president shouldn’t be telling you who to marry, there are countries that are telling women they shouldn’t wear hijabs — how dare you? Did you know the history of why women wear hijabs? It was because they were getting like, raped and killed, so they adjusted. I don’t understand why it would be a male politician’s platform to say you can’t wear a hijab. That’s wild.
PN: Our campaign is largely about this idea that everyone feels like they can comment on women and put pressure on them. How do you relate to being the center of attention?
AA: I mentally remove myself from it. Contrary to popular belief, I do not like attention. I have to say, OK, time to turn on and turn off. I quite like my alone time. When you’re exposed to too many variables, you tend to lose yourself, because there’s no quiet in your head. In order to balance my sanity, I like to hide, and come in and out.
PN: Do you feel responsible for being a role model to others?
AA: I started modeling as my selfish way of being able to make money and provide for myself while figuring out what I want to do with my life. Modeling isn’t a field where you can work really hard and get to the top, it’s a game of chance and luck and circumstances. Now that I’m doing well, it’s like, even if I post something on Instagram, it can’t be like before — in my mind, Instagram is like a giant text message to me and my friends, so I post memes, and don’t take it too seriously, because everything should be fun… But there is a responsibility, and if you have a platform, it comes with it. You do have a duty to be a good role model, however, I do say this: it’s not my job.
PN: Who do you want to be a role model to?
AA: Being a role model is a good thing, and it’s difficult at times, because people expect so much, but the thing is, they’re imposing their views on you. I am myself, I can’t please everybody. I do take it with honor, in the sense of being a role model to my fellow Africans. I want to do good so I can show even Africans who are uneducated there’s a light at the end of the tunnel…. I don’t want to be a role model in fashion, because it’s not up to you to gain success. I want to be a good leader by being my own person and promoting education.
PN: Who do you look to as a role model?
AA: Rest in peace, Kofi Annan, he was the president of the UN. Also, my father… my father’s so dope. I didn’t know about racism till I was 13 and came to the States. Can you imagine? Like I’d never heard of it. Even then, I’d be like, hey dad, I’m the only black girl in my class, and he’d say, “that’s amazing, you get to shine,” and I was like, you’re right. He never saw the darkness that the world imposed upon my skin tone. He was literally like, whatever you want to do, you’re gonna do. Which is why when I came to the States it was such a mind-fuck, because I’m black. All these concepts in the States or in the West, they’re ridiculous. When you spend time in a third-world country you realize most of the woes of first-world countries are ridiculous: like, why are you telling someone how to dress? The hive brain, that’s what I call it when people are like, “these are the trends, you should do this, blah blah.” Why?
PN: What is your favorite imperfection about yourself?
AA: Just me as an entity, I think I’m hilarious. Nothing about me makes sense, at all. I think it’s so tight. I think when you’re a bunch of different things, people think yeah, she just does whatever she wants. I think that I’m perfectly, imperfectly free — I just do everything, and people are like, that’s chaos, but I’m living this life. What are you doing?