Flower power

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Award-winning blogger and author Chidera Eggerue has won legions of fans for her positive messages on female empowerment and body confidence. We caught up with the Peckham-born powerhouse as her first book is released

 Words Emma Finamore; Photo (c) Vicky Grout

The word “influencer” gets used a lot these days, whether it’s to describe people promoting brands on Instagram, beauty vloggers recommending the latest mascara on YouTube, or clean eating bloggers posting their favourite kale recipes. Chidera Eggerue, however, can genuinely claim the word as her own. And – more importantly – she uses her position as a force for good.

The 23-year-old from Peckham has been making waves in the blogging world for the past few years now, gaining a seriously high profile as a positive young voice when it comes to body confidence.

She has just been included in the Dazed 100 list (Dazed magazine’s annual list of “people whose time is now”), and is about to release her first book encouraging people to embrace solitude.

Chidera’s blog – The Slumflower – has grown from a fashion blog into a full-blown movement. It started in 2014, during a period when fashion blogging was becoming “the thing” among affluent (usually white) women.

“I could never be or feel like them”, says Chidera. “There were not enough black women in blogging, or students with no money, so I started doing it myself.”

The Slumflower was inspired by a short film of the same name by creative agency Street Etiquette, about the misconceptions about public housing. It centres around a 10-year-old boy who finds beauty and growth in the midst of concrete, taking inspiration from films like Spike Lee’s Clockers (1995) or seminal New York rapper Nas’ Nas is Like” (1999).

Chidera related to that idea, of a “a rose growing from concrete”. Her blog says: “This concept of beautifully growing, glowing and flourishing in an environment that mainly appears to promote the opposite, especially being a predominantly black neighbourhood which is currently undergoing heavy gentrification.”

Her first shoot was in Catford, put together with the help of a group of artistic friends who briefly formed a creative collective called Asylum 33. But as Chidera grew, she decided she had to strike out alone.

“I think becoming too reliant on other people in a group would be detrimental,” she says. “It was so scary but I’m glad I took all those risks, choosing to go with my gut.”

She was right to choose that way. Her hugely successful blog has gone on to address the subjects of female empowerment, self-confidence, self-love, black hair, fashion and self-exploration.

A post from last summer, titled “Letter to my future self” is not only a celebration of her own achievements and what she can look forward to, but is a must-read for any young person: a reflection on hard work, focusing on personal successes, a reminder to ignore negative forces, and motivation to work hard and work better.

The post reads: “You’re often told that you’re wise beyond your years but it took a lot of pain for you to get here. You’re scared of settling for a mediocre life so you live every single day loudly, fruitfully and proudly. Why? Because we are all dying slowly.

“You know what’s the biggest motivation? Leaving ungrateful people behind. There’s no greater teacher than loss. You’ve learnt to be confident enough to walk away from those who find it hard to make room for you. Because in the end, you’ll never miss what’s meant for you.

“You’ve decided that you want to stop repeating your toxic traits and instead, start making peace with your past. Less over-thinking, more water-drinking. Less cakes, more kale. If you learnt something, it was never a fail. Continue to be kind. Kindness never goes to waste.

“This time next year, you’ll be plotting world domination at the dinner table with Michelle Obama,” the last line of the post reads. “She doesn’t know it yet, but she needs your help.”

Chidera could have been looking into a crystal ball when she wrote this statement – the world seems to have been crying out for her assistance, and now they’ve got it they’re not letting go.

The Slumflower has featured on BBC News, BBC Three, ITV, CNN and Radio 4; and in magazines and websites like i-D, Glamour, Huffington Post, Stylist and Time Out. Chidera has appeared at Afropunk festival and Tate and has presented at the Mobo awards.

Elle magazine dubbed her the “Millennial mastermind”, while Dazed said: “The Peckham native is this generation’s agony aunt.” Teen Vogue said: “Chidera is most focused on getting a message of body positivity across to women.”

Cosmopolitan magazine shortlisted Chidera in its Cosmopolitan Influencer Awards in April as the year’s top “disruptor/changemaker”, alongside other high-profile and international names.

Asked why she thinks she was nominated for that particular award, she laughs: “Because I’ve been causing a lot of trouble… the good kind. Men feel uncomfortable about it.”

As well as empowering women to love their bodies (#saggyboobs and everything) Chidera has been vocal about women in straight relationships needing to be more comfortable and prioritise themselves.

She reaches people on a very personal level through her blog and various appearances, and due to social media (she has 153,000 followers on Instagram alone) her fans and followers are able to reach back to her.

As we chat, Chidera receives a direct message on Instagram from a follower, which says: “I was saving up for a boob job and after seeing your interview and listening to your words I spent it all on lingerie instead! You’re beautiful and inspiring.”

“This happens daily,” she says, and it clearly means a lot to her to hear from readers. “People are starting to view things in a different way, and actually it’s often older women.

“It just takes one person to do it and you start to deprogramme people, tip everything upside down. And it’s not about ‘fake boobs versus real boobs’ – everyone can be involved, any boob-bearing person can join in!”

Next on Chidera’s list of taboos to smash down is solitude, or rather the modern person’s fear of solitude. Her book, What a Time to be Alone: The Slumflower’s guide to why you are already enough, was published on July 26.

Taking its name from a play on the phrase “what a time to be alive”, it hopes to encourage readers not only to get over their fear of being alone, but to enjoy it, embrace it and use it.

“The Slumflower will be your life guru, confidante and best friend,” goes the blurb in the book. “She’ll show you that being alone is not just OK: it’s just about the best freaking thing that’s ever happened to you.”

“It’s about normalising solitude,” Chidera says. “Your company is just as important as anyone else’s. You should be your favourite person to hang out with, especially women.

“Smartphones make it harder to be alone now, we get a quick serotonin boost from them, but we end up checking our notifications rather than checking ourselves – everyone makes that mistake.

“Everything has a microwave solution, but what I’m trying to encourage is to work on yourself: push yourself to find answers by asking yourself the questions you’re afraid to ask.

“We often have so much angst and frustration, but people don’t know who to direct it at, we need to put things down and look at ourselves. My book is a mirror: it won’t do the work for you, but it will help you get there.”

The book features proverbs Chidera’s Nigerian mother has told her over the years, to help teach her solid life lessons. She says her favourite is one about a rat that sees a lizard happily running out into the rain, the drops of water running off its scaly skin.

The rat – thinking it will fare the same – eagerly follows the lizard out into the rain, but because it has fur, not scales, it gets soaked through and can’t move. The lesson? “Be mindful of the kind of people who influence you,” smiles Chidera.

It’s especially interesting when thinking about this from Chidera’s point of view as an influencer. “I do make an effort to live by example,” she says. “Be all the things I encourage people to be, literally using myself as a test. I put myself in certain scenarios.”

One place she never has to test herself though, where she always feels comfortable, is her hometown of Peckham. She has fond memories of Nunhead Cemetery, Kings on the Rye and getting penny sweets from Woolworths, where Sports Direct is now.

Chidera still spends a lot of time here, rating PeckhamPlex for its reasonable prices and friendly vibe, John the Unicorn as a good place to grab a drink, and all the hair and beauty shops – especially Pak’s for natural haircare products and hair extensions.

“I feel mainly positive about the changes in Peckham recently,” she says. “I feel like a bit of a veteran though, I miss when it wasn’t so hyped.”

Something Chidera is hyped about is her new book. “I’m so, so excited about it coming out,” she laughs. “I want to inspire a shift in the way people talk about mental health, and to make solitude great again.” And what better young woman to take up that mission.

 

 

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