IF THE name Chidera Eggerue, aka The Slumflower, aka the driving force behind social media campaign #SaggyBoobsMatter, means nothing to you, chances are you’re not a millennial female active on social media. But while that particular demographic might be ahead of the curve, expect the rest of the world to be catching up pretty soon. Because at 23, Eggerue is already being described as a ‘millennial mastermind’, someone ‘on a mission’ and ‘a badass woman set to make waves’.
And she’s got the numbers to prove it — more than 159,000 followers on Instagram, more than 60,000 on Twitter and a TED Talk to her name. What’s more, Eggerue’s just written a book, What A Time To Be Alone, which is part manifesto for self-worth, part Nigerian proverbs (courtesy of her mother), part journal of discovery and part self-help manual. It is, she says ‘written for all recovering over-thinkers who are tired of revisiting certain events and wishing they’d behaved differently, who feel they are too sensitive for the world and want to create change’.
A desire to ‘create change’ is what spawned a campaign that captured the imagination of many women.
‘#SaggyBoobsMatter was created because around the age of 14 or 15, when I started caring about wearing bras, I’d go to be fitted and even when I was given the correct bra, my boobs still didn’t look as perky as the woman’s on the packaging — I felt they were too saggy and ugly,’ she says.
‘At 19, I decided to stop wearing a bra and I got so much backlash — they were “too saggy”, “slipper boobs”, I was told only girls with smaller boobs could “get away with it”. I wanted to open up a larger conversation about how we view women’s bodies and why the world feels entitled to that policing. The purpose is to encourage women to see themselves not as beautiful or sexy but as bodies that deserve to be lived in, not objects to be consumed.’
This is what lies at the heart of her philosophy: we’re all individuals, with our own strengths and weaknesses, and in order to be happy we have to be happy with ourselves — and that means getting to know ourselves, which isn’t always easy. ‘Not a lot of people are prepared to be that introspective,’ she says.
At a time when there seems to be a backlash against a dating culture of swiping, a book telling women it’s OK to be alone seems unnecessary. But Eggerue says social media has led to a renaissance in societal pressure to couple up. ‘There are engagement rings on social media all the time,’ she says, ‘but that’s about more than just a picture of a ring and “I said yes”, it’s about being vulnerable enough to relinquish control and being prepared to welcome a person in their entirety with flaws they can’t change. A lot of women, including myself, are not ready for that.’
She is single and says she has ‘very, very low tolerance with straight men who are not socialised to be introspective and emotionally aware’, adding: ‘So when I engage with them on an emotional level, I find it very difficult and rarely ever stimulating.’
She rails against expectations that women have ‘got to be pretty, slim, perfect proportions, funny (but not too funny so you don’t intimidate him), smart (but not too smart so you don’t intimidate), have your own money (but not too much money so you won’t intimidate), willing to be looked after (but don’t depend too much on him)’.
Equally, she argues that to change that you have to take responsibility for your own role in it. ‘This isn’t victim blaming, this is accountability,’ she says. ‘This is knowing that if you don’t like the patterns you’re seeing, you need to not do one thing and do more of another to get a different result.’
Eggerue seems to epitomise a generation raised on social media — her campaigns are hashtags and she talks in sentences that sound like Instagram quotes. But underlying the broad brushstrokes, and the bluster, there are some solid truths — about self-respect, self-knowledge, compassion and boundaries — that, if we all grasped them as early as she has, would undoubtedly make us happier — and our society a better place.
The #NotAllMen backlash
Some have taken issue with Chidera Eggerue’s sweeping generalisations, arguing that her statements about men (see above and below) fail to acknowledge that they’re not a single homogeneous group and could alienate ‘the good guys’. She bats this away.
‘When people say #NotAllMen, it distracts from the point,’ she says. ‘You’re focusing on the minority who don’t behave in that way but not addressing the majority that do. Consciously or otherwise, you protect men and don’t progress the conversation to the welfare of women.
‘I’m not trying to win men over. If men can’t already see that it should be a priority to treat people with respect regardless of their gender, I don’t see the point in me wasting my time.’
Like many, I applaud her ultimate aim — to create a society where both men and women are allowed to be emotionally aware and mutually respectful. We just differ on the best means to achieve that end.
■ What A Time To Be Alone by Chidera Eggerue (Quadrille) is out now
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