It’s been a huge year for Chidera Eggerue, aka The Slumflower. The 23-year-old blogger started the ground-breaking movement #saggyboobsmatter encouraging women to challenge commonly-held body standards, presented a BBC Newsbeat documentary about young people and alopecia, and has written her first book. Ahead of the release of What A Time to be Alone this week, we caught up with her at South-East London hotspot Peckham Levels to talk about solitude, saggy boobs and big noses…
How did you come up with the moniker Slumflower?
I came across this duo called Street Etiquette that created this really beautiful project called Slumflower about this young boy who lived in the hood and really loved flowers. They highlighted a really delightful juxtaposition – the concept of a rose growing from concrete.
Your book is called What a Time to be Alone – what inspired that title?
It’s all about celebrating solitude. I feel like we’re in a generation where we’re so scared of being alone. We think that being alone means that you’re lonely, so what I aim to do with this book is actually transform the way that we view spending time with yourself. I want to encourage people to give themselves a chance and understand that there is so much value in your own company and if you manage to build it yourself you’ll find that you’ll have much more fruitful and healthy relationships with other people.
What is it about this generation that motivated you to write the book?
We’re definitely living in a time where notifications and distractions are at an all-time high, which means that when we do spend alone it’s often on our phones so we’re not really ultimately alone – we’re just looking at other people’s lives. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; I just think that it becomes a little bit toxic when you spend more time on others than yourself. It’s now time to look at ourselves, to centre ourselves and focus on ourselves. That isn’t selfish. Ultimately I think the better you treat yourself, the better you treat other people. The more you understand yourself, the more you can understand other people.
How does What a Time to be Alone differ from other books that address the topics of self-love, self-acceptance and female empowerment?
This book isn’t designed to fix you or give you the answer to all of life’s questions; this book is to help you ask questions. It’s to inspire you to look at yourself and be honest with yourself about feeling judged. I feel like with a lot of self-help books you feel this overwhelming pressure to have to have your life together after you’ve finished the book. What a Time to be Alone is straight to the point because that’s how I feel we should to talk to ourselves, so we don’t need to avoid certain truths that may hurt our feelings.
How have you developed that straight-talking tone of voice?
I try to separate myself from the mother-version of me and the child-version of me because we all have those two versions in ourselves. We tend to mollycoddle ourselves and really dwell and fester in our emotions. As much as it’s useful to give yourself room to feel your emotions in depth, it becomes unhealthy when you actually don’t take enough time to review and to draw conclusions based on the experience you’ve been through. The only way to do that is to be very clear about what’s happened and ask: ‘what can I learn from this?’ ‘How will this change me?’ ‘How will it influence the way I treat myself?’ ‘How will this impact the way I treat other people?’ We have to understand the best of you comes from your worst experiences and your worst decisions. The only way to access that best part of yourself is to do the work. You have to put your foot down and be your own parent.
Who is the book written for?
Anybody who feels like a recovering hypocrite. I refer to myself as one. A recovering hypocrite is someone who knows that they are a mess, but while they feel like they can be giving other people advice, they don’t take their own. It’s for anybody who is tired of being able to see all the wonderful things in the world but not being able to believe it.
Can you talk more about the structure of the book and how you imagine people engaging with it?
I wanted to divide it into three important stages: you; them; us. You refers to you directly, them is a part of the book that refers to human interactions and how we actually allow ourselves to influence the way others feel based on how we feel about ourselves, and us is about the fact that we’re all human ultimately and this experience isn’t easier for anybody. Instead of having chapters or a contents page, I wanted it to be something where you don’t feel like you’re left out of any part of it, that it can apply to you at whatever stage you are in life. I also really wanted this book to include a touch of my Nigerian heritage through the artwork that draws on Kente cloth. I wanted it to be visually exciting, I wanted reading to be fun again.
Along with the artwork, Igbo Nigerian proverbs structure the book – do you have a favourite?
There is one that says ‘he who is asking for the same haircut as John, does he have the same head shape as John?’ The reason that this is funny is because it’s saying if you want to have the same haircut as someone it’s not going to look the same on you if you don’t have the same head shape. In life, this translates to you can’t expect to have the same results if you’ve not had the same journey – your life won’t look the same!
You’re very open about discussing your personal appearance. What encourages you to do that on your social media accounts?
I’m motivated by the fact that I’m followed by so many young girls that are black and who have a face similar to mine. When I was 16 I needed that. For me, as a black girl with a big nose, I felt like to go and lie on a surgeon’s table and get my nose altered was a big decision to make. When I traced it back, this idea came from self-hate and the sense that if my nose was smaller more people would like me. I then had to realise that the right people will like you as you are and welcome you in your entirety because even if you have a smaller nose it would be something else that’s wrong. My nose has been passed down from generations, how can I hate something that’s so beautiful?! That nose represents the fact someone was alive and fell in love with someone else and they made someone who had this nose, then they had someone who had this nose. This nose is a story within itself and I have to respect, honour and treasure that.
How do you change the idea that being alone is not a negative experience?
For me the best use of my time is understanding that firstly, when you do spend time with yourself it isn’t time wasted because you’re learning about yourself from yourself. It’s an opportunity to review the things that are on my mind, review the things that make me happy: ‘why does this make me happy?’ ‘Where is this coming from?’ ‘Why does this make me sad?’ ‘Where is it coming from?’ ‘Why does this make me feel jealous?’ If something makes you feel jealous, don’t sweep it under the carpet: ask yourself why do I feel a sense of inadequacy because jealousy is a really important feeling to have. It’s all about making room for every feeling you have because the more you silence yourself the more chaos you’re creating.
What are your top tips for people who are scared to be alone?
Deliberately take yourself to the cinema and see that movie everyone is talking about – on your own. Challenge yourself to go to events on your own, don’t rely on a plus one, don’t hide in other people’s company. Believe that your company is valuable enough to spend it with yourself. It’s not something that you can do in two weeks – this book isn’t going to make you know yourself automatically – but it is going to encourage you in the process of doing it, which is a beautiful process and so worth it. The more of a well-rounded person you become and are able to find joy in the tiniest of things.
Can you talk about #saggyboobsmatter – why did you start it?
I started the movement because every time I would get my bra fitted, my boobs would still look saggy. I thought there was something wrong with my boobs! I would have to wear two push-up bras. I also kept wondering whether my saggy boobs meant I looked like a granny – again there is a lot of shame attached to ageing. Women are vilified for ageing and men are encouraged and celebrated for it. Look at how we view George Clooney and then how we talk about Mariah Carey? It’s unfair. So, last summer I decided I’m going to wear a cute, deep-plunge dress, it’s going to reveal my boobs and I’m not going to be scared. I did it and I had the best time of my life. No one made me feel bad about it. So I thought maybe it’s been in my head the whole time and I posted the photo with the caption #saggyboobsmatter. I just kept on going with it, using the hash tag every time I would upload a photo that was relevant. I slowly began to notice that people were messaging me saying that this movement really encouraged them to enjoy the process of breastfeeding, to reconsider plastic surgery etc. It’s about giving women choice and allowing them to feel that you can be happy regardless of how you look.
What’s next for you?
I gave a TEDx talk in Berlin, which should be out by the end of the year. I definitely want to become a prominent figure in the speaking world because I have a lot of things to say and I love speaking to people who don’t necessarily look like me so they can gain a new insight. Ultimately, I am really optimistic about What A Time To Be Alone. Hopefully it will encourage people to find more value in their solitude and the fact that you’re here, you’ve survived another day on this chaotic earth – that’s amazing! Give yourself a pat on the back and try again tomorrow.
What A Time to be Alone is published by Quadrille on 26th July. Pre-order your copy here