A lot of women and girls all over the world have dealt with body shaming at one point or the other – you have either being termed as too fat, too skinny or not being enough. These labels of tyranny that come with body shaming have defined the way we’ve come to see ourselves, producing chains of low self-esteem, self-loathing, comparison and constant struggle with our bodies.
This tyranny is what Awazi Angbalaga has decided to declare a war on – she is carrying the placard of “no body shaming” and instilling self-love in girls.
An OAP at Soundcity Radio by day and a Shero for positive body image at every other time, Awazi is using her voice, story and experience as tools for channeling a new narrative for girls and women to embrace their diverse bodies. In an interview with Guardian NG, she touches on the effect of body shaming – “Poor body image and self-worth makes people become so obsessed with an idealized image of the perfect appearance and in order to achieve it they do extreme things.”
For Creative Girls: Hi Awazi, love love love your position on body image and your fight against body shaming. We need more conversations around body confidence. What led you to start writing, speaking and fighting for positive and confident body image?
Thank you! I completely agree, we don’t speak about it enough, we don’t encourage people to be happy and confident in themselves enough we don’t tell people that there is so much more value to their existence than their appearance you know, it’s almost like almost everybody is on an endless journey to look like someone else or just to look a certain way they’ve been led to think they are “supposed” to look. But who makes these rules really? There’s no one perfect way to have a body, why should we not be comfortable in the bodies we have and be happy enough to live our best lives in them?
I have been different sizes at different points in my life and I have experienced so much body shaming, a general lack of confidence to do ordinary things in day to day life because of how I look, my capability to do many things has been judged by my appearance even before I was allowed a chance to speak or prove that I was indeed capable on so many occasions. More so, at every size I have been at, I never allowed myself to completely live confidently and happily, I restricted myself from doing so many things because I wasn’t fully secure in myself and my body I always thought “oh I’ll do this and that if I lose more weight or when my body gets firmer or when I gain a bit of weight in certain areas or when my skin clears up” and so on. I’ve always aspired to be more because I felt like I needed to look a certain way before I could do so many things and I did extremely unhealthy things just to get my body to look the way I thought it should but it was never enough! It felt like the goal post of just being happy was being constantly moved because even when I reached a set goal, there was always something else that I needed to check off my list of physical aspirations and sadly I was never able to get everything to look “right” at the same time. I struggled for years without even realizing the struggle until one time I was trying on clothes with my friends and complaining about my body, as usual, lol and thinking I looked horrible even though my friends thought otherwise. Then one of them just casually said “Awazi when are you ever going to be skinny enough” and it was like woahh that hurt momentarily but later on when I reflected on that statement I knew she was right and I was like wait why am I doing this to myself?! When is it ever going to end? I might do this to myself until I die and by then it’ll be too late for me to allow myself live confidently and happily in my body because I’d be dead! Lol. Also, there’s so much more to me than just my body so why all these limitations?
Suggested Read – Communicating Body Positivity: Lois Diedjomahor is on a mission to make women love their bodies.
I started making a conscious effort to embrace my body and appreciate it even though it looks different from my friends bodies or the bodies of people I thought looked perfect and I was supposed to look like. I later found that even the people I thought had the perfect bodies always wanted to be “more” something and that made me realize that I’m not the only one with this struggle, almost everybody goes through it maybe at different levels but forming and maintaining good body image is hard especially for young people because our body image is constantly under attack from the media with all the new standards being set every other day and body shaming individuals – who are basically other imperfect people that might just look different from us- and even ourselves sometimes.
Since I learned that for myself, I just want to keep spreading the message that there is so much more to people than just their bodies, also I need as many people as possible to understand that difference is okay, we cannot all look the same, we’re not robots but we can all be happy and confident enough to live our best lives. We should not say or think that because one person looks like ABC then they should not do XYZ or whatever, that’s not fair! And if you think about it on a personal level, you’re stuck with your body for life and it’s probably going to change at some point because that’s what bodies do! So the best thing you can do for yourself is love and care for your body at every point by prioritizing your physical and mental well being.
Are there any particular experiences or moments that have increased your fire and fight for body confidence?
It’s a thing of passion for me and it’s an ongoing fight so whenever I see someone getting body shamed and imbibing body shaming, when I see someone doubting themselves because of the way they look, when I see people being misjudged or underrated and unappreciated because of the way they look, when I see young girls especially doing the most and struggling for their bodies to fit in to the way they’ve been led to believe is the right way for a body to look, it reminds me of how I used to be and it hurts me to see someone struggle like I did and I just want to tell them that this is an endless struggle that they do not have to put themselves through. I want to tell that there is no one right way to have a body, I just want all of it to stop! So in those moments the fire just rekindles and I want to preach body confidence to the ends of the earth.
In your opinion and insight, how can we make mainstream media adopt a good balance on body positivity, and forge a ‘no body shaming’ atmosphere in the world?
DIVERSITY! I feel like if we get more diverse body types represented more in the media and not being typecast in the roles they play, then more people will know that there’s nothing wrong with them and they don’t have to live up to certain standards of appearance. Also, we need more realistic representations.
Asides from the media, what other ways can positive self-image be inculcated? Is there a way that this can be inculcated into academic curricula?
You know, I wish that could happen officially. It should be a part of social studies for children to learn not to be bullies and body shamers, they should be taught the effect of things like that with real-life examples or like physical health education should add teaching kids that it’s okay to have different bodies. I don’t know the mechanics of it because I’m not an educator but I know it is possible and it is important. But apart from school, parents and guardians have a lot of work to do.
You also work as an OAP at Sound City. What does every day look like for you as an OAP?
Well, everyday is pretty different for me there’s not so much of a routine because I might be interviewing someone, or granting an interview, or having meetings or working on other projects or I might just be chilling with kids, you know, teaching them a thing or two but there are some constants in my typical workday. I start every day talking to God and hearing from Him, then I do a lot of reading, and listening to happenings around the world, some research to understand the kind of things my target audience are feeling that day, what they would like to listen to and the kind of conversations they would be interested in having, I listen to new music and select some of the songs to go on the air for the day, then I decide what time would be best to talk about what topic, what song to play in relation to what I’m talking about and in what order. I spend most of my day working an planning actually, that’s how I put together a good show. A lot of work goes into those minutes I spend talking on the radio.
Can you tell us about your journey into becoming an OAP, how did you navigate your career from School to this point?
My love for broadcasting started when I was a little girl. Watching the news and then playing pretend news anchor reading the newspaper stories to my dad like I was on TV was our thing I was so into broadcasting as a child, that it was a dream when my primary school selected my classmate Godson and I to say the news on children’s day, I think that was in the 2003 or so on MITV. I got to dress up just like a newscaster, my goodness I was so excited! I got to read the news just like I used to do with my dad, only that this time I was reading it on TV. I can never forget that day, and I think my parents can’t forget it either because I told everyone that cared to listen as many times as possible what had happened. That day, I think, was a defining day for me and my future career path. I knew I had to be a broadcaster so it was no surprise that I grew up to be a young lady who went on to study Mass communication in the University of Lagos. I started to discover the radio host side of me in Uni when one of my lecturers got me to co-host a show on the campus radio station Unilag 103.1 fm.
However, being an OAP worthy of this interview didn’t happen for me automatically, I didn’t even think that was what I wanted to be. Immediately after Uni, I worked behind the scenes on many film and TV projects. In 2015, I was out of a job for a while and by the time that happened, I was already so used to constantly working from project to project because I’d been working since I was in Uni I was kind of addicted to working so it was unusual, nerve-wracking and even depressing for me to be jobless. At the time, no production projects seemed to be coming my way, and I just couldn’t handle it, so I brushed up my CV and started looking for a job. I went on to work as the Business Development Manager for Swipe, a tech start-up company. Even while working as a BDM, I never stopped loving radio so I ended up sending an audition tape to Cool Fm when I heard that they were looking for a new co-host on the Guinness table of men show. The audition ended up turning into a competition which I eventually won, so there I was working a full-time 9-5, then going on the radio from 8 pm.
Getting on Soundcity radio was more a case of my passion finding me. In 2016, my friends had heard of the audition and asked me to go but it was on a weekday, I refused to steal out of my work time for it so I missed the first day of the audition. Coincidentally, I had to go drop off some business documents at Soundcity that night, after I did that and was about to head over to my second job, I met a few people right in front of the Soundcity building, we engaged in light conversation and they invited me to come audition during my lunch break the next day. I went through stages of auditions and here I am today working as a full-time Radio Presenter.
Are there other projects you are working on that you’d like to share?
Umm I am working on projects that I do not want to share prematurely but I will definitely share with For Creative Girls the moment I think I’m ready to share
What’s your definition of Creativity?
I think creativity is being able to do things in ways that people didn’t think was possible and interpreting ordinary things people have ignored things in a way that is unique to your mind, therefore, making it seem extraordinary. Creativity is making ordinary things extraordinary by your unique means of interpreting them.
Tell us about 3 women you admire.
I admire so many women for so many reasons that might not even be very deep so having to pick only 3 is not very fair! There’s Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, there’s Oprah, there’s my Mom, there’s Michelle Obama(my other Mom), there’s Ellen, there’s Beyonce, there’s Khadijah El-Usman, There’s Malala,There’s my baby sister, there’s my whole group of friends, there are women on twitter that I admire so much I cannot start speaking about only 3.
Your favorite websites, books, and resources.
My favorite website is where I find all the answers so google.com and then there’s twitter.com which is a whole world of its own, a learning environment that entertains and informs all at once! And of course, forcreativegirls.com is where it’s at.
For books, I really like Nigerian literature and there are soooo many of them but off the top of my head, I’ll just give a quick list. I love Buchi Emecheta’s Joys of Motherhood, and The Bride Price. I love Chimamanda’s Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Sun, Dear Ijeawele, and Americanah, I love El Nathan’s Born on a Tuesday, Chinua Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah and Arrow of God, I love Tunde Leye’s Golden Sands and Guardians of the Seals, oh I really enjoyed Bottled Leopard by Chukwuemeka Ike, I love The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin, The StillBorn by Zainab Alkali. I also love Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo to name a few.
Follow this interview up with this interview on Interpreting your Emotions & Struggles Through Art, a deep conversation we had with Indian Illustrator, Rukmini Poddar.
Also, feast on the glory of breastfeeding & embracing your body through Jade Beall’s Breastfeeding Photo Series.