The internet is a scary place to exist,” considers Chidera Eggerue (the “Slumflower” to the dedicated legion who follow her blog of the same name) as we meet to discuss her literary debut, What A Time To Be Alone: The Slumflower’s Guide To Why You Are Already Enough.
It’s an almost juxtaposing statement to hear from the 23-year-old, who made waves earlier this year with the viral social media campaign #SaggyBoobsMatter (born out of a teenage insecurity of her own). Much of her career so far has existed within the digital realm, at the core of which is The Slumflower. What began as a fashion blog aiming to relate to and engage with a more diverse population than she felt most fashion sites did, has since evolved into a space of fierce body positivity, female empowerment and self worth.
“[Social media] is where we’re seeing a lot of standards arise,” she explains of the fresh self-esteem challenges that her generation is facing. “The current body standard of someone like Kim Kardashian, for example. While she’s beautiful, the issue is that we all want to be liked, so to be liked we conform to what we think everyone likes and that can come at the cost of your safety, at the cost of your mental wellbeing. It’s really damaging to young people who don’t even know themselves yet, but already want to be someone else.”
The title of Eggerue’s first book is a riff of the mantra “what a time to be alive”, and lays out her three-part approach to navigating the complexities of the modern world. In a nutshell: Learning how to celebrate you, not worrying about them and feeling the togetherness of us.
“I wanted to use this book to make solitude great again,” she says. “There is a massive world full of people and it’s really easy to get caught up in feeling like you’re not an individual, but it’s vital to recognise that you have so much to contribute without even realising. You have a story to tell and the journey that you’ve been on. Every single person on this planet has something to contribute to the larger conversation.”
While the purpose of the book is to reach out to others who might feel misunderstood or like they don’t belong, Eggerue admits that the process of writing it has been a beneficial channel for her too. “It’s been really cathartic to turn that angst into sentences. The biggest success for me is when people are like, ‘Oh my god, that’s exactly how I feel but I just didn’t know how to say it.’ It’s that validation that people are looking for, we all want validation.”
And one of the most important things to Eggerue was to ensure that its message was as far-reaching as possible.
“I think so many books that aim to empower people with knowledge and deal with conversations around race and class use terminology that can put you off if you’re not familiar with it,” she considers. “I didn’t want to use words that might intimidate people and then close them off from the deeper message. For us to take part in a much larger shift of consciousness as a whole generation of people, we have to make sure we are making these conversations as accessible as possible, or it will only benefit some people.”
It was partly for this reason that Eggerue chose to include Igbo proverbs relating to everyday instances, learned from her Nigerian mother, throughout the book (which is also punctuated with the Peckham-born writer’s own artwork). Her favourite proverb? “When the rat follows the lizard out into the rain, it’s only the rat that gets soaked,” she laughs.
With an award-winning blog, viral social media campaigns, an Instagram following numbering nearly 130k and now her first foray into the literary world, Eggerue is undoubtedly a force to be reckoned with. So who are her biggest inspirations?
“I have three,” she says, with the decisiveness of someone who has given this some thought. “Munroe Bergdorf. She’s incredibly important, just seeing her fearlessly and tenaciously speak her truth has really encouraged me to use my own voice as a tool.”
Fellow author Reni Eddo Lodge is the second. “Her book [Why I No Longer Speak To White People About Race] is so important and puts forward such a necessary conversation. Seeing her boldly stand proud in her truth gave me the power to do so too.”
“And the last person is definitely Chimamanda [Ngozi Adichie],” Eggerue concludes. “I love how she doesn’t separate herself from her culture and her African heritage. Being a Nigerian woman, she’s so poised and elegant, but she doesn’t stop speaking about what she cares about. It’s so great seeing a black woman take up that much space with a smile and with so much pride.”
Eggerue’s understanding of the pitfalls of the internet goes beyond the visual harm that Instagram-perfect pictures can bring about. She is particularly aware of the issues that can arise from having a debate in the digital sphere.
“If it was a real life conversation being had, the first thing someone would say is, ‘What do you mean by that? Can you explain that please?’ Online, there’s this urge for people to dismiss each other without really unpacking each other’s points.”
“We’re in a culture now where we’re discarding people before we actually decide: Do we want to create healthy room for people to learn from their mistakes and show us through their actions that they have changed or do we want to cancel this person, ostracise them from the community, and then be angry with them for not trying to win us back? Yes, that might be necessary in certain, extreme circumstances but for the most part it just creates more difference and misunderstanding.”
This “cancel culture” is not only applicable to disagreements online, but can also be an outcome of the kind of intense idolatry that an online following encourages, Eggerue says.
“When you idolise someone you say that you find them a role model, that they’re goals, but then you’re dehumanising them at the same time because you’re robbing them of the ability to be wrong, the ability to make mistakes. So when the person you’ve been adoring eventually slips up, which we all do, then it’s like ‘I’m so let down by this, I can’t believe this.’
“You can’t pick and choose when a person is of value to you,” she continues. “If you’re going to admire someone for the work they do then you have to understand that they are a multi-faceted, nuanced person who is going to disappoint you at times and that it’s up to you how you choose to respond to that. I have people who I follow and admire and once in a while they do something that I disagree with but I have to remember that that person doesn’t exist for me, they exist for themselves.”
The last few years have provided a steep learning curve for Eggerue so, with all the experience she’s gained, is there any advice that she wishes she could give to her teenage self?
“I’d tell her to put her hand up more,” she says. “I used to be scared to speak in class because I thought, no one else is going to think this, but all those thoughts that I was scared to say were the thoughts of the critical thinkers, the game changers, the person who want to create that shift.”
It’s safe to say that Eggerue has found her voice, using it to speak up about issues from sexism and racism to self worth and empowerment, and has made it her mission to help others raise up theirs too.
“A lot of people want change, but they aren’t receptive to the method through which that change comes. Change isn’t going to come nicely. It’s not going to be people saying politely, ‘Please consider me as person’,” she says. “The suffragettes weren’t politely asking for the right to vote, people were throwing themselves under horses.”
“We can’t romanticise activism, we can’t romanticise any of it. We don’t have time, it’s an emergency.”
What A Time To Be Alone: The Slumflower’s Guide to Why You Are Already Enough is out on 26 July, published by Quadrille.