LONDON — Adwoa Aboah has come into her own, both as a model and activist, with her online platform, Gurls Talk, growing and working toward normalizing topics from mental health to sex and body image. On Friday, she will join the Duchess of Sussex to speak on a panel of female-thought leaders at King’s College London to mark International Women’s Day.
She’s also earned another accolade: To acknowledge the work she’s done to empower young women, and to coincide with International Women’s Day, the makers of Barbie asked the young model to create her very own doll. Aboah said she jumped at the opportunity, seeing it as a chance to create a Barbie that embraced a less conventional beauty ideal, one that could speak to young girls who, just like she did growing up, might feel underrepresented.
“I spent a lot of my childhood yearning to look like someone else because I didn’t see myself represented. It was so detrimental to how I saw myself, so this is for every single girl who doesn’t see herself represented in magazines, films or in cultural content,” said the model, whose mother is British and whose father is Ghanaian. She was speaking during a talk at London’s Dover Street Market, where she was presented with her Barbie doll by British Vogue editor in chief Edward Enninful.
There are two versions of the Adwoa doll: In the first, the model wears a miniature version of the Halpern sequinned minidress she wore to receive the Model of the Year award at the Fashion Awards in London in 2017, paired with a Stephen Jones turban and Christian Louboutin heels. In the second version, Aboah looks more like her casual, funky self in a leopard-print skirt and a Gurls Talk T-shirt.
“Part of the reason Barbie is honoring me with this Shero doll is because of the work that I do with Gurls Talk and for me that was a huge reason why I chose to partner up with them. It means so much to me to be recognized for all the work that I do outside of being a model,” said Aboah, adding that she chose the two outfits to marry her two worlds and also celebrate her love of clothes and young designers, such as Michael Halpern.
“Barbie was really receptive to everything I wanted. I was keen on capturing my tattoos, my freckles and bits of my jewelry. I also wanted to smile, but unfortunately the smile wasn’t possible, it had to be the resting ‘b—h face,'” the model said. “Maybe now, young girls will be able to relate in a different way, or see something in me they can reference in themselves as well. If you want to shave your head or get tattoos one day, this should inspire you to do that.”
Aboah also felt she was aligned with Barbie’s diversity mission: “They have been creating diverse dolls for years, although I’m not sure where the message got lost when I was growing up. I really admire what they are doing with Dream Gap, having realized that between the ages of 5 to 7, girls are starting to believe they can’t achieve things that boys can. They are trying to show girls that anything is possible with Barbie doctors, electricians, athletes. The idea is that you can be anything you want to be, because Barbie has done it, too.”
Empowering young women and normalizing conversations around mental health, diversity or sex has been at the core of Aboah’s work for Gurls Talk.
What started as a small online initiative now includes a podcast series in collaboration with Nike, a campaign with the Free Periods movement to end period poverty in the U.K. and a series of live events.
Most recently Aboah partnered with Revlon to create three makeup kits and promote everything the organization stands for, self-expression in particular.
“Some of my proudest moments with Gurls Talk definitely are the events. We are still a small team and the ground we are covering is now larger, so these live events showed me that our community is so tight and so transfixed. These girls are so eager to stand up and share their truths,” said Aboah, adding that she is now working toward moving her focus from spreading awareness to taking bigger action, through research, campaigning or policy change.
This is one of the messages that she plans to highlight when she joins the Duchess of Sussex to mark International Women’s Day.
“That’s going to be madness. I’m approaching it is as an opportunity to talk to a new audience that might not really know about Gurls Talk. What I’m going to do is stand there and tell them what we are doing and the ground that we are working on. It’s just going to be a great type of conversation about all of the things that happen with girls.”