“You need to straighten your hair a little bit more. Are you sure you don’t want to put less make up. Isn’t it too hot underneath all of that clothing? I think you should wear something different. You have to smile else they will be offended.” Oh yeah, let’s not forget the labels “she’s a tomboy”.

West African female identity is something that has always intrigued me as I have thought people should be free to dress how they deem fit. I believe that society has placed a lot of priority on appearance compared to other gender categories that form the basis of a female’s social identity. In 2016, I did a project highlighting females in male clothing. The result of that project made me research over the years other ways to explore female identity.

Why does she need to dress a certain way to be deemed good enough to be an African wife ? Or the ridiculous belief that she needs to dress a certain way, else she is/was asking to be raped? There is a huge focus on the physical appearance of a woman that most times we miss the point. A man can go through life with one suit and a beard. A woman? Girl, they expect some heels, a little make-up, a dash of sass and a sprinkle of dumb. And that’s just the beginning.

I read somewhere that how we dress is inevitably linked to people’s opinions and people will learn a thing or two about you from the way you dress. The emphasis on physical appearance has trampled on the identity of African women so much that a lot of women go through life without experiencing their true selves. The sad part about it is, no matter how females dress, fitting whatever stereotype deemed attractive or not, they are still getting raped daily. Different strokes for different sex predators out there I guess.

The world is changing and the voices of women are getting louder. We should focus more on what everybody can bring to the table. When do we stop living solely for the pleasure of men/society and dash ourselves in it bit by bit?

Model/Makeup: Wura Salvador // Words: Maama Mohammed & Emily Nkanga // Styling: Mariam Aduke // Graphics: Yasmin Damulak // Creative Direction/Photography: Emily Nkanga