Gurls Talk began life in 2015, as a way for Adwoa Aboah to talk about her mental health problems with people who were going through similar experiences. Aged 23 at the time, the model wasn’t just struggling with depression, but bipolar disorder and drug and alcohol abuse as well. The turning point for Aboah came after three stints in rehab, when she overdosed and ended up in a coma. She created Gurls Talk as a safe, online space for herself and other girls so that they could share their stories of mental health, motherhood and disability, among many other things.
“It was an idea that I’d had for some time,” says Aboah. “I’d been in and out of treatment for addiction and mental health, and what came up all the time [at rehab] was the ability to talk in a space with a group of people confidentially and honestly. I didn’t realise it was so simple. There were lots of things that went into self-love and self-care, but actually a major part of it was talking openly about everything.”
The relaunched Gurls Talk site
“I started Gurls Talk because it is everything I wanted at school,” Aboah adds. As a teenager spending the majority of her time at a boarding school in Somerset, she was never introduced to girls her own age who were facing the same issues. Once she began to speak out about her personal story via Gurls Talk however, the model says she was shocked by the number of young girls and women who came out of the woodwork saying they either had been or were going through the same thing now.
Three years on, and the rapidly growing organisation’s small-but-effective team comprises Aboah, her best friend Holly Gore, publicist Anna Meacham and Christian Adams who works on its events – all of whom balance Gurls Talk alongside their day-to-day jobs. In Aboah’s case, this includes modelling for the likes of Chanel, Calvin Klein and Dior, as well as appearing on magazine covers including i-D, Dazed and Edward Enninful’s first issue as Editor-in-Chief of British Vogue.
Adwoa Aboah speaking at a Gurls Talk x Coach event
While Gurls Talk started with Aboah’s own mental health story, over the last three years it has grown to focus much more on the tales of the young girls and women within its community. “Right now Gurls Talk has beautifully turned its own corner,” she says. “It’s not really driven by my own experiences anymore, it’s driven by the experiences of women all over the world and what they want to speak about. The whole point is that we’re bringing light to subjects that aren’t always talked about.”
Many of these women’s stories are then shared on the community’s social platforms, namely its Instagram, which has over 215,000 followers to date. Recently these have included Iona Hay, who told her story of suffering from a type of bone cancer called osteosarcoma at the age of six and that led to her having her leg amputated, as part of the community’s disability month, and Florence Taglight, who was diagnosed with anorexia four years ago and now does workshops at schools across the country as the UK ambassador for US charity Project HEAL, and spoke at a Gurls Talk event to coincide with the Frida Kahlo exhibition opening at the V&A earlier this year.
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Submission from: @zaz.brw On this day 4 years ago I had a miscarriage. I found out I was pregnant a month before at my best friend's scan to hear her baby's heartbeat. When we were told, she said to me that whether I decided to keep the baby or not, the choice had to be 100% mine. (I still tell this to the women I work with today, although I have to say from experience it is not easy.) I didn’t know what to do and I didn’t want to choose. There was what my heart wanted, what my partner at the time wanted, what made sense on paper, friend’s opinions and of all the voices swirling around, mine was the quietest and the weakest. I said to life/ god/ spirit you choose because I can’t. A few days after leaving it up to life, I decided that I was going to keep it and two days later I miscarried. Of course I sometimes have my what if moments. But they are greatly outweighed by the power, security and wholeness I feel in myself today. What a wonderful journey my womb and my little water baby have led me on for my own growth and realising that my place in the world (at least for now) is supporting women on their own womb journeys. So I thank them both and celebrate myself, my body and my soul and all those that have been on this beautifully weird journey with me. Thank you to the beautiful @inkylayla who cooked me dinner and drew me so beautifully last night ???? To all women, womb holders and those without, you are not alone. ???? #ihadamiscarriage #thestoryofmywomb #gurlstalkmotherhood #thetravellingdoula #blackdoulas #womensupportingwomen #wombam #mizukodoula #birthworker #miscarriageawareness #pregnancyloss #femaleform #watercolour #lifemodel #lifedrawing
A post shared by GURLS TALK (@gurlstalk) on Sep 25, 2018 at 6:44am PDT
While social media is a vital part of how the Gurls Talk community speaks to one another, Aboah is also aware of the role that platforms like Instagram can play in heightening young people’s anxieties, having taken her own hiatus from social media while being treated for addiction. “It’s the way in which young girls and boys communicate, it’s the way in which we source a lot of our information, but it also has its poisons and I’ve definitely had to go through those social media black holes,” she says.
Gurls Talk’s role then, is to tread the fine line between social media being a tool for good and bad. “Gurls Talk takes on a humongous responsibility for its community,” says Aboah. “If we’re 100% authentic then I feel like we’re that good part of social media, and I think it could easily change if everyone took the same approach. You can sell yourself, you can sell a piece of clothing, you can sell a trend, so why not take the time to sell an important message?”
The website is another key hub for the Gurls Talk community, but one that has quickly outgrown itself as it’s expanded from Aboah’s passion project to a fully fledged organisation over the past three years. Now definitely felt like the right time for the Gurls Talk team to give the site a new lease of life, says Aboah.
The relaunched site has been brought to life by the all-women team at London-based studio The Digital Fairy, who were briefed to create an empowering digital space to help girls understand each other and themselves. It also needed to be a bigger site with slicker functionality, and a more intuitive user experience. “The site is simply for story sharing so we wanted it to be easy to use, enjoyable to read and universally cool,” says the studio. “We’ve used design to create a community through a two-way conversation – the ability to read and start conversations on topics through comments, and use the submission function to share your own visual and written stories.”
The studio opted for Sporting Grotesque as the main typeface on the site, combined with Druq for statement headers, and has used a gender neutral and earthy colour palette throughout. The team has also added new features such as Gurls Talk’s own shop, an international events list (“ready for GT global domination”) and an FAQ page that has advice on common issues faced by girls around the world.
The relaunched site is accompanied by a new logo created by Melody Ehsani, a designer who has also spoken on Gurls Talk panel events in the past. Replacing the previous symbol, which featured a girl’s mouth and a handwritten style font, the new logo sees text inspired by the numbers on a digital clock and a pink globe with an old school phone with the cord wrapped around it in the shape of a heart. “The logo is an emblem of the intersection of a global community of girls using technology and different forms of communication to make real heart to heart connections. To me, that’s what Gurls Talk does,” says Ehsani.
The new Gurls Talk logo
The phone symbol is also nod to Gurls Talk’s own psychologist hotline and the links to other hotlines that also feature on the new site – an addition that has been particularly important for Aboah to make a reality. “We’re just making sure, because we can’t be there at every moment, that girls feel like they have support whatever happens,” she says.
A series of written pieces are launching to coincide with the new site, one by Aboah herself, another by musician Brooke Candy on inclusive porn and one by Gina Martin, the woman behind the campaign to make upskirting a criminal offence. These written pieces will be accompanied by the huge range of art, illustration, poetry and other creative submissions from community members that already fill its Instagram feed on a regular basis.
Creativity plays a huge part in how the Gurls Talk community addresses what are seen as traditionally ‘difficult’ subjects, ranging from abortion to embarrassing body fluids. “However you want to get certain emotions out, if you want to sing them, write them, draw or make films, it’s wonderful,” says Aboah. “When those girls write, draw and share, that’s them all the way through. We’ve not gone through it and changed it, that’s them speaking their truth and there are girls all over the world who can recognise that.”
It seems only fitting then that the creativity which runs through Gurls Talk’s DNA has also fed into Aboah’s day job in the world of fashion. Already an ambassador for Revlon, it was recently announced that Gurls Talk will be doing a collection with the makeup brand – complete with artwork that will be created by its community members.
Despite the hectic schedule that being an internationally successful model brings with it, Aboah isn’t planning on letting up on her passion project anytime soon, and hopes to grow its team to the point where it can put on regular events for its members internationally and visit schools all over the world. “I dedicate every day to Gurls Talk, to be honest,” she says. “I probably always have something else going on that day, but mentally I think about it as soon as I wake up and there’s always something to be done. It’s also the driving force behind every collaboration I do in the fashion industry – everything always goes back to Gurls Talk and its principles.”
Adwoa Aboah is one of Creative Review’s Creative Leaders 50 for 2018; gurlstalk.comThe post Adwoa Aboah: “Gurls Talk is everything I wanted at school” appeared first on Creative Review.