Supermodel, actress and mental health activist Adwoa Aboah has long used her platform to shine a light on the complex intersection of beauty, wellbeing, and mental health. Back in 2015 she founded the organisation Gurls Talk to help educate young women on topics including feminism, body image, sexuality, social justice and self-care, and she speaks openly about overcoming her own battles with depression and addiction. Refreshingly, this can be seen within her roles representing beauty brands – from Revlon to Rimmel – where Aboah has challenged tradition and started meaningful, inclusive conversations around multidimensional beauty. In her latest role as Jo Malone London’s global ambassador, mental health can be seen at the forefront of their collaboration.
She struggled with addiction problems during her teens, finally deciding to go sober at the age of 22.
As she says in this exclusive video with Harper’s Bazaar, it’s important speak to communities about beauty in a more nuanced way. Take how it’s profoundly intertwined with self-care. “We all want to look our best self, but how do we get to being our best self?,” she questions. “Let’s have a deeper conversation around that: what does it look like for all different types of people, all different types of financial backgrounds and cultural backgrounds? I’m quite interested in the part that beauty plays in more serious topics.”
For Aboah self-care should be about what makes you feels good, not necessarily what’s prescriptive as being the best thing for you. She feels “it gets a bit prim and proper, self-care,” preferring to balance exercise and long baths with binge watching TV and dancing all night with friends. Having “healthy habits” are important to her, though, and working out is one she really sticks by, while sleep is another she’s working on. “I’m not the best sleeper but I’m getting better at it because I know how valuable it is for my health.” Skincare is central to her values, too. “I don’t think there’s been one occasion out of sobriety, in sobriety, where I haven’t not taken my make-up off,” she notes, adding that she’s also very diligent when it comes to moisturising.
Sharing some other contents of her beauty bag, she reveals the Angela Caglia Cryo Facial Set – gold plated wands that harness the power of cooling therapy to perk up a tired complexion – (“great for the mornings!”) and her beloved black eyeliner pencil, the Rimmel Scandaleyes Waterproof Kohl Kajal Liner. After overdoing black kohl when she was younger, Aboah is back into it. “I quite like that kind of grunge look,” she says.
Her mother, Camilla Lowther – a businesswoman and former model – has inspired her playful attitude towards beauty, she adds. “She’s not bothered about being ‘age appropriate’, so maybe that’s something that she’s instilled in me – it’s fun to try out all different types of things.”
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Fragrance, too, is central to her relationship with beauty, she adds, enhanced by her incredibly strong sense of smell. “I love how nostalgic smell is, and the way it brings you back to particular memories and reminds you of certain situations in your life or certain people that may not necessarily be there.”
Her current favourite fragrance is the Jo Malone London English Pear & Freesia Cologne. “It’s fresh, it feels clean, it’s got that floral edge to it but doesn’t feel overpowering,” she says. But besides the fragrance house’s mood boosting blends, it’s their charitable credentials that she strongly aligns with.
Adwoa Aboah said: “Jo Malone London has championed mental health charities for the past 10 years. I want people to know that. I feel very proud to be the face of a brand that really cares.”
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This World Mental Health Day saw the launch of the Shining A Light On Mental Health Foundation supported by Jo Malone London. In addition to providing dedicated projects with inspirational charities, the brand is donating $2 million to mental health causes over between now and October 2023.
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On sobriety being like a ‘grieving period’ and the loneliness that first comes with becoming sober, she said;
“I don’t think people talk about it [loneliness] enough when attached to sobriety. Like imagine, you know, it’s almost like a grieving period. You mourn the people you can’t hang out with. The situations you can’t be part of. It’s just endless, you know? There are things that you just in no way can relate to anymore because you are so far from them.
“Or just mentally and chemically you’re not there. It is a bit lonely sometimes. But I think when I was younger my loneliness was an isolation. It wasn’t a healthy one. It was one that kept me from asking for help, it was one that kept me low and in the dark and unable to see anything better. Now I am not afraid of being by myself.
“I was talking to a friend the day after I went to Glastonbury and it was funny because sobriety for me is easier and harder. It’s easier because it’s like second nature. It’s like I don’t even need to think about it, I know how to have a good time without it, I know who I am without him because I’ve been sober for nearly eight years, but it’s harder because I actually cannot bear the bullsh*t. The old me knew how to fake it, I could go into situations and just be like, “yeah, yeah”, and listen to the chat and get on with it. Now I know myself so well.
“My sister always says she has to overcompensate for my faces, it just says it all. So in that way it’s got harder because I don’t feel the need to test myself, I know where I feel good, I know where I don’t feel good. So in a sense there’s a new sort of loneliness where I know I used to push myself to be part of things and now I just know that I have an inability to be part of it which is actually fine.”
On how Adwoa Aboah is “lucky” to be sober and been “pushed to rip apart myself”
“I was lucky enough to go to treatment, so I met a mad variety of people there who’d been through all sorts of different things. It kicks it out of you when you are forced to really confront yourself. I’m actually quite lucky a lot of sober people say that. I think I’m quite lucky that I was pushed to deal with it now. Pushed to pick apart any judgments I had towards other people. Pushed to rip apart myself and put it all back together so that I could look at things a bit differently. Even though it was pretty f**king sh*t, I’m pretty lucky to be quite honest that I’ve been given this chance to do things differently and to look at situations in a more empathetic way actually.”
On coming to terms with life being messy and putting in boundaries
“There’s been a multitude [of turning points] over the years since I firstly reached out for help and got sober and started piecing my life together…I’ve resigned myself to the fact that life is just so messy and one’s mental health journey couldn’t be further from linear. So the fact is it’s just ebbs and flows and we find ways of dealing with things and then we’re confronted with another thing, whether it be grief or identity or love or sex, it’s endless.
“I think because our stories change and evolve and we grow so our perspective on things changes and it’s so mad that you can look at a situation that happened a few years ago and then with some age and wisdom you suddenly reframe it and you’re like, ‘Okay maybe it was my fault.’
“Or maybe there are different ways that we can look at things, I think that comes with age definitely. I’ve started really putting into place those boundaries and knowing what’s good for me and what is not good for me.”
On how Covid and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement made her “reshape” her mental health
“I think I felt like I’d really figured it all out before Covid. I was working lots, I didn’t really have any personal life. But I think because of the work that I’d done previously, [Covid] was a point in which I got to where it kind of worked and then suddenly it didn’t work anymore and then there was a resurgence of Black Lives Matter. I was confronted with this new idea of identity and there have been so many moments where I’ve had to reshape how I deal with my mental health.
“I think work was a good distraction for me and something that I used and actually something that really worked. I found something that I was passionate about but that gets to a point where you are like, ‘Oh, you know what? It would be quite nice to show up at a wedding. It would be quite nice to have a personal life. It would be nice to have a relationship,’ you know?
“So I think after that I started kind of reshaping what brought me joy. And I think joy is obviously something that’s very much aligned with our mental health. Like. ‘what is it that brings me joy? What and who are the people that I want to hang out with? What jobs do I want to do? What brands do I want to be associated with?’ It’s endless to be quite honest. I really do think Mental Health Day is every day. It’s something I think about. My mood is the first thing I check in the morning, you know?”
On her fears around stepping into acting in case she wasn’t “relevant” anymore
“Stepping back has been a really good thing for me. I think our ego gets in the way and when I decided that I wanted to give acting a shot, there was definitely a big part of me that was like, ‘Oh but I’m not gonna be relevant, I’ve got the modelling, I need to have my foot in that door, people are gonna forget about me.’ But understanding that I can’t do everything has been a great learning lesson and has opened up other doors and I feel like I have more personal time and I have great people around me.”