Ama Badu helps write Shudu's story and gives her a voice.
'I have always been a writer and I have always known that I have a story in me. Growing up I collected issues of Ebony, Essence, Vogue and anything else I could get my hands on. I watched and rewatch episodes of shows like Ugly Betty and Sex in the City - this is before everything was available online, I either had to be home to watch it or record it. Ah, I thought, I wouldn’t just be a writer, I would be a journalist, I would write about fashion, beauty, art and culture. At thirteen I really had no idea how I would get there but I did. Four years later I started working with Glam Africa Magazine. I now co-produce the podcast Nyasha. Musa. Grace: The Afro With A Does of Grace, a platform which engages a community of hair care professionals, salon owners, stylists product manufactures and clients in a conversation about improving the conditions around curly hair. I am the Creative Director of Afrotility, a bespoke service which creates online courses educating both clients and stylists. Through my work, I have met amazing people and given voice to some of the most pressing issues across the African Diaspora.
I am a creative, a storyteller. I convey narratives both visually and through words. This is what drives me. Every story has its value, no matter how ordinary it may seem. I want to give voice to these stories. I love travelling for this very reason. I paint, sculpt, write and find new ways of expressing the things I learn about others and myself for each new city I visit. I often wonder how the little Ghanian girl from west London, the girl who was so unsure of herself, has created the opportunities and lifestyle I have today. I want to make that little girl proud and I want to show other little girls like her that they should dare dream as big as their young minds can.
I have been following Shudu for a while, it was after I saw the Instagram post by Fenty Beauty. I thought she was stunning. I remember the moment I realised that she wasn’t real. There was so much discussion at the time about what it means that she was in existences as one of the world’s first digital models. But I saw her as art, as Cameron’s way of expressing another form of his creativity. I loved that she was so dark, that her hair was so short. I loved the brands she collaborated with too. The fashion industry is shifting. The demand for inclusivity and diversity is currently changing the way we perceive beauty. Shudu is part of this change.
I saw Cameron’s post about creating her story. Details about Shudu began embedding themselves in my mind. It was like I knew her, like she was speaking to me. Fragments of other characters I had met through my life long exploration of African literature started piecing themselves together. I could also see part of myself in Shudu. I knew I wanted to help compose her narrative. I received a DM from a friend with the same post, her way of telling me to go for it, followed by an enthusiastic voice note to ensure that I really followed through. What an amazing opportunity, I thought. It was the perfect way to combine my skills as a journalist and a creative writer together. Of course, I was nervous but when I feel that something is for me, I have a responsibility to myself to reach out to it. That’s what I did when I saw Cameron’s post. I'm so happy that I did!
The first article I wrote as Shudu for Hypebae was so fun. I love being challenged as a writer and I definitely experienced that. I'm usually the one asking the questions so being the subject of the interview was so different for me. I first thought about how I would answer the questions and then how Shudu would. At the forefront of my mind was making her authentic. Shudu is real to me, I want her to as be real to everyone else too. I then went into an online rabbit hole. I wanted to find anything ever said and written about Shudu so that everything was coherent. I also wanted to know what other digital influencers said, how their voices were crafted. It was a lot of work and research but I loved every moment of it.
The feeling when I first saw it published was great. It was like when I first saw my name published in the pages of Glam. Shudu’s responses were very different from the others - I know I'm biased but it’s true. After seeing the Hypebae piece I started imagining all the other things that Shudu could go on to do. It also made me want to delve deeper into her story. I wanted to know everything, her childhood, her first crush, her first heartbreak, her favourite designer, her view of the world, everything.
Photo Credit - Arron Dunworth
The first time I spoke to Cameron he really schooled me on the ethics of what he does. I see Shudu and digital models as a form of artistic expression. It is amazing what we can do and create especially now that we have such advanced technology. I know that there is so much good thatch come from it. We can now create models to look like anything and anyone we want. Do you know what that does for the little Ama’s around the world, to see images of women who are as light or as dark, as slender or as curvy, as beautifully flawed as they are both in real and digital women? What a wow! But as much as I believe in the good, I know some will not see that and worse than that, some may not use these changes for good. The more I think about it the more questions I have. There is so much cost and waste within the fashion and beauty industry, could this be a way to minimise some of that or increase it? Will digital models replace and take away opportunities from real models or will they encourage even more diversity? Will they be used to further perpetuate the unrealistic standards of beauty that have existed for far too long or will they change it? None of us can have the answers to these questions right now but artists should not allow the fear of the unknown to stifle their work.
I love the people around me. There is so much love and support in my “tribe” and I thrive from it. When I sent out the article to them it was no different. It’s so moving to me that people take the time to of their busy schedule to read my work. As confident as I am in my craft, it is still not something I take for granted.
I am so excited to create Shudu’s story. As I mentioned earlier I want her voice to be as authentic as possible. I want others to read it and be able to identify with a part of her. I remember the feeling I got when reading books like Purple Hibiscus for the first time, or Ghana Must Go and Nervous Conditions. I delved into each of these books and learnt something new about myself. A piece of context was added to my repertoire that I didn’t have before. I want to recreate that feeling for someone else. I want others to read Shudu’s story and make a personal connection they hadn’t realised they needed.'