Before the pandemic, Chidera Eggerue’s life was hectic. In January, the documentary she hosted about pubic hair for Channel 4, Bring Back the Bush, was released. Cameras followed Eggerue as she gave a man his first bikini wax and visited LA to try on a selection of merkins (wigs for pubes). A week later, she was celebrating the publication of her second self-help book, How to Get Over a Boy, which claims to guide readers through their break-ups to achieve self-actualisation.
But when the 23rd of March hit and Britain went into lockdown, London-based Eggerue realised that she needed to slow down. While the rest of the world downloaded Houseparty and learned to bake bread, Eggerue swapped constantly updating Instagram for teaching herself how to braid her own hair (she arrives for our interview sporting bronze, waist-length box braids) and catching up with friends over FaceTime.
By the time early June came around, just weeks after the murder of George Floyd and in the midst of the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, many influencers responded with a deluge of #BlackLivesMatter content. Not Eggerue. She took to Instagram to announce to her 301,000 followers that she would be taking a social media break, indefinitely.
“I don’t know how to be a beacon for my people whilst somehow being palatable to a system that doesn’t work. The more of my truth I speak, the more that harms me,” the caption read. “The old rules worked for the old world we lived in six months ago. And until the new world is ready to embrace new rules and new truths – and is ready to actually listen to the people whose entire lives have been a site for deep transformation, I will no longer be able to share myself without feeling the material consequences of being Black, honest and visible.”
When I spoke to Eggerue for the first time in 2018, she was an up-and-coming blogger celebrated for her candid approach to dating and a refreshing take on body positivity. She had recently created the #SaggyBoobsMatter hashtag – an ode to breasts that don’t fit mainstream beauty ideals – and published her first book, What a Time to Be Alone. She was also spending a lot of her life on the internet. Even back then, enjoying her hard-earned success, she had begun to grow tired of being put on a pedestal due to having a large online following. “When you idolise human beings you are actually dehumanising them without realising,” she told me. “You're removing the element of them that is flawed.”
Now, two years later, when Eggerue and I meet on an early September afternoon at VICE’s near empty London office, she says that the role of the influencer is still very demanding.
“The internet and all the social movements happening online were reaching this place where it was more about saying things that sound great than actually doing the things. Sometimes with social media, it’s kind of hard to do both because you’re put in this position where you need to prove that you’re doing all these things,” she says. “There’s moral burnout where nothing you do is enough, nothing you say is enough and you’re seeing so many people just burn themselves out trying to do everything for everyone. Trying to be the perfect activist, trying to have the perfect caption, the perfect comeback, the perfect analysis on this situation that hasn’t even happened 24 hours ago. It’s a lot.”
Eggerue now only updates her followers infrequently; a few snaps from a holiday in Ibiza with a friend currently appear on Instagram. Her Twitter feed consists of retweeted praise for How to Get Over a Boy and What a Time to Be Alone, or promotional posts about Bring Back the Bush. She also shares trans women’s GoFundMe pages.
When you have over 10,000 followers on social media, Eggerue thinks that you have to change the way you carry yourself – so she’s trying to do things differently now. “A lot of influencers in the public eye have to do a break-up video that explains why we aren’t together. I can’t imagine doing that because for me, that’s overfamiliarity,” she says. “I look at that and I always hope that those people have their own way of maintaining their boundaries and I hope nothing happens. It’s a weird concept where if a lot of people like following you and looking at you, it makes you less of a person. Therefore you deserve mean things said to you, or you deserve to be judged or have people hang onto your every word and decide how much humanity or sympathy you’re worth. It’s so weird.”
Instead, Eggerue is making a conscious effort to keep her personal life offline. “If people are this reactive to my ideas, imagine how annoyed they’re going to be when they find out I’m actually living that life in real life?” she laughs. “An author once said that talking about your personal life in the media is like putting on black eyeshadow. When you’re putting on eyeshadow, you don’t put on a huge splodge on your eye. You take it and see the amounts and blend it carefully and make sure it only goes where you put it. You have to be really intentional. Once you’ve said something on the internet because it’s got a permanent memory and the archive never forgets, you cannot take it back.”
The internet’s infinite memory is something Eggerue knows all about. In 2019, she posted a series of (now deleted) tweets about toxic masculinity and the patriarchy, arguing that women couldn’t be safe until men cease to exist. The backlash was intense. She was branded as a “classist” and a “misandrist”, and inspired a number of critical think-pieces. “A new voice of feminism, in short, had turned into something I found anti-feminist, anti-humanist, anti-intimacy, anti-everything I care about,” Zoe Williams wrote in The Guardian. In a world where an influencer or public figure’s perceived missteps are usually quickly followed by a heavily PR-ed Notes App apology, or a 30-minute YouTube video describing the controversy, Eggerue’s unwillingness to bend to her critics led to more abuse online. But being “cancelled” is something she had anticipated.
“Cancel culture has always existed, even before social media and Black women have always faced the worst of it,” she says. “I remember witnessing Janet Jackson at the Super Bowl – the one everyone talks about where Justin Timberlake created a wardrobe malfunction and due to her breast being out on TV, she had her career stopped for years. It’s a shame to see how a Black woman was used as this almost firing practice for the media to the extent that it harmed her safety and her income. I’ve noticed that this is a thing that the media loves to do with Black women. This was before we had any language like ‘cancel culture’ or using the internet wisely. There will always be an agenda and Black women will always face the biggest expenses of that agenda because we are the low-hanging fruit.”
As well as the tweets, Eggerue’s feminism and relationship advice – which centres on hypergamy, the act of coupling with a partner who is wealthier than you – also came under fire. Eggerue laughs when I bring this up and begins talking about City Girls, Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion – Black women who are praised for lyrics that describe giving their attention to men with money.
“Obviously, the trend in music has changed where we have a lot more rap girls – thank God,” she says. “They’re openly speaking about doing what they want with guys: ‘Take his money, sit on his face and have a great time.’ Music is a way to normalise these ideas and means that a lot more women are finally brave enough and open enough to know that they deserve these things as well. When I used to say these things, it was, like, ‘Oh, she’s horrible and she thinks she’s too nice’.”
Ultimately, Eggerue now wants understanding herself and others to be at the forefront of everything she does. That’s something that her other lockdown hobby – astrology – has helped with. She’s animated as she asks my photographer and I about our birth charts, explaining her favourite signs and what can be learned from each one. “What I find fascinating about astrology is that it’s not a belief system, it’s a tool used to observe the world around you,” she says. “It allows me to dive into something. You know when you play video games and you do a walk through and it shows you like, press this button. It’s like that.”
Eggerue’s experiences online have changed the way she’ll work in the future, opting now to keep quiet on social media and bounce new ideas off close friends rather than put them out there for public consumption, but Eggerue assures me that The Slumflower still exists and she will still use her voice.
“I think self-help will be in everything I do. So even if I’m not writing books and I’m not making documentaries, there will always be something I’m doing in that space because I’m really passionate about encouraging people to trust themselves more,” she says. “I’m only 25, so I want to give myself room to live a life I can respond to rather than just constantly writing books. I’m in a position where I can kind of coast a bit and figure out what I want to do now. Now I can be more intentional about what jobs and collaborations I take on and who I want to work with. I’m in a position where I can be more in charge.”
Above all, Eggerue has found power in going offline. “It’s almost like the less you say the more people will listen to you, because it’s like, ‘Oh, she’s finally opened her mouth. What’s she saying now?’” she laughs, as the interview comes to an end.