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We must teach our young girls values that truly matter

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Oluchi Onweagba (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/WireImage)

The first Mnet Face of Africa and renowned supermodel, Oluchi Onweagba-Orlandi is no stranger to the limelight as she found international fame at an early age. Wife, mother, businesswoman and now founder of LuLu, she sat down with GUARDIAN WOMAN to talk about what it means to be woman amongst other things.

What does being a woman mean for you personally?
I have always wondered what it truly means to be woman. Not “a woman” but “woman.” You don’t choose to be born female, you literally wake up one day and realise that you are.

Oftentimes it is because growing up especially in Nigeria, there is a constant reminder of what you should do, how you should act, what you should think simply because you are not male.

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Little wonder that a lot of young girls grow up not knowing who they truly are because they have been moulded into these beings that have never really discovered their true essence or worth because culture and society have provided all the answers. Everyone knows me as the 1998 winner of the first MNet Face of Africa. Needless to say that after winning the competition, my life changed forever.

But when I reflect, as I tend to do, I realise that as much as I have enjoyed so much success and the stuff that dreams are made of on a global stage, one thing remains the same and that is being “woman”.

I am definitely one of those people who believe that women have super powers, call it female instinct, the ability to multitask, the power to love and nurture deeply and all the other things that women are incredibly good at. I actually have far simpler ways of describing the phenomenon that is woman.

You say that women have super powers, what are those powers?
I would say that the female super powers are intuition, maternal instinct and the menstrual cycle. These powers distinguish and unify the female species all over the world, across skin colour, geography, income and status. On intuition, research shows that women have an enhanced ability to read facial expressions and emotions; a woman is more likely to pick up on subtle emotional messages like tone of voice and body language much better than a man would.

Sometimes, I wonder if these enhanced abilities could be as a result of centuries of being domesticated and silenced as “less powerful” than men? Could it be that we developed this keen sense of observation from having to internalise our feelings for so long and having to figure out things on our own as we acted how we were supposed to and not the way we really felt? Let’s not allow ourselves to be robbed of this tremendous power simply because it is popularly scoffed at, as its use is typically enhanced in relationships with men. I vote that we harness it, learn how to listen to it, and act when it’s speaking. It’s like a spiritual connection you can’t get anywhere else and the deep connection you have with your inner being.

On maternal instinct, blame it on the Oxytocin. Chemically speaking, the famous “feel good” hormone is one of the most powerful reasons for maternal behaviour. It plays a variety of roles in mammal reproduction, including pair bonding, womb contraction, and the release of breast milk.

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“An orgasm, eye contact, hugs, soft touch, all these things release oxytocin,” says Bianca J. Marlin, a postdoctoral researcher at Columbia University’s department of neuroscience. Can you imagine the quantities of Oxytocin released within the lifetime of the average woman? Little wonder we can easily nurture and care for everyone around us to the detriment of our own physical and mental wellbeing. This is not entirely a bad thing though, all we need to do is put ourselves at the top of our to-do lists every now and then even when it feels strange.

On the menstrual cycle, we create life, period! How is it that every month after a certain age, our bodies have the unique ability to prepare for a possible pregnancy? Being the super-efficient beings that we are, any month that a pregnancy doesn’t happen, we go through all the changes required to take the body back to a state where it is ready the next month for a possible pregnancy and so on and on our bodies go through this cycle and do this dance, solo when there is no sperm partner and in tandem when there is a sperm partner to dance with.

The menstrual cycle is controlled by a complex orchestra of hormones. These hormones have been blamed for everything and so much more, rarely praised for the awesome job that they do for the proliferation of the human species.

What would be your advice to young women?
Let’s teach our young girls about what truly matters. Let us let them know that they are not alone.

Taking over the world, sitting at the table, smashing glass ceilings and all of that is critical for them to see and know but also teaching them to understand their uniqueness in it’s simplicity and entirety are lessons that we must also teach them.

I have two sons and no daughters so I hope that I can directly impact and inspire others to impact more young girls and women so we have a truly empowered next generation of women.

I am a 38-year-old businesswoman, supermodel, wife and mother and I have learnt to trust my gut, put myself on the list of all the people that I nurture and care for. Most importantly, I celebrate my femininity in its raw and pure form.


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