Though this is the last feature to be published for Panther Daze’s debut line, Aba Amuquandoh was the first model I spoke with. At the start of this project, I had no idea how any of the interviews would go – what would we talk about? Do any of my questions make any sense? Does it look like I know what I’m doing? For some strange reason – most likely because it was the first interview – I felt nervous on the bus ride over to Aba’s apartment. It was to the point where I could hear my mom’s voice in the back of my head, lecturing me not to talk to strangers.
I knew this was just my nerves getting the best of me because the very moment Aba greeted me at the door of her apartment, all of those thoughts immediately vanished and I quickly asked myself – what was I worried about?
The first thing I noticed about Aba was her laugh. She has the kind of laugh that could fill up an entire room and get everyone in it to laugh along with her, even if they weren’t part of the conversation. It’s beautifully contagious. So, when she mentioned that she co-wrote a comedy, “I Can’t Trust Anybody, Everyone Hurts Me”, it came as no surprise.
Strangely enough, the play kind of “predicted the future.” Shortly before the news broke out on American film producer, Harvey Weinstein, sexual assault allegations, Aba and her friend Celeste wrote this play about a group of friends who discover their favourite performer – who they had just seen in concert – had been accused of predatory behaviour. Apparently the play was “way too on the nose” that they had to go back and revise it.
Aba studies Drama at the University of Toronto, and is set to graduate this year. With her intense involvement with theatre, she is constantly looking for opportunities and venues to get her name out there and to try out new experiences.
Admittedly, Aba said she was “kind of nervous” for the photo shoot because it was the first one where she had to be in lingerie. But, she was excited and enthusiastic to see how the photos would turn out.“In the past year or so I’ve been doing more film and photography projects for friends,” said Aba. “I thought this was a really good opportunity. I’m going to continually do this throughout my life, with my career and everything, so I might as well try to get good at it.”
“Lingerie is a way to feel good about yourself,” said Aba, as we continued to talk about lingerie. “I like that it’s extravagant. You don’t necessarily need it, but when you have it, you just feel so much better.”
Aba reminisced about the first time she bought lingerie, and laughed before even sharing the story.
“I bought it for no reason,” said Aba. “I didn’t have any plans, I wasn’t seeing anyone, but this looks hot and it makes me feel sexy. I literally put it on, sat in my bed, watched a movie, and thought to myself ‘I feel like a queen.’”
This is part of why Aba loves Panther Daze Designs products. When Aba first saw the designs for the debut line, she thought: “oh my god, this is so f*cking cool.”
“[The garters and chokers] just look so amazing,” said Aba. “It’s something you could wear every day. It doesn’t look like lingerie or an accessory that’s ‘too much.’”
Although Aba is a huge fan of the aesthetic, the biggest reason why she’s attracted to this line is because it includes all body types.
“It seems like a project that is trying to have different bodies represented in lingerie,” said Aba. “I think that’s so important. Whenever I’m on the Internet and I see girls who do not look like typical models, I’m like – oh my god, they look so good – and it gives me that momentary confidence that my body is great.”
If you go to Victoria’s Secret, La Senza, or any other mainstream lingerie company, the majority of their models have the same body shape – thin, fit, and between the sizes 0 and 4. Although “plus-sized” models like Ashley Graham are working to tear down this division between sizes, it is still discouraging for most people when they see the same body type dominate the idealized vision of beauty.
“I have such a weird, tumultuous relationship with my body,” admitted Aba. “Some days I feel really great about my body, and others I feel horrible. I’m still trying to find that balance between really loving myself and taking care of myself. I feel like it’s such a hard thing to process because we live in a world that is so obsessed with a very standard, Eurocentric, skinny beauty.”
I asked each of my interviewees what kind of advice they would give to those who were body shamed, slut shamed or were ashamed of their own bodies and sexuality. Each piece of advice they gave always inspired me to stop caring about what the rest of the world thought of me.
“We’re so connected all the time with the Internet that everyone feels like they can just give their unsolicited opinion,” said Aba. “There’s always going to be people who don’t like the way you look. There’s always going to be people who slut shame or body shame you, so you might as well just do what you’re going to do because if you start living your life for others then you’re not living your life at all. You’re not going to be happy that way.”
Even though we are living in an age where society is recognizing and starting to accept the fluidity in gender and sex, stereotyped gender and sex roles still permeate and subconsciously influence how we should behave and express ourselves.
“I feel like young women don’t have a chance to genuinely explore every aspect of their lives,” said Aba. “Especially their sexuality because they’re so afraid of being slut-shamed or because it is too dangerous, which really sucks.”
In some ways, Aba feels like she’s a sexually liberated person. We talked a lot about sex during our 30-minute interview, because she likes to talk about it and thinks it is this great thing we all get to enjoy. But, Aba admits that there is – unfortunately – a stereotype that precedes her and makes it difficult to be open about everything.
“Personally, as a black woman, there’s a weird stereotype that I constantly have to overcome of being seen as this over-sexualized person,” said Aba. “I feel as though, a lot of the time, when talking to cis-men of another race, they see me as something completely different – as this over-sexualized person or object, especially if I’m talking about sex.”
Because of this, Aba occasionally feels like she has to “shut off” the openly sexual part of herself so that she can be taken seriously.
“I think that’s really detrimental to how I feel about my body and how I feel about sex in general,” said Aba. “It’s really weird trying to jump from personality-to-personality or try to figure out what this dichotomy is.”
We talked about how this is also present in the media, and how the way a woman presents herself to the public – whether she dress provocatively and is an openly sexual person, or is more conservatively-dressed and reserved – tends to influence the way the media portrays her.
With the amount of women coming forward and vocalizing their painful experiences of being treated as nothing else but a sexual object, perhaps the tides are changing.
“The floodgates are open and I’m hoping that people will use this momentum to break down the patriarchy that exists in Hollywood, film, and the workplace in general,” said Aba. “I guess in order for that to happen, the patriarchy in all systems will have to be destroyed.”