This past summer I hosted a workshop on women of color: creativity and self-care. I decided to reach out to good friend/fellow writer, Hannah Eko. Eko has done amazing work on the issues of self-love/body positivity/mental health. I knew she would have some fabulous advice for attendances. So, I was thrilled when she agreed to an interview. I thought I would share with y’all as well 🙂
Hi Hannah! Tell us about yourself/background…
I’m a Nigerian woman who was born in London and mainly grew up in Southern California. I’m the oldest of four. I’m also an Aries with a Gemini Moon and Ascendant in Aquarius. I served in the Coast Guard for 8 years and was Miss Tall International 2014. Currently, I’m a third year MFA in Fiction student at the University of Pittsburgh.
I first met you at a zine event. Why did zines resonate with you? In your debut zine, The Weather up Here is Great! you write about your experiences as a tall Black woman. Why was it important for you to tell this story?
I grew up reading TONS of magazines as a kid/teen. I went to this after-school center. The site leader, Cristina, would gift me all her magazines. I read Teen, CosmoGurl, YM (my fave back then), Teen People, and Seventeen. I had adolescent dreams of being some kind of model-writer person, but obviously wasn’t really seeing too many models that looked like me. Nor was I always interested in the banalities covered within the articles. So, when I moved to Portland, Oregon, I was really looking for something to express myself. I somehow luckily got wind of your Black Women Zine Group and immediately loved it. I loved how with zines, anyone could create what they want and share their unique vision with the world. I loved the creativity and the community. I had a lot of insecurity about being taller than the average woman. So, zines were the perfect place to write about this. I wanted other tall girls to know that they were gorgeous the way they were. Of course, I wanted to tell myself this as well. My experience being a tall woman is multi-layered and a lot less straightforward than I was seeing presented. I wanted to at least showcase my own point of view.
You’ve been published in various magazines (Bust, Bitch, etc.) Did you always want to be a writer? How do you stay passionate about writing? Are there any writing tips you can give to folks?
I always wanted to be a writer, though I had absolutely no idea how one “became” a writer. I honestly thought you were just kind of discovered (a nod to my modeling dreams, I’m sure.) First I was into drawing, probably around age 4 or 5. And then writing soon followed. I love writing because it helps me make sense of the world. It’s a way I talk with myself, it’s a way that my thoughts become crystallized and I can sit back and be like, wow, so that’s what I think. Writing allows me the room to create whatever I want to see. Though I have many interests and extra-curriculars, writing is the one thing that has been a constant. I sometimes get frustrated with my own progress and fearful of the fast pace of the market and all these new, sparkling writers. However, I will forever love writing. I don’t really have to push myself to be passionate about it. I’m a constant journal writer, so I am always writing. I think my only suggestion is the piece of advice I am doing my best to live out, which is: write from your deepest self. Let go of ego and awards and fame and being clever and cute. Write fucked up things. Write things that make you cringe and propel you to go deeper. Write the thing you most want to see.
I think the body positivity movement has kind of flattened out in the last couple of years. I first heard of the movement in 2009. This was before Instagram existed and before hashtags became as much of a thing. Body positivity to me is all about unlearning all the bullshit we are given about our bodies. Particularly, as women. Especially, for those of us who are Black, queer, fat. One of the most insidious and consistent modes of white supremacy and patriarchy is to convince us that there is a “natural” hierarchy of bodies and that there is a “right” way to have a body. Body positivity means resisting this, not just in thought, but in action. For me, it means reclaiming the pleasure of the body. At times, this movement can be watered down and pretty trite. Hence the plethora of white girls with hourglass shapes who have become the most rewarded spokespeople of the body positivity movement.
The movement can also become so political and intellectualized that it loses its fun and real-life connection. Body positivity was one of the first ways I started to really question the propaganda. Why am I so obsessed with staying a certain body shape? Why do certain kinds of men get to vocalize their body standard “preferences” without any pushback? When was the last time I enjoyed being in my body? These are all questions that led me to inhabit my body in a deeper more lasting way. To have more compassion for her and ultimately, to celebrate myself. Body love/positivity is not a static experience, so it also teaches me patience.
Why is working on emotional/mental health necessary for Black women?
I could write a whole book about why I think it’s important for Black women to focus on their emotional/mental health. I’ll just say this. Black women are told they are wrong in every direction by all kinds of people, institutions, and modes of thought. Unfortunately, we have a legacy of abuse and most people are quick to position Black women as the always the helper and never the helped. We are seen as bodies independent of true depth and complexity. In a world such as this, it is crucial that Black women attend to their own mental and emotional health. That we not see ourselves as the world too often sees us, as expendable. We deserve to live full, rich and healthy lives. Not just on this superficial “glow-up” kinda consumer deal, but to also have a balanced, peaceful inner life.
There are so many groups of Black women who are embodying this, from to . It is not easy to inhabit a racist, patriarchal world as a Black woman. And, if we add any personal/familial trauma, the burden just gets larger. So, it is imperative that Black women find ways in which they can attend to their mental health. It doesn’t have to be yoga resorts and pricey retreats (though it can be!). It can be as simple as a five-minute meditation, a daily self-care ritual, lotioning up with shea butter mindfully, going for a walk. We need to show ourselves the love and attention we may not always receive from others.
On your blog, you’ve stated your disappointment with self-help books. What do you find problematic with most self-help books? What is something different you would bring to the conversation?
Ugh. For years I have been the cranky person looking around like, um, isn’t it kinda weird how almost all of these “gurus” are white, upper-middle class, straight people who have absolutely zero social awareness? I detest how exclusive the world of self-help can be and this idea that one can buy their self-awareness with enough “high level” courses and crystals. It’s stupid and limiting. I also think we need to reiterate how healing is not linear and that healing from trauma takes constant work. This often starts by really looking at our childhood wounds. I don’t think most people actually want to do this work. I cannot speak to everyone or everybody (nor do I truly want to), but I can say that healing is a multifarious thing. It doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom, but we must look at the ugly ways we were wounded AND the ways we wound others from this place. We have to talk about homophobia, patriarchy, white supremacy when we talk about self-help because these are thought systems that have caused people immense pain. We have to talk about our addiction to suffering and our bodies. I want to add a more nuanced view on self-help, one which fully admits that one path isn’t right for all people. I hope my work does that in some way.
Is there a quick writing exercise you can share with readers?
A writing exercise I kinda stole from is about writing down the story we are telling ourselves. If we find ourselves stuck in a limiting pattern. For example, say your story is, “Men I like aren’t attracted to me.” Then you write it as a story. Literally, you can even start with “Once Upon a Time…” and just free-write for 10-15 minutes. Once you write this story down, you can ask yourself some questions. What benefits do I get from telling myself this story? Is this story always true? What would happen if I believed the opposite for a day? A week? A year? What fears are supporting this story? I really believe we are all natural storytellers. We have to be very aware of the stories we are telling ourselves about our “realities” and that of the world.
Thank you so much!
Thank you for this interview. It was cool to reflect on these questions and it helped me align with my own truth in a deeper way. I hope whoever is reading this knows that they are worth showing up for. I blog at hanabonanza.com and sometimes you can catch me on Instagram at .