What do the female icons of tomorrow look like?

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With a new generation of female icons making waves across all areas of our lives, Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené, co-authors of the landmark Slay In Your Lane: The Black Girl Bible, reflect on the trailblazing women set to shift our culture in meaningful ways in the next decade and the qualities we should be championing…

As a new decade begins, the motto “if she can see it, she can be it” is now firmly a mainstream topic of conversation, and progress towards positive representation is slowly but surely securing gains for women across different sectors of life. 

With a new generation of Gen-Z changemakers making an impression on every industry from politics and literature to arts and entertainment, the female icons of tomorrow are giving women everywhere reason to hope for a more diverse, inclusive world.

Two women who can definitely be considered part of the new wave of cultural innovators are Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené, best friends and co-authors of the critically acclaimed Slay In Your Lane: The Black Girl Bible, a comprehensive self-help guide for black teenagers and women on how to thrive in every area of their lives in the face of structural challenges against black British communities.

Here, in celebration of the next generation of changemakers, Adegoke and Uviebinené reflect on the female icons who made a mark on their world growing up, the trailblazing women set to shift our culture in meaningful ways in the next decade, and why our definition of diversity must evolve if we are to truly benefit from the talents of our society. 

On the first experience of icons

Elizabeth: “I think we all have the same definition of an icon, but it depends on what you resonate with. 

Personally as a black woman, the lens in which I see the world is wrapped around my identity, so I naturally gravitate towards black icons. 

It’s not because they’re black, but it’s about what they do - it’s about the adversity that they’ve come through to achieve iconic status.

To me Naomi Campbell epitomises that. 

As a black British export, she’s one of those people whose career has stood the test of time and especially in an industry such as fashion and modelling where being new is really important, I think what she does outside of that on a charitable level is something that I admire a lot - she uses her voice and status to impact different types of people. 

What she does with fashion transcends just the one industry and she uses her influence to uplift and help others.”

Yomi: “An immediate icon who I guess was an icon to pretty much everybody growing up was Beyoncé and Destiny’s Child. 

But I think for me personally, seeing how Beyonce went beyond Destiny’s Child and stood the test of time as an individual, being able to adapt within whatever era she’s been in, and just remaining consistently relevant has been what makes her iconic.

When she first split off as an individual artist, I didn’t necessarily identify her as icon; I identified her as a celebrity who I really liked and thought was cool. 

But I think as an adult, I’ve seen how she’s been able to have consistent relevance, whether it be in music or fashion or culturally and over the past seven or eight years, I’ve really understood and respected her for her work as an individual and how she’s been able to pivot over the years.” 

On the forgotten female icons from history

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Yomi: “Every day we’re learning of different people who have massively changed the game.

Often we’re learning about people posthumously who weren’t celebrated because their work was erased at the time, so you get all these books that are looking in retrospect at lots of women that have become iconic within our generation because of what they achieved several years ago, when at the time it wasn’t necessarily celebrated.

A lot of time I bring up the work of the civil rights activist Olive Morris, who was a member of Britain’s first feminist group in Brixton and a member of the British Black Panthers. 

She was a very vocal activist who tragically died at the age of 23, but spent her life campaigning for equality in the UK, and we’ve only very recently in this country started to learn about black British activists that were working tirelessly during their civil rights movement. 

Elizabeth: “As a society, especially from an educational point of view, we could definitely do better at celebrating female icons from different backgrounds and different classes. 

Depending on your influences, like home life or what you consume as a child, it’s so easy to not realise the women who have essentially paved the way and had massive influences in your life that you didn’t necessarily know. So, there’s definitely an educational piece that needs to happen at a much younger stage.

I would say it’s no coincidence that Yomi and I have named a supermodel and Beyoncé - visible, iconic women – as our first idols, but I think there’s definitely a space for us to celebrate women who may not be as visible.

That’s something that Yomi and I are passionate about in the work we do with Slay In Your Lane, and that forms the pillars and the values of why we started our company. 

It’s important to continue being vocal about female icons, especially the ones that are from more marginalised groups and aren’t as represented.

It’s a responsibility that we all have, especially the people who have platforms, to absolutely do that. We need to maintain momentum in the space we’re in, to continue shifting the conversation.”

On the female icons of tomorrow

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Yomi: “I think Rihanna is an icon of tomorrow, and whilst what we see is iconic at the moment, I perceive her to be an icon of tomorrow.

I love the fact she hasn’t been defined by the adversity she’s gone through, in the same way we do with so many other icons that have gone through a hard time, but we see her as a fully formed being.

When she first came out, she wasn’t necessarily deemed to be at the top in terms of her craft, but she has proven herself and her talent in terms of her business acumen.

She’s literally changed the world of beauty, and the world of fashion and luxury fashion in so many different ways. 

She’s been able to force change within the beauty industry, which is so resistant to it, and has rendered the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show completely redundant by being so inclusive with Savage x Fenty, her own fashion show. 

I also think the fact that she’s consistently unapologetic about her blackness, her influences, her background is really amazing to see and really inspiring.

Part of why I’m so excited is because she’s so young, she’s got literally a whole life ahead of her and will reach that kind of that demi-god status of the Beyoncé’s and Naomi Campbells in the next few years.”

Elizabeth: “Ultimately the icons of tomorrow can come from anywhere, and are going to be people who are looking at the world and its problems and trying to make a difference within it. 

I think that’s why people like Greta Thunberg (this time last year she wasn’t a household name) have become icons.

They’re going be the women who essentially are looking at the greatest challenges the world is facing and really have a very strong point of view on how to fix them.”

Yomi: “Even if their jobs aren’t to be activists, I think the next generation of icons will have their activism imbued in their whatever their career is.

Look at actresses like Amandla Stenberg and Yara Shahidi, who are using their platforms to talk about racism and colourism, and musicians like Dua Lipa calling out countries because of their lack of rights in terms of the LGBT community.

It will be less about being iconic for your talent, and more about what you do with it to help others.”

On their philosophy on female icons

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Yomi: “Female icons today are not just one thing. They are multifaceted, they are often jacks of all trades and masters of many, and they use the work that they do to inform other work that helps other people.

Often it is about diversity, but it’s also diversity within that diversity. 

It’s women that are from different types of backgrounds, doing different types of things, and often all at once. Pretty much every single woman that we’ve mentioned here as one of our icons is doing several things at once, spinning several plates, as woman have over the years since the beginning of time.

They are also using the work that they are best known for, to shine a light on unjustness in their own industries if not using whatever tools they have to empower and embolden other women who don’t necessarily have the means to do so in other spaces.”

Elizabeth: “I would say it’s about being authentically yourself and being true to who you are.

In a world that essentially tells you, from the moment that you wake up and leave the house and experience the day and come back home, to be anything but yourself, being yourself is so powerful.

Being as authentic as possible is what makes you different as well – the women we’ve mentioned are not trying to fit into a box, and have really strong values alongside that.”

On the future of representation

Elizabeth: “I think when we talk about women, we need to be inclusive of what that looks like.

We’ve had many years of talking about advancing women in the workplace, and a lot of the time it was only speaking about white women, so whatever representation looks like in the next 10 years, it needs to be inclusive and continuously diverse.

Wherever it goes to, there can’t just be one black woman, one Asian woman, or one woman with a disability.

We need to look for diversity within diversity, and we need to look at the nuances of who these women’s identities, and include and celebrate that, not just fall into tokenism.

An increase could happen of 100 white women in leadership roles in FTSE 100 companies, but if they’re all white what’s the point? 

If they’re all able-bodied what is the point? 

If they’re all from middle class backgrounds, what’s the point?”

“It doesn’t necessarily open conversation for other marginalised groups.

On the flip side, having only one black woman doesn’t help the conversation either. There needs to be a balance and momentum in what we look for, in what representation looks like.

It’s about continuously interrogating it, not resting on your laurels, in the workplace or elsewhere, because people aren’t one dimensional.

There are so many things that make us who we are, and we have to keep questioning what that looks like as opposed to saying ‘here’s a target and that’s it’, because you’re going to miss out on a wealth of talent and a wealth of people who have amazing things to contribute.

The icons of the future will understand and champion that.” 

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Christobel Hastings

Christobel Hastings is a London-based journalist covering pop culture, feminism, LGBTQ and lore.

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