Hi BellaStylistas! It’s Isoken and every month, I’ll be sharing a short letter spotlighting our monthly theme from my personal perspective and giving you an idea of some of the amazing content we have planned. For July, our theme is #Freedom.

Editor-At-Large Isoken Ogiemwonyi introduces the BellaNaija Style’s #Freedom theme for July.

Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken – Oscar Wilde. 

Freedom is an oft quoted concept, so much so that it can take on a meaning that is far less evocative than the word itself. Fashion is a mirror of culture and is particularly good at documenting the zeitgeist – from womens’ rights movements in the 1800’s,  and the adoption of the mini skirt as a symbol of sexual freedom in the 60’s to women entering the workforce in post world war 1 to the heady excess of the 80’s and fast money finance. Fashion is at it best a reflection of the good and at the very least a historical indication of exactly where we are as a society. Then why is it so tempting to box fashion and beauty as ‘frivolous’ pursuits? Is there any industry more closely linked to identity and self expression? This attitude is especially interesting because fashion has almost always been a tool of feminist expression.

Freedom to be yourself, and in social media speak live and own your truth is evident in what we can and can’t do in the everyday. The freedoms afforded specific parts of society, both on the continent and globally, from wearing a miniskirt to being victimised for dressing or not dressing a certain way; choosing to wear a hijab versus it being mandatory, to gender fluid clothing and the sometimes outsized reactions we see and hear (especially in Nigeria) on the mere hint of sexuality as a spectrum or the general panic that ensues then gender norms are challenged. The outrage is blindingly emotional and often leads to the most illogical conversations. 

At its core, fashion as freedom can be uplifting simply because there has been and quite often continues to be a historical tendency to police our bodies – men, women, black people, dictating what is ‘immoral’ or not and the more freedom you have is more or less directly correlated to how privileged you are.

In the aftermath of an emotionally wrenching weekend, following Busola Dakolo’s terrible rape re-telling, I’m even more stunned by  the level of vitriol spouted. One particular comment keeps recurring. ‘ Why was she wearing a night dress?How is this even vaguely relevant? Even if she walked out of her house completely starkers, there is no justification for the harrowing incident that occurred not once, but twice. I am still floored by her bravery in telling her story, especially with the knowledge that she would be vilified vociferously.

Celebrate brave women today who are not only demanding freedom but taking it in their own hands, whether its from societal shackles of what a man or woman should be, physical, emotional or mental abuse. Or simply walking away from toxic situations. 

Style can be powerful, liberating even, and is only one facet of the innumerable ways we can be free and communicate that freedom. This month we are celebrating freedom of expression – unpacking how we break away from what they are told is normal or correct, and develop our own unique style and ways of being . You’ll hear from influential men and women within the African fashion industry on how their style has developed through the years, the impact their environment has had on the way they dress, and how they navigate societal pressure to conform.

I hope you are inspired to think of fashion as more than just a frivolous pursuit, and as the powerful statement it can be. Fashion is freedom, and I think sometimes we forget  how it can be wielded as a tool. Many of us are privileged to have the ability to dress how we want, and to express ourselves and continuously evolve, without fear of sexual violence or real societal repercussions.Feeling incredible in what you’re wearing and radiating that confidence can make a difference in our lives.

Follow along this month as we shine a light on the intersection between style and culture, while we explore different freedoms and how style and self expression helps to mould the perceptions of the world around us.

And finally, don’t forget to explore our regular features like Best Dressed of the Week, Ankara Styles We Love, Best Beauty Instagrams of the Week, Workwear Looks our Editors Love, fan favourite BellaStylista, Style Your Curves and Friday Fab Finds.

Have a great month!