She's making history as part of Strictly's first ever same-sex partnership, but real life relationships have proved more complex, says Nicola Adams OBE. Here, she fills us in on love, dating and the new Bumble #myloveisblacklove campaign...
She was the first female boxer to become an Olympic champion after winning gold at London 2012 and the first double Olympic champion following Rio 2016. Now, Nicola Adams is making history again, as part of Strictly Come Dancing‘s first ever same-sex partnership (she’s paired with Katya Jones). So it feels timely then, that the athlete – (who is happily loved-up with girlfriend Ella Baig in real life) is supporting dating app Bumble’s latest campaign, which shines the spotlight on relationships.
Today, more than half (53%) of Black people across the UK don’t see themselves represented in images of love in mainstream online spaces. The lack of representation is even stronger amongst Black women (67%). Bumble’s research shows more than 3 in 4 Black people in the UK (79%) think there is a lack of relatable images and stories about dating in the UK. More than 1 in 3 Black British millennials feel seeing more representations of Black love would make them feel empowered (37%) and celebrated (35%). Bumble’s #MyLoveIsBlackLove was set up to better represent the breadth of Black love and its representation in the media. Here – as one of the voices supporting the campaign – Nicola explains how she got involved….
What does #MyLoveisBlackLove mean to you?
I think it’s an important campaign because Black people aren’t shown as much in the media, so it’s about growing awareness for that. Bumble is a very empowering app for women. It’s zero tolerance on hate and supports equality. It was almost like a no-brainer for me to be in support of this because it’s important to see Black women loved in the mainstream. It’s not shown a lot – even maybe at all. When you watch a movie, the Black woman is always portrayed as very angry, very strong and doesn’t need any help with anything. And the side effect of that is that that’s what people think a stereotypical Black woman is – a strong woman that doesn’t need any help.
You’re in a happy relationship now, but have you personally experienced the whole dating scene culture?
Yeah I have, but I guess because I fit the stereotype of a very strong Black woman, I haven’t really experienced it [stereotyping] so much. Whereas some of my friends are more feminine in same-sex couples, or even as a straight woman as well have experienced that more…
Yeah they might not necessarily be as strong and could be really emotional, but it’s like if you see a Black woman, that’s your stereotype [of a strong Black woman]. Regardless of whether you’re completely the opposite. You just get painted with that brush, so I guess it’s trying to show people that all Black women are not the same.
Have there been any other stereotypes or harmful beliefs you’ve found particularly frustrating or difficult to deal with?
Black women haven’t been represented at all, to the point where sometimes in movies they’ll never have a woman of colour that’s darker than the partner that she’s with. I was doing some research and I started thinking back to the movies [I’ve seen] and I was like, ‘Wow that’s true’. You rarely see a woman of colour with a man of colour together in a movie – it’s always the darker guy with a lighter-skinned person because apparently that’s more acceptable in the mainstream.
Would you mind telling me a bit about your experiences as a same-sex and interracial couple. Have you learned anything about yourself or the way that you’re perceived as a couple in society?
I guess I do fit the stereotypical of a strong Black woman, without the angry part. But because I am more on the ‘masculine’ side you would expect me to be that way. But for some of my other friends, it’s just not the same. Some of them are very feminine but they automatically get painted with that ‘masculine’ brush and they’re completely different.
Let’s talk about when you, quite rightly, corrected news outlets because they described you as ‘bisexual’. I can well imagine why you did, but in your own words why was it so important to make that clarification?
It was important because they were saying something that I wasn’t. I just wanted to make it clear to everyone. I felt like no-one should be labelled as anything, they’re just a person, but if I am going to be labelled I at least want the right one!
For sure. And not only is it incorrect but that sort of lazy description isn’t helpful for other young people trying to establish their own identities either, is it?
Definitely. It’s so important to be able to define yourself and to know what you feel comfortable with. Not just be put into a certain box.
You made an important point in a recent video, where you said often these comments come from a place of ignorance rather than malice. Do you think that’s the case, then? That people aren’t necessarily educated enough to understand the difference or its significance?
Yeah, it’s just that sometimes they’re not educated enough. Even with comments like ‘Who’s the man?’, it’s like they assume that somebody has to be more dominant or that they have to act a certain way. Because we’re brought up in a world where a man is supposed to be more dominant and takes control of everything. And the woman is supposed to be more nurturing and more caring. So I guess it’s them getting their head around the fact that it doesn’t matter who’s going to be the man or the woman. It’s stupid. It’s just an attitude that starts when you’re really young – I don’t even think people realise. It’s like, when a kid’s born, if it’s a boy it’s blue, and if it’s a girl it’s pink. Why is this even a thing? It’s already put into your mind about how things should be, and how you have to act a certain way.
What do you think the secret to a strong relationship is?
Communication. I think it’s really important to be able to talk to your partner about anything and everything. I think without that, things just start to fall apart. You have to be able to trust your partner fully and be able to know that you can talk to them about any problem. No matter how small or how big that problem might be. I’m the type of person that when I’m in love, I’ll literally go to the moon and back if I have to. I’ve got the type of mindset that if I can get it for you, or fix it for you, I’ll do anything possible to make you happy.
What have you learned about yourself from being in a relationship?
How caring I can be and how to see somebody else’s point of view. I think it’s really important in a relationship as well to be very open-minded. Even though you might think, ‘No it’s this way’, you have to be able to see both points of view. I think over the years, I’ve been able to see both sides and be a lot more open-minded.
If you could go back in time, what would you tell your 18-year-old self?
I think if I was to speak to my 18-year-old self now, I’d say just keep being who you are. Don’t let stereotypes or peer pressure change who you are or make you act like a different person. Just keep being you, which is very hard to do in this day and age. It’s very hard to have that confidence. And to be able to say to yourself, ‘This is me, this is who I am and I don’t care what anyone else thinks’.
As somebody who comes across so confidently now, was there ever a point you wanted to blend in with the status quo? Or have you always been proud of your individuality and uniqueness?
I’ve always been really happy with myself and the person that I am. And that’s when I think about people thinking that being gay is a choice. It’s not. Because obviously if you just switch it on and switch it off I’m sure it would be a lot easier in life. To just go along with the crowd and be heterosexual. But it’s not a case of that. So I think I’ve always just been who I am. I think it is a lot harder to be something you’re not, because then your whole life is a lie.
Nicola features in Bumble’s Black History Month campaign #MyLoveIsBlackLove alongside 30 other leading black voices. Follow their reflections of what Black Love means to them here: bumble.com/myloveisblacklove.