Tolu Oniru-Demuren, widely known as ‘Toolz’, is one of the most popular voices on Nigerian airwaves. The multiple-award winning presenter, talk show host has carved a niche for herself in the broadcast industry. With confidence and style Toolz has consistently shared personal stories about her tough experiences before attaining her present height. Since her return to Nigeria in 2009, she has consistently dominated news headlines and social media trends. Based on her personal experience with body image and finding self-esteem, the media mogul and business woman has decided to launch an inspirational brand for plus-size women. She speaks with Adetutu Audu.
YOU are one person that seems to have added panache to being plus sized. Does it ever bother you when people talk about your figure?
When I first started and realized people were noticing me, I felt the need to be perfect, but then I would end up over thinking these things so much that I would be uncomfortable. Now I know I can’t please everyone, so the most important thing is that if you feel good in something, wear it, and everyone will have their opinion. Sometimes I feel people take this fashion thing too seriously. Fashion is something you are supposed to make mistakes with, because that is how I think certain trends were discovered. For me, I don’t think it is an issue; it is not like the majorities of ladies in Nigeria are a size 6 or size 8. A lot of women that are my size and shape won’t understand why it is such a big deal. This is Africa; this is Nigeria. We are known for having excess junk in the trunk, it is a waste of time to me when people make an issue out of it.
At what point did you accept your fate?
The journey to accepting my body hasn’t really been a smooth one. Growing up, I wasn’t particularly confident. As a plus-size and curvy girl, you tend to feel out of place – my body type wasn’t the hot thing back then. I just didn’t fit in. I became very self-conscious – I thought my hips were too wide…my bum was too big, and I was on the short side. As a teenager my self-consciousness got so bad at one point that I had to cover up all the time. In the middle of summer, I would wear a light coat to cover up my hips, and people thought I was weird. Clothes shopping was a bit of nightmare, not to talk of shopping for lingerie. Most of the lingerie in plus sizes were quite unattractive; boring styles and colours with super thick straps. Later in life, I began to notice and research curvy/plus size models like Tabria Majors, Candice Huffine, Anita Marshall and Ashley Graham – her confidence is incredible! In an industry that is notoriously discriminating about anyone above a size 8, seeing this beautiful and curvy ladies flourish was magical. I was extremely inspired to say the least.
Being in the public eye also had a big impact on my ‘acceptance journey’. I have been bashed and shamed about my body on so many occasions, I can’t even count. The first few times it happened, I was very hurt, because there was always so much venom behind the attacks, and I would be at home in tears thinking what did I do to anyone to warrant this? Unfortunately, this comes with being in the public eye, and I soon managed to get thick skin.
On the positive side, as I got more popular I began getting messages from women who admired me for being one of a few plus size women in the public eye. I would get messages from young women who had contemplated suicide because they looked different, and they were being bullied for that. They would write and say how seeing pictures of me boosted their confidence – making them accept themselves and their bodies. These comments made me realize that my presence and visibility in the industry was having a positive impact on at least a few people.
What statement are you trying to pass with Sablier? My experience strengthened me and gave me a voice – one which I have decided to use in empowering and boosting the confidence of plus-size women like me – those who are currently in a physical and psychological battle to accept their own bodies.
It is a brand that represents confidence, female empowerment and self-expression, especially among plus-size women. It is set to drive a message that promotes inclusivity, and change the stereotypical perception of plus-size women. As a plus-size celebrity, I found my way to wide recognition and acceptance through creativity, resilience and boldness.
In Nigeria, plus-size ladies are psychologically ostracized and consistently attacked, becoming subject of discourse among health and well-being experts on how to change the perception about body weight. I am able to stand out due to my self-confidence and unshaken ambition. This, more than anything, is the message I intends to share with the new brand – something to change the lives of plus-size women. A brand that truly defines, represents, and captures every curvy woman’s beauty in and out.
How did your journey into the world of Sablier started?
I took a course in lingerie and swimwear design at the prestigious London College of Fashion to get in-depth knowledge of the lingerie market. It was the struggle to find brands that cater exclusively for my body size that was a motivating factor in creating the brand.
How would you describe your growing up?
I grew up mainly in the UK and I spent a lot of time in boarding school. It was interesting because when I look back now, I realized it was intense, and I am saying that because then, my sister and I were the only black people in the whole of the boarding school. There were no black teachers or students, but then, I was a kid, so it didn’t feel different. I just felt like we were all kids, let us just play. When I look back now, I know there were different things going on, a lot of them hadn’t seen or interacted with black kids before. I was in Nigeria for like six years, from 1990 till 1996.I finished my primary school and continued with my secondary education, and that was also very interesting, because I was exposed to a new environment and I made a few friends. That was where I learned a lot of stuff.
Was that part your decision to become an OAP?
The reason I became an OAP, I still don’t know. When I was thinking about moving to Nigeria, I knew I was supposed to be part of the family business and all, which is obviously looking after property, being the landlord and all that which I am actually doing now, but when I moved back, I realized I didn’t know anybody other than my cousins, and my parents. Before I left London fully, someone told me about this young funky radio station that was going to be opening soon and I thought it was a good idea. I wasn’t sure if it was genuine, but the person that told me about it is someone that I actually respect. He told me about Beat FM, so before I left, I sent in my CV and they seemed quite keen to meet me, but I didn’t know it was real.
I reckoned it was going to be like a part time thing, maybe two or three hours a day and I thought I could do that. I have had some level of experience within the media industry, I had worked with MTV and at Disney Motion Pictures, but I was always behind the scenes because I was never confident enough to be in front of the camera. I came here and had an audition, and when they were like’ we will like to take you,’ I [thought] I probably may not last for three months. I never thought it was going to happen like this or I was going to be at this level, so sometimes when I have someone asking how do you do it? I just don’t know what to say. It’s just very strange. How then did you manage to harmonize yourself with the job so much it has become a part of you?
It was one of those ‘I have got nothing to lose’ situations, so I think that’s why I didn’t get too nervous about it. I mean, I still have my moments but I just gave myself four months maximum, I felt they would realize that I had no experience, but maybe I would have made a few friends, so it’s a shock to me that I am still enjoying it. I love music and that was a plus, but then I had to imagine it was only two or three people listening to me because if I thought a lot more were, I’d get nervous and just mess up.
How was your first day in the studio?
My first day was a mess. I actually felt self-conscious about my accent because when I’d been here before, a lot of people used to look at me and ask what I said, because I speak very fast and I have the accent as well, so I just thought ‘If the people that I spoke with on the first day didn’t understand me, the same would happen on air,’ and people would be confused, so I got very self-conscious. I thought about it too much on the first day and I messed up. I can’t even remember what I said or what exactly went wrong. After that, I loosened up and I thought the best thing to do is just be me. I decided to be myself, play the kind of music that the people want to hear, tell them about interesting things I see on-line, on the street and that was my formula, and it worked.
Do you think you would have become so successful in such a short time?
I really don’t know. It’s so surprising because I’m just me. I think it’s because I’m down to earth and when I do my show that becomes obvious. If I make a mistake, I just laugh at myself. I think that is also quite important, if you are able to laugh at yourself, people will see that this person doesn’t take himself too seriously. It is very good to have comic relief; that part is important to me in my show. Everybody needs a form of relaxation, maybe it is because of the kind of work I do; I am a property manager and most Nigerians work very hard and need to let their hair down and have fun, and it is very important to me to infuse that in my show. I just help with the music, share interesting stuff to amuse you so you don’t feel like you are stuck in traffic, and it has worked.
Do you see yourself quitting radio anytime soon?
No, I actually enjoy what I am doing. I am having fun doing it. I see myself adding to radio but I don’t see myself quitting. I play good music, I get to have people in my show who make me laugh, it is been a lot of fun.
You also started The Juice? As a TV series, what inspired it?
It is a celebrity talk show. We bring on set a celebrity that people are talking about; we interview such and extract what people don’t know about the person. The audience responses have been massive. They wanted more of The Juice, and we had to listen to them.
You have featured a lot of celebrities; which celebrity interview was most exciting for you?
All have been exciting in different ways, some because the guests said things they shouldn’t have, and some because they were absolutely hilarious. All the celebrities have an inspiring story to tell. They have had to overcome different obstacles to get to where they are now, which makes each story inspiring in their different ways.
A lot of people still feel your privileged background fast track your career rise. Do you agree?
That is not true. For the early years of my career, a lot of people didn’t know my surname, and were not really aware of my ‘privileged background’. My family have been supportive, but they don’t really get involved. My father wanted me to be a doctor or lawyer, so he wasn’t particularly thrilled with my decision to get into entertainment. Now, he sees me on TV, in magazines, hears me on radio and he respects how hard I have worked.
You have had both radio and television experiences, which is more challenging for you and which one do you find more preferable?
I started doing radio. I am definitely more comfortable there. Television needs more focus and skills, but it is still very enjoyable.
Female OAPs attract a lot of attention from men. How do you handle yours?
I actually try not to think about it too much.
Define your style?
I tend to go for outfits that are comfortable and styles that suit me. I have very sensitive skin that reacts to everything. So my beauty routine consists of regular facials, making sure I take off my makeup and using sunscreen.
If I have to take a peep into your wardrobe what would I see as the dominant item?
Shoes. I love shoes, they are my babies.
How do you keep fit?
I try to get in at least 30 minutes of exercise every day, either cross training or on the treadmill, sometimes kickboxing; so don’t think for one minute I don’t work hard for that figure. Beauty is hard work, ask anybody in the fashion and beauty business. It is a misconception that if you are skinny you are healthy. It is about accepting yourself and your body shape and being healthy. You have people that some might consider big but are actually very active.