SENATOR (Princess) Florence Ita-Giwa does not need any introduction –the formidable woman has been at the forefront of Nigeria’s socio-political culture for decades now. Apart from being a senator, she is also a voice of the injustice of Bakassi, a philanthropist and a well liked socialite. She recently won the Most Stylish Woman Award (60s) at the dazzling Black and White Ball, staged by ENCOMIUM Weekly in Lagos. It is hard to believe that this striking woman will be 65 (now 69) next year. She took time out her busy schedule to give us an insight on how to make beauty last through the ages…
Congratulations on your recent awards!
Thank you very much. I actually travelled and got the IV and came to have a good time. I was really pleasantly surprised to go on and win two awards. It was a very nice surprise.
A lot of our female readers will want to know some of your secrets to looking good at your age. Could you tell us three beauty products that you can’t live without?
That will have to be my SK11 Night Cream. It’s anti-aging and supposed to keep wrinkles at bay. Although I really believe that black skin doesn’t really wrinkle badly.
I also like Crème de la Mer Cream. It’s very rich and I have oily skin, so I don’t use it on my face, but it’s really good for the neck and cleavage area.
The third product I can’t do without is the Clinique Cleanser and Toner. As I said, I have rich oily skin and I even do break out once in a while at this age. But the foamy cleanser and toner are good for my skin and help clean and clear it.
What’s the best beauty advice that you have ever received?
My mother was very fashionable and well educated and even though then, there was not a lot of money, she augmented her salary by doing trading and with that was able to dress well and look good. I remember she used to say to me that no matter what you become in life, always remember that you are a woman and you need to take care of and look after one’s self. “The body you have is the only one you have, so take care of it.” She used to tell me, so I try, no matter how busy I am, to have some time in the day just for myself, about 30 minutes. When I do have time, I spend an hour…even if I come back in at 4 a.m, I always find that 30 minutes to spend on looking after myself.
What kind of things do you do?
Take a long bath. Pout lots of bath salts or aromatherapy oils into the water and relax. Sometime I use bubble bath. I live a very stressful life and so when I get to do these girly things, I relish the time and thoroughly enjoy it. I try to spend maybe 20 minutes in the bath. Soaking it up…that’s a real luxury for me.
Tell us your beauty/exercise regime from the time you wake up till bedtime?
I wake up, spend a few minutes communicating with God. Brush my teeth and then if I’m in Lagos, I go to the gym. It’s actually difficult for me to have a complicated regime because I am very busy and there’s so little time. The best time is when I come to Lagos and I have like two uninterrupted weeks. So, when I’m in Lagos, I go straight to the gym in the morning. I have a trainer and I do 30 minutes on the treadmill, about 20 on the cycle to help lose weight on my thighs. And I do a lot of stretching. You know I like wearing dresses that show off my arms, so I try to do lots of toning for the arms. In the evenings, I do a lot of walking, say at about 6.30 p.m when I have finished work for the day. Every evening, I walk by the shore side where I live. I love doing that, it’s so refreshing. I do that for about an hour. And I don’t just walk for the aesthetics, but also for the health benefits. I need to do this. I have high blood pressure, which was actually getting out of control, triggered off by years of politics. But today, it’s been very well managed. So, after the walk, it’s the gym again to stretch and then at least an hour pampering myself with a soak in the bath. Like I said before, I think it’s very important that woman take time to look after themselves. Nigerians should learn to enhance God’s creation and not take their looks for granted. And then when they see some women looking good, they start ‘oohhhing’ and ‘ahhing’ because you look good.
You have told us you have oily skin, do you find that challenging?
One thing I can tell you is, I think oily skin has some really good advantages. You hardly ever develop wrinkles. Oily skin tends to be better nourished than dry skins and people with oily skins tend to look younger longer, because the face is radiant and glowing, and you tend not to need a lot of makeup. Of course, with oily skins, you tend to break out easily. You have to learn to deal with it. You cannot be eating lots of oily foods and butter, and you shouldn’t use rich products on your face. Like I know that a lot of anti-aging products are rich and contain a lot of collagen. People with oily faces have to use these sparingly. Personally, I have to watch my skin all the time. In fact, it’s like an obsession, I make sure my skin is squeaky clean before I go to bed every night.
Do you do facials and any other special treatments?
Twice a week, I have to use face masks at home, but I go for facials. I like going to Priscilla’s Pride in Dolphin Estate (Ikoyi, Lagos) because they understand my skin. I’ve been going there for a number of years. I’ve been going to a spa in Beirut for two years now. I get a toning mask which brightens the skin. It is different from bleaching and helps maintain your natural skin tone. I also use sunscreen by Clarins which also helps maintain your skin tone. As you know, as a politician, I spend a lot of time outside, exposed to the elements and the sun. So, sunscreen is essential. I don’t do body scrubs because I think my body is okay and I don’t want to overdo things, but I do facial scrubs for face, neck and cleavage. I wouldn’t do a body scrub unless there is one that removes a dress size in one day (laughter).
I like massages though. I like them for circulation, especially if you drink lots of water, then it helps get rid of cellulite. I like using Declore massage oils.
You are going to be 65 at your next birthday. Younger women might want to know what is responsible for the fact that you look so well for your age?
I think looking good is a lifestyle really, from inside out. So, I watch what I eat and try to nourish myself from inside. I drink a lot of water. I really don’t apologise for looking after myself. I am unashamed of looking after myself, whatever my age. The thing is, I don’t want to look 20 years old. I just have always wanted to prove a point that if women like Diana Ross, Jane Fonda, Tina Turner, Joan and Jackie Collins can all look good at a certain age, what stops me from looking good? God created us all and I don’t think that just because you are certain age, you should wither away from society and wait for death (laughter). I enjoying growing older. With age comes confidence. I’m not afraid to say my mind. Maybe things moved more slowly, I’m not sure why in our parent’s time you seemed old at 50. I think the world is moving so fast that it’s actually hard for the body and mind to catch up with your real age. Like for me, I still do so many things. I’m walking a 12km carnival walk, I still dance disco (laughter). I still wear my jeans. I certainly do feel old. What I do is I try to dress age compliant. There are some things I will never wear…I will leave them for Koko (her daughter) to wear. I don’t just wear things that are in fashion. I would never wear my hair longer than this (shoulder length) and if it wasn’t that I went to a show, it would have been shorter. All the kids are wearing really long weaves, so I leave that for them. It is beautiful to age gracefully and it’s beautiful to age when one is successful and I say that with all sense of modesty. Success brings freedom. Freedom to buy what you like and what is good for you. That is why it is important to start working early and try to be as independent as you can, so that at a certain age, there is freedom.
Do you have a particular diet that you follow?
Oh yes…I love food and my body loves food. I’ve always had the tendency to put on weight easily. At my heaviest, I must have weight about 95kg, going up to a size 20! I think it was caused by the stress of my job. You know politicians work unsociable hours, eat at odd times; the wrong times. I really decided to make a lifestyle change because of the problems I had with blood pressure. Then, I got to be the band leader for the Calabar Carnival. You can’t be out of shape to do that. So, I had to change my diet. Our food is delicious, but not good for weight. So, I am off eba and rice. I had to clear out. Not totally, but I’ll have eba say once a month or so. I really had to discipline myself. During the week, I go totally western food. Every morning, no matter where I am, I will have a piece of fruit –apple, pawpaw, watermelon, banana…then I will have an early lunch of four egg whites made into an omelette or scrambled. To the egg whites, I’d add spinach, spring onions, green pepper and mushrooms in a large bowl. I like bread a lot, but I now only take this type of brown bread sold in the US and Canada. I will get someone to bring me a few loafs and I can keep them in the fridge for up to three months. Once in a while, I would slice a piece and toast it.
In the evening, I will usually have grilled fish or chicken with stir-fried vegetables, cucumber, green pepper, cauliflower…I also buy some extra virgin olive oil from Selfridges or sometimes almond oil. In fact, we line up for it but I buy enough to last a while. It’s very low in cholesterol. I also have a special stir fry pan to do all the cooking. You can say it’s an obsession now (laughter).
Then, on weekends, I’ll make a huge bowl of edika ikong with ugwu, water leaf and bitter leaf, which is very beneficial to the body. I get a lady in Calabar to smoke scaly fish especially for me. I don’t like black fish, obokun or any fish without scales. So, I’ll eat the vegetable, cooked with a drop of oil. And I can put in snails too, and that’s what I’ll eat. Sometimes I will eat this plantain flour, because protein is also good. Carbohydrates will always make you hungry faster. So, I’m really enjoying the food and getting the health benefits out of it as well. When I am hungry during the day, I will snack on unsalted un-fried nuts, and I love tea and drink up to five cups of green tea a day. That and water…no Coke, no Fanta, no juice.
The really good thing is that I enjoy the food. I look forward to eating. And I feel very good, very well. I sleep better too.
How do you relax?
I listen to music. I like music. I travel. And when I travel, I eat (laughter), because I like good. But the difference, I don’t just go to restaurants to eat. I like dressing up, going to a restaurant with friends, having good conversation and enjoying good food. At least, I thank God that restaurants all over the world now know how to manage people’s lifestyles too. So, there are places you can go to celebrate food or to get fat. I go to the cinema. In Lagos, I go to Silverbird. And I like going to the theatre. I like R & B music, I also like old classics because it reminds of when I was young also.
What’s your favourite perfume?
Oh, I love perfumes. But to be totally honest, it usually depends on whom I’m having a crush…(laughter). Like now, I am loving Creed. I also love Valentino. It’s funny I like his perfume, his clothes, his shoes…I think it has to do with my weight loss though. Once you find you can wear their clothes, you develop a liking for them (laughter).
What’s your favourite colour?
I used to love black. It makes you look slimmer. But I also like it because it is classic. Rather like Catherine Zeta Jones who wouldn’t be caught in anything other than black. But I also like red. Everything about our band’s logo is red. But I have also developed or I’m developing a liking for pastel colours as I grow older.
Lipstick or lip gloss?
I have very dry lips, so I need something to keep them moisturized, so I like lip-gloss. I find I am always eating my lipstick. I think when I am hungry, I eat my lipstick (laughter) one hour and the lipstick is always gone. So, I like gloss. I like Clinique lip-gloss and YSL. I do like Christian Dior lipstick because they do luscious lipsticks, but I don’t like red. I always go for earthy skin tone colours…I don’t want people to see the makeup before they see me (laughter). And I don’t like yellow, green or blue eye shadow!
What do you like doing to your hair?
I have done all kinds of things to my hair. Over the years, it has gone through all kinds of changes and challenges. I do braid it a lot. Years ago, I used to do a lot of different shades of burgundy. It was just for the adventure of it. Now, I do a lot of very deep auburn. I think it goes very well with my personality and complexion. I use extensions a lot because of the elegance of it. I don’t think anyone uses their own hair anymore, especially for formal occasions. I also like lace front wigs because, for occasions, it makes all the difference.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever done for fashion?
There are those hideous platform shoes that we all wore (laughing). Once, when I was a student in London, I wore a very high pair of platform shoes. I was crossing the road in Marylebone and I fell flat on my face! I had to quickly scramble up because the traffic lights were changing…my friends all made fun of me laughing. But then in those days, we all wore crazy things: minis, hot pants. They were so short then, bordering on indecent (laughing). But we were very young students then.
In one word classic.
What’s your fashion fetish?
(Smiling) You know what I have a fetish for, everything…(laughter). I like shoes, I like bags. I like clothes; I’ve liked jewellery since I was very young. But seriously, I’m sure I can compete with Imelda Marcos when it comes to shoes, I collect shoes…and I’ve been told that I have good feet for shoes. I like Stuart Weitzman best. They are stylish and comfortable. I’ve worn them all my adult life. I like Manolo Blaniks, but only for the adventure. I like bags…I’m loving now Dolce and Gabbana because I love the way they do usual things. I like Christian Dior. I have a one off bag from the 80th anniversary collection. I actually got someone to queue outside Harrods to get it for me. I call it one of my girly indulgences. I love watches, I tend to buy names, so I don’t have too many, but the quality is what counts. I love Rolex, Choppard, Piaget and Patek Phillipe.
Locally, I love Valerie Davis for evening wears and traditional clothings. Lanre da Silva is very retro, very different and original. Internationally, I like Adebayo Jones. I have two wonderful Lebanese designers based in Beirut that are really good, Hanna Touma and Abed Mafhoud. I also like Valentino and Roberto Cavalli.
Do you have any fashion icons?
My mother was a very good dresser. Always elegant and well dressed and she made her own clothes. She used to make some really nice patchwork that I admired. I also admire the fact there was very little money then, but she knew how to make a little go a long way. There are also some Nigerian ladies that I like their dress sense and they are very stylish: Chief Nike Akande is always classy and classic. Hajia Abah Folawiyo is very original, and she carries off her traditional wears very well. She doesn’t copy anyone else. I admire that. Grace Egbagbe is another well dressed lady who after all these years looks great.
What won’t you be caught dead in?
Mini dresses, halter necks…not at my age. Also anything that leaves my cleavage hanging out.
For the benefit of younger woman who could benefit from your experience, what advice about life would you give them?
Work hard. Get a good education. Try to be independent. Going to bed with men means you only get crumbs (laughter). Hard work is better, then you become successful and with that, as I said before, comes freedom. Freedom to do or get the things that make you look good if you want them. Be confident. Trust and believe in God. When you marry, share your life with your loved one because marriage is about sharing and companionship, believing in each other. Be happy and be in a career that makes you happy.
Speaking of marriage, do you have any regrets not having a man in your life?
I don’t know what you mean about not having a man in my life…I mean, the fact that I am not married does not mean I don’t have friends. I am not a hypocrite and everyone needs someone. We need someone to share our lives with, someone to talk to. And I will say one thing, it’s never too late for anyone to marry if you find the right person, to share your life with. I am very careful and a role model for many, so you are not going to find me marrying someone today to get divorced tomorrow. But that is my private life, but what I will say is that I am a very fulfilled woman. I am at peace with myself and in a great state of mind. I am very busy and very happy.
We notice that you also tend to stay very loyal to your friends. An example is Hajia Abah Folawiyo with whom you have been friends for years. What advice do you have for younger women and friendships?
People need to learn to accommodate each other. No one is perfect and once you learn of each other’s imperfections and shortcomings, you pick out the very good in that person. I don’t really make new friends. Hajia Folawiyo, Mrs. Asemota, are just a few of my friends that I met years ago and are still my friends today. I’ve known Hajia for more than 40 years. I didn’t lose sight of my friends during politics either. We are always together, we are more like family. Late Baba Adinni Folawiyo used to call me his daughter and Hajia, even though she is not too much older than me, she calls me her daughter. We like each other and our families are even inter-twined, involved with each other. That’s love and real friendship.
What would you like your legacy to be?
I want people to remember that I was able to take children and have a part in the development of their lives. I adopted nine children from Bakassi five years ago. When they came to me, they had never ever seen electricity before. Now, at the ages of between nine and fifteen, they go to one of the best schools in Calabar and are doing so well. Paul, the oldest, who is about 15, just finished his GCE. It feels good to have a part in the development of other human beings. On holidays, they all come down or I go to Calabar. We always find somewhere to go for a few week and it’s so fulfilling. Once, when they all came down, we were practically stepping on top of each other because of space, but there was so much love. I am building another house in Calabar and I’m hoping by the grace of God to adopt another ten to fifteen children to look after.
Would you ever consider plastic surgery?
Huh…(laughing). If I can develop the courage to bear local anesthesia. But really, there is nothing wrong with trying to look good. Politics is an ageless profession…you can be any age…I also am in the limelight and in show business so to speak (the Calabar Carnival). If I am 70 and I think I can benefit from plastic surgery, why not? As I said, the anesthesia aspect is the only thing that scares me…but I hear they are now developing keyhole surgery…(laughing). I hear they can even use laser now to remove wrinkles…who am to question? (laughing). Maybe by the time I need it, they should have developed some other thing to ease the pain.
THIS STORY WAS FIRST PUBLISHED IN ENCOMIUM WEEKLY ON TUESDAY, AUGUST 10, 2010