Comfortable in Her Own Skin: Elie Odigie Talks About Beauty and Strength

Written by: Trish Lim/Tuesday, Mar 22, 2016 01:53 PM

“I am confident.” 

Three words most women aren’t given to say, yet Elie Odigie manages to utter them without pretenses, no hint of insecurity or shyness tingeing her cool demeanor. “People will taunt you and bypass you, pero sorry na lang sila,” she says, casually flipping her hand as if to sweep away all the negative comments about her advocacy, her sexuality, and the color of her skin.

Elie works with a big advertising agency under the media and analytics group, but when she isn’t confined within the four walls of her office, she is pouring heart and soul into a passion project that aims to empower small enterprises. “I had an idea to help small enterprises in MarComm (Marketing Communications),” she explains. “Last year, I submitted the idea to Go Negosyo - to the Youth Entrepreneurship Development Workshop and I was part of the top fifty at the culminating event.”

The idea started as a thesis for her Master’s degree, wherein she helped her mom’s accountancy firm build a marketing strategy to help her business flourish. Jumping off from that, she decided to turn it into an advocacy, extending the same service to other small businesses. Still in the works and mostly confidential as of this moment, Elie cannot divulge too much about the endeavor. In a nutshell, though, what she envisions is a platform that will give small to medium enterprises better access to marketing and advertising services. “99% of businesses in the Philppines are SMEs. These are 99% who could actually grow and impact the economy,” she says.

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As with most start-ups and budding businesses, Elie’s own idea met its fair share of contention and resistance. If people don’t understand, they tend to push it away or dismiss it completely. “Nobody believed that I could do it - only my brother,” she says, tearing up a bit. She talks about the first time she presented it: one of the panelists, who was an advertising veteran, criticized her idea and shot it down. “I talked to my brother and dad. My dad advised me and it gave me the strength for the next day…that second presentation went better. If I had just cried in the corner, I wouldn’t have been able to pull that off.”

The project is now undergoing tweaks and will soon be set into motion, but even then, it will pass through a vigorous process of validation and test trials. Still, Elie remains optimistic about the future of her start-up. “I know my purpose is to help SMEs,” she says. ”In two to three years, I want to be helping more of them.”

On Being Different and Standing Out

Most women face bias and discrimination because of their sexuality, but Elie faces the double challenge of being a woman and a woman of color. She is half-Nigerian, her darker complexion and kinky hair making her instantly stick out from the crowd. Growing up, people had always made hasty assumptions about her - that she didn’t have a father or that she came from a broken family. (Contrary to this, she has wonderful parents and a sibling who are immensely supportive of her passions.) She’s had to deal with people talking behind her back or telling her straight up she can’t do or be certain things because of the way she looked. 

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“I used to do ballet,” she recounts in Taglish. “I have an African body so I have big hips. Someone told me that I couldn’t be a ballet dancer; she was very competitive with me. But I just continued to dance, and at one point I was awarded the most promising student and I went on to become a member of the junior company of Ballet Philippines.”

I want my value to be seen and felt, so having that taken away
from me is a big issue.


As an adult, she experiences these biases to a lesser degree, but it doesn’t mean she isn’t perturbed when they occur, especially when it comes to fulfilling her professional duties. “I want my value to be seen and felt, so having that taken away from me is a big issue,” she says, pointing out that some colleagues tend to underestimate her skills. “But you learn to focus on the things that matter.”

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Despite the negativity and doubts, Elie manages to stay positive and true to herself. She’s embraced being different, learning to look inward and find strength in her capabilities. “If you don’t remember what you’ve accomplished, they can easily sweep you aside. If you know what your principles are, what you are willing to give, they can’t do anything to you.

In terms of what makes a person beautiful, Elie also has her own ideals - one that is not fixed on the physical, but rather on the interior: “Being beautiful is not external. I would rather cultivate a good persona,” she says. “If she’s beautiful, it will radiate. You would see by the way he or she treats you, by the way he or she talks.

It is statements like these that convince me that Elie is of a rare breed; she holds a kind of strength and wisdom that goes beyond her 20-something years - one that allows her to combat criticisms with grace and composure. “Just don’t mind them,” she says of naysayers. “What people think about you is none of your business. It will say a lot about them and not about you.” Though she experiences the same anxieties and fears about the future (“analysis paralysis” she calls it) as most of us do, she manages to keep a level head, plan a course of action, and actually push through with it - no matter what other people say. 

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About Trish Lim
Trish Lim loves writing about travel and the characters in her head. She's also a painter and an entrepreneur. When she's not at her desk, she's out exploring the Philippines, making art, or searching for a good cup of coffee. Check out her adventures at trishintransit.com.
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