What does it mean to be a man? Surely, it’s not one thing. It’s a series of little moments that add up. Man Like is a weekly Zikoko series documenting these moments to see how it adds up. It’s a series for men by men, talking about men’s issues. We try to understand what it means to “be a man” from the perspective of the subject of the week.
Chiby Iwobi is one of the most animated men I’ve ever spoken to. Still, I expected nothing less from the man responsible for turning Lagos into one big party every other Friday. “My major skill is I can make friends with any and everybody,” he says. “I’m always hugging and fist-bumping everyone. It’s what I enjoy.”
Partnering with a friend in 2019, Chiby took his love for parties and a Lagos-based hot spot, South, to another level when he began hosting South Social — a party that quickly transformed into a youth movement laced with alcohol, sweat, social media sightings and FOMO for those unable to attend. While throwing parties and running an education-focused foundation might be a lot for some, Chiby seems to be managing it well… or is he?
In this episode of Man Like, Chiby talks about his struggles with body dysmorphia, the pressures of turning 30, why he wants to control his drinking and the one mistake from university that still haunts him today.
Chiby, before we get into this, outside of throwing sick parties, what’s one thing people would be surprised you did?
I used to write a lot of poetry.
Yes. I can explain. I was very insecure when I was younger. I was overweight and thought I was talentless. While most of the other kids around me had something they were good at like football or singing, I never felt like I was good at anything.
The poetry started because of a girl I met on Facebook when I was 15. I liked her, but I couldn’t pursue anything because I was insecure about my weight. We eventually became friends. One day, on a road trip, I thought of her and got inspired to write a poem about how much I appreciated her as a friend. It didn’t rhyme or anything, but it was a start.
Do you still write poetry?
I stopped when I was about 23 or 24. I started writing because I was emotional and it was my only way to vent. The older I got, the harder it became to connect with, and translate my emotions into poetry, so I started writing stories instead. Even though I’m in a much happier place now, I’m finding my way back to poetry and I’m excited.
Love it. I’m curious about how you dealt with the body insecurity you mentioned?
Dealt with it? Man, it still affects the way I see myself today. I had to admit to myself a couple of years ago that I struggle with body dysmorphia. I’ll always see myself as a chubby kid. I used to punish myself with intense workouts or runs whenever I ate too much. I’d also go on these ridiculous fruit detoxes where I would only eat fruits and drink water for three straight days. Till today, just knowing that I’ve had too many calories fucks me up mentally. There’s also the fear of putting on all that weight back.
But I’m working on it, and I have a better relationship with my body now than I had years ago. My end goal is to be comfortable with how I look.
Damn. Have you tried talking to someone about this?
I haven’t. The best thing I’ve done for myself is finally admitting that I have a problem with my body. During the lockdown, I was working out twice a day, and I was shredded. But I still found faults in my body. These days I tell myself, “Accept that you have this issue and don’t bother yourself too much about how you look because whoever will love you, will love you regardless.”
I felt this. When did it hit you that you were a man?
Don’t laugh, but this year for sure. I was going to be serious about my life in 2020, but COVID happened. It has dawned on me that I’ll be 30 next year; I’m not a kid anymore. Moving out and also becoming the head of the foundation where I work 9-5 has also brought more responsibilities and bills.
I never imagined myself being the head of anything because I’ve always thought I wasn’t special. Look at me now. LOL. I can’t keep living life like I’ve been doing before. All the reckless drinking has stopped. I’m changing my mindset and mentality.
Omo turning 30 is a big deal. What’s going through your mind?
The fact that the older I get, the more people expect of me. It’s exhausting. Now that I’m almost 30, the conversation has shifted to marriage. Because I also have what people might call a public relationship, everyone is expecting a big wedding from me and my girlfriend.
How does having a public relationship affect the dynamic of your relationship?
It hasn’t changed much. This is my first serious relationship. We’ve been together for three years, and before that, my longest relationship was three months. It doesn’t bother me that we’re out there because now everyone knows I’m taken and I can’t mess up.
Fair enough. How does a three-year-old relationship change a man?
The first thing that comes to mind is drinking. I’m always out every week and I could get waved quickly. It’s not a good look for me to be drunk and have my girl trying to take care of me in public. It’s taken a while, but I’m working on my drinking by taking things slow.
I’ve had to make that change for the both of us.
Nice. How is that going for you?
As a guy who throws parties for a living, managing my drinking has been a tough process. Parties are fun, but they can also get physically and mentally draining. Drinks used to help me get through back to back parties, but now I’m conscious about how much I drink. I feel like it’s the best move for me right now.
Love that for you. Can you speak on your experience navigating masculinity as a Nigerian man.
Fragile masculinity is common among Nigerian men and it’s something I’ve had to unlearn over time. I used to be very homophobic because society had conditioned me into believing it was wrong for a man to like another man. I’ve moved past it now, and most people would even say I do too much.
LOL. Yes. I’m always hugging and pecking my friends and most of them are just getting used to it. I remember pecking one of my guys once and in a reflex move, he hit my hand and I smashed my phone. Men aren’t used to intimacy with one another the way women are. Women are comfortable with their bodies. I’m not saying we should go around grabbing one another, but we can learn something from that freedom women have.
It’s not that deep.
Has anything ever threatened your masculinity?
There used to be a time when hearing statements like, “but you’re a man”, used to make me do things, even if I didn’t want to. I was trying to prove myself back then, but now I’ve gotten over that shit. If you tell me to do something, “because I’m a man”, chances are, I’ll be more gingered to turn you down.
Are there men in your life you’d consider role models for what it means to be a man?
No. I’ve had a situation where I respected and looked up to people only to be disappointed by their actions down the line. Human beings can and will disappoint you. I want to be my own person.
Don’t you think having flaws is what makes us human?
I get that. But it can be a hard and painful blow when someone you respect falls your hand. I used to really love and admire John Terry the footballer, only to learn later on that he was a racist. That was really disappointing for me.
I feel you. Can you talk to me about moments where you’ve been disappointed in yourself as well?
Damn. When I was younger and just getting on the internet, I didn’t see male sexual assault as a big deal. To me, I thought, “It’s just sex, who wouldn’t want that?” Thinking about it now, I realise I was ignorant. Why would I want something that traumatic to happen to me or anyone? This also goes back to some of the things I’ve learnt since I started listening to women, because I learnt most of these nuances from them.
Another incident I deeply regret was a mistake I made at university. My friends and I had gone out with an older guy who had more money for a night on the town. While we were hanging out, he asked if we could introduce him to any girl in our school and we did. That was my first mistake, handing a girl over to another guy like a pimp.
The next day, this guy tells us that after the girl refused to have sex with him, he refused to let her sleep on his bed. Basically, this girl had to stand in a corner all night.
Yes. The worst part is I just laughed her situation off like it wasn’t a big deal. I look back at that moment and understand how unfair and depressing that situation must’ve been for her. It was messed up.
I wish I’d been more vocal about it. I should’ve found her and apologised, but I didn’t. Instead, I acted like it never happened. You know what? I’m going to give her a call soon.
You should. But that’s a really messed up story.
It is. I was young and I made a mistake I deeply regret. However, what worries me today are the people who defend sexual assault in big 2022. I’m like where can we go from here? We have women suffering just because men don’t want to do better.
But do you now hold the men in your life accountable?
I want to say I’m grateful that the men in my circle don’t do things like this, but omo, as I said before, human beings can surprise you. For now, I’m surrounded by men who understand the importance of equality and respect for women. That being said, I’m also at a stage in my life where if someone says or does rubbish, I will correct or cut them off. No time.
I support this movement. Let’s shift to good vibes. What brings you joy these days?
My girlfriend is number one. Then there’s my family, friends, working out, getting results in everything I do—and then money; you know money has to be there.
Wait o, while money can bring security and happiness, the love I get from my family and friends is irreplaceable. I’m not saying I’m rich, but when I’m sad, it’s not the money in my account that brings me out of that pit, it’s the people I love. They are what really matter to me.
Cool. So if you could tell a younger version of Chiby something, what would you say?
Chiby, you’ll be fine. Don’t worry. The extra year you had in school is a blessing. The accident you had with the car, I know it’s depressing, but it’s a learning curve for you. You’ll do better. Trust me; you’ll be fine. By the way, you’ll have the prettiest girlfriend ever.
Who’s cutting onions?
Editor’s Note: After this interview, Chiby worked on his first poem in years. It’s a work in progress but he’s just happy to be trying again.