They Called Me Olivia Pope: 8 Things I Learned During My Year In White


Scandal's leading lady, character Olivia Pope, was markedly my fashion inspiration during 2013 - my Iyawo year. If I was going to wear nothing but white for 365 consecutive days, I'd do so as my mother has raised me - with class and style.

I spent all of 2013 wearing white clothes every day, all the way down to my underwear and socks. Everyday I adorned myself in white suits, quality shoes, lovely blouses, and a perfectly perched headwrap. My mother gifted me with a white Coach bag to match my corporate day-job. And no, I never once spilled pomegranate juice down my shirt. Who ever said that a Iyawo can't look good AND be humble & pious never met me.


Iyawo, a Nigerian Yoruba word for bride, is the title given to men and women going through the Ifa/Santeria/Candomble initiation rites to become a priest; or, in Yoruba, an Iyalosa or Babalosa. During this year, you become in some ways a nun and are married to your orisha.

As a representative of my faith and my orisha (the central divinities), living as the sole representative in a world where they are largely unknown, it was my responsibility to be the highest representative in every way, in character and in dress. I slept on white sheets, used white towels, and even ate off of the same white plate and bowl all year. Honestly, the white wardrobe was the easy part...

The Iyawo year is one of purification, dedication, humility, and sacrifice. It changes you in countless ways, and that's the point. Of the men-ty men-ty men-ty lessons I learned during this year, here are 8 for you to meditate on (I've written many of these lessons down, and so far i've literally reached 236!).


1) Fear of the unknown can make you hysterical.
If an idle mind is the Devil's playground, then unrestrained thoughts must be the Devil's Disco. We all churn ideas in our heads, and basic thoughts quickly beget tangent upon tangent until they liken a snake-headed hydra. This often leads us to suffer hysteria or anxiety, and causes us to sometimes make drastic decisions alone in an empty room. Call down - your greatest fears are all in your imagination, and this isn't fair to your greatest good.

2) Wearing white will save you.
It's a beautiful and clean constant to meditate upon when the environment is chaotic. Wearing white makes you meticulously aware of your surroundings and yourself.

3) A perspective of lack makes you oblivious to your abundance.
For eight months, I wondered how I would come up with the money to pay for my initiation. I looked for quick, lump-sum hustles that never cashed out. I admit, I was embarrassed when, with two months to go, I realized that I made more than enough money from my full-time job to pay everything if I just prepared, planned and SAVED.

4) Only listen to your godparents.
So many people have opinions that have nothing to do with your growth and highest good, but instead, their own ego and limited understanding.

5) When an Elder shows you favor, yours are the keys to the vault of Knowledge and Wisdom.
Sit at their feet. Ask few (yet intended) questions. Serve with your whole heart. And listen.

6) Love combats the deepest and widest of fears.
The fear my parents had leading up to my initiation was probably deeper than my own. But despite their and confusions, Love and dedication carried them to my ocha celebration. A short time later, they congratulated me for my choice and watched me grow. They expressed the highest pride and deepest support. My parents showed me how deeply they love me on the day I became a priest.

7) Old lovers will pray that you haven't changed...
but in time you will both know that you have.

8) You invigorate the dreamers who want to change, too.
Not everyone will see you and recoil or fear. Your ability to be strong and bold and different (and sometimes chastised) will inspire others. People will look towards you for hope, when you have thought they never saw you. Someone has been dreaming of and imagining a change - a better "Them". Not knowing where to start, or what an improved version of self looks like, this person will look at your journey and understand. The journey will become clear, and lie out a path for others of self-development, one of which they could only dream.

Do any of these lessons resonate with you? Can you relate? Want to know more about the iyawo process? If so, please leave your comments below! If you'd like me to create a video to share more about my process, say that too!

Lastly, if you know any Iyawos, or someone who will soon be, please pass this on.

<3, Your Big Sister in Ocha


A version of this post originally appeared on You Are The Truth.

Follow Ama McKinley on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.