Speaking to The Guardian’s Sali Hughes, supermodel Alek Wek reveals her experiences as a young Sudanese model starting out in the industry, explaining:
“There was no concept of fashion and catwalk shows where I came from. There were no magazines. I never saw women in makeup, or with different hairstyles. Absolutely not. There were black models, but no one as dark-skinned, and none with Dinka features, that’s for sure.”
In the interview, posted to paper’s website this week, the supermodel comments on her initial experiences of being a black model in the industry, saying:
“When I started, I’d hear other people saying, ‘God, she’s so bizarre-looking’, because I didn’t look like the girl next door. But I was just normal. I was the girl next door. There were people in high fashion I could better relate to, who were doing something more interesting and not talking this sort of rubbish.
A black woman is not ‘a type’. I never had any interest in those jobs that asked for only black girls. What the hell is that? Would you be comfortable saying you wanted only white girls, or Latin? Are you kidding me? It’s baffling.”
But despite her working environment, the famously long-limbed, dark-skinned beauty tells The Guardian that she has always retained pride and confidence in her looks, thanks to her mother:
“She told us it was about celebrating the beauty of being a woman – that’s what made you gorgeous. You can feel very strongly that someone doesn’t like you. I think any model who didn’t have the same sort of upbringing as me would find that very difficult. But I absolutely knew I was entitled. I never thought I was ugly – it never crossed my mind.”
Alek also talks of her role within the industry, saying:
“I felt that girls growing up needed to see somebody different, who may have been criticised for their nose, or their hair, or anything – that they could be beautiful. It’s about telling girls from a young age that it’s OK to be quirky, it’s fine to be shy. You don’t have to go with the crowd.
There are mothers who sew for six months to make a fashion collection – someone’s grandmother, someone’s sister. We come in and get paid to walk for 10 minutes at the end. Whenever I think about that, I realise it’s not about me. I was just the one chosen to represent those women and sell the clothes.”
Image source: Theguardian.com