The South Sudanese model has become an inspiration to young girls everywhere who are struggling to be comfortable in their own skin
From a refugee in South Sudan to making a mark in the modeling world, Nyakim Gatwech has come a long way. In the fashion industry, where being light skin takes precedence, she's defied that norm. Gatwech's deep melanin skin is a thing of beauty which she has embraced wholeheartedly. She is often referred to as the 'Queen of the Dark'. In one of her Instagram posts, she captioned: My chocolate is elegant. So is what I represent. I represent a nation of warriors.
But the journey hasn't been an easy one. In an interview with Teen Vogue, she first experienced a brush with colorism when she moved to the States. She said, "I never had a problem with my skin until I came to America, went to my middle school and realized everyone was staring at me. The kids made fun of me."
However, it was an encounter with an Uber driver which she posted on Instagram went viral. He asked her, "If you were given 10 thousand dollars 💵 would you bleach your skin for that amount? Hearing this, she burst into laughter as she was rendered speechless. The driver took her laughter as a no sign. She added, "I was like hell to the f*king yeah that a no, why on earth would I ever bleach this beautiful melanin God bless with me." Unsatisfied with her answer, he said incredulously, "So you look at it as a blessing?"
"It takes time to love who you are. Be confident in whatever the situation is,” Gatwech told Teen Vogue, "If you love yourself other people will see. It will shine through you and then they have the choice to accept you or walk away."
The striking model is now an inspiration to young girls everywhere. With 895k followers on Instagram, she encourages people to be comfortable in their own skin. She said, "When I put a picture up I'm telling people that no matter what you say, I love who I am. I love my skin tone. I’m telling people that I am beautiful even though I look different than the majority of people in this world I live in."
Gatwech moved to the US when she was 14. Her journey wasn't an easy one. She walked bare foot from one refugee camp (Ethiopia) to another (Kenya) before arriving to America. She lost two of her siblings in the process. It was only in America that she had first heard of the word 'model'. A language barrier prevented from understanding what exactly people meant when they encouraged her to become one. "I used to think ‘what's modeling? Is that a job I should go apply for?'"
Things fell into place when she walked the runway for a friend's design in school. She built a portfolio for herself in New York where she was there for two years "and countless weekends during college to have photoshoots."
She also wants to send out a strong message about self-love and credits her mother who reminded her that she was beautiful, especially when she used to cry herself asleep when she thought she wasn't beautiful enough. Gatwech said, "I empower dark-skinned little girls who are bullied for having skin they can't change. A little girl wrote me a paragraph thanking me for loving myself. She told me that because I love myself she started to love herself too." In the fall, Gatwech will graduate from Minneapolis Community College. While she plans to focus on modeling, she intends to become an elementary teacher. "My goal is to continue with school, continue with modeling, and give back. It's not all about me, I want to help others who went through what I went through. I want to give back to my community in whatever way possible," she said.