Famously nicknamed ‘Queen of the Dark’ by her loyal fans, 24-year old Nyakim Gatwech made headlines recently for her beautiful dark skin. Originally from South Sudan, Nyakim currently resides in Minnesota and she is dedicated to making sure that all women feel good in their own skin.
We sat down with Nyakim to talk to her about diversity in the beauty industry and what life has been like for her since she started modelling.
What inspired you to start modelling?
I used to work at an elementary school because one of the things I am most passionate about is working with kids. But the first time I looked into modelling, I never had the courage to go ahead and do it because I felt I wasn’t pretty enough. By my junior year of high school I did a fashion show with a local designer and it felt amazing. So I thought: ‘This is my calling, this is something I should do.’ After I graduated high school, I dropped everything and moved to New York to try and pursue modelling full time. It was tough to find work, so I decided to go back to school and become a teacher. About a year ago, I decided to start modelling professionally again, because I started to feel like it was really taking off.
How did your name ‘Queen of the Dark’ come about?
I actually didn’t come up with it! I’d just recently created Twitter and I was getting all these followers who wanted to know more about me. As I was scrolling through Twitter, I saw an interview that the headline said ‘South Sudanese model has been nicknamed ‘Queen of the Dark.’ And I thought it was catchy!
What do you think of diversity in the modelling industry and what have your experiences been like?
The industry is changing and you have to give credit where it’s due, but there is still a lot of discrimination and I can sometimes still feel it. There are people who are more accepting and are more willing to work with me now and who tell that they would love to work with me. I think it is important to have diversity in anything that we do. Whether it be in modelling, education, it’s important to have different people.
You mentioned that you were bullied at school for the colour of your skin. How did you cope and what did it teach you?
The kids at school would make fun of me and that they ‘couldn’t see me’ because of my skin colour. So when people told me that I should be a model, I thought: ‘How can I be when I can’t see anyone who looks like me?’ I want to show girls who don’t think they’re beautiful that they are, because God created us in different shapes, sizes and we all look different. Why does only one look have to be considered beautiful? Modelling is all about being a role model. It’s someone you look up to and that was one of the issues I had a school. I’m not the only person in the whole world with this skin colour. There just aren't a lot of people who look like me in this industry.
So is one of the reasons you went into modelling to inspire people?
That’s my main focus now. When I started to learn to accept myself, that’s when I thought: ‘You know what, I am going to be a model and I don’t care what they say. I am beautiful.’ Those kids I went to school with will see me and think: ‘Oh that’s that girl from middle school, look she’s on TIME magazine.’ So I feel my modelling is leading down a more inspirational route, mostly from little girls who I’ve inspired. So I feel that it won’t be doing catwalk modelling. I’ll be doing conferences, speaking at schools and reading to kids and sharing my story. I want people who’ve been through what I did to come up to me and talk to me about it. I honestly love the way my career is headed. So instead of me walking, I’m talking instead!
What is beautiful to you?
I feel that beauty is self-love and self-acceptance. Beauty is not just the long blonde hair and blue eyes. Beauty is the girl with acne and the girl with curly, natural hair. Whatever you are is beautiful.
What’s your signature makeup look?
I love bright lipstick and I wear red, blue any crazy colour! People would sometimes say that it didn’t suit my complexion. But now I put it on and I think ‘What were they talking about? It looks great!’
If you could Slapp on one beauty product, what would it be?
It would probably be an eyebrow pencil or false eyelashes because I love them.
How do you stay healthy, body and mind?
I thank God who has blessed me to look the way I look, because I am the not the most healthy person! I’m working towards eating healthy food and I’ve recently got a trainer. I want to start going to the gym and eating well, but the traditional South Sudanese food that my mum taught me to cook is actually quite healthy, like collard greens and rice. I also meditate by turning the lights off and closing the curtains; and will just sit there for 30 minutes and just calm myself and just think about my day. I also pray because my mum is a Pastor, so I come from a religious family. So I ask God for wisdom all the time.
There are a lot of young people out there who feel insecure because they don’t fit the ‘beauty ideal.’ What are your words of wisdom for them?
I’m not going to say just love yourself and everything will be fine, because that’s hard. I didn’t do that at first. You have to learn to love yourself one day at a time and talk to people who care about you. Don’t be around people who are negative. If they say bad stuff about you and they carry on doing it, then don’t hang around them.
I want to do a lot! I want to collaborate with a makeup brand and make a foundation that carries colours that are deep enough for someone who has my complexion. I love makeup and I have figured out how to work with what I have. But I have a hard time finding makeup that matches my skin tone. I used to have one that they made for Lupita Nyong’o. It wasn’t exactly the right colour, but it was dark enough for me to blend it in. I would be happier if someone had one right shade, because foundation is supposed to disappear into your skin. Why should I limit my choices because of my skin colour?
I also want to reach out to people because I get messages from girls in Minnesota. So I want to have a conference where we talk and tell me their stories.