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Sudanese supermodel Alek Wek never lacked confidence or doubted her value or beauty. When The Guardian asked her if she always knew she was beautiful, she replied, “Oh, yes, of course.”

“Our confidence came from my mother,” she says. “She told us it was about celebrating the beauty of being a woman – that’s what made you gorgeous.”

It was the high fashion and couture designers that enthusiastically embraced Wek’s look from the start. But for her, modeling and fashion meant more than the supermodel status, pretty clothes, and exotic travel.

“We have such a strong voice in fashion, such a platform. We have to utilise that.”

Wek uses her voice to represent women and inspire young girls – one who happened to be Oscar-winning Lupita Nyong’o, who paid tribute to Wek during a rousing speech at Essence Magazine’s Black Women in Hollywood luncheon. Wek says she was very humbled and touched by the gesture, although she didn’t always understand the magnitude of what she was doing because she wasn’t born in a culture where one is uncomfortable in her dark skin or criticized for her appearance.

“…But it wasn’t even about black or white. It was about women. 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.”

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Read more about Wek’s life in Sudan, her family’s escape to Khartoum and London, and her rise as a supermodel here.

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