One random weekday Nyakim Gatwech was on her way to a job interview in an Uber cab, when her driver unexpectedly asked her a question with great consequences.
The man, who she describes as a “light-skinned black man”, asked her out of the blue: “Don’t take this offensively, but if you were given 10 thousand dollars would you bleach your skin for that amount?”
At first, Nyakim was stunned. But this was her powerful response.
“I couldn’t even respond I started laughing so hard. Then he said ‘so that’s a no’ and I was like ‘hell to the f*king yeah that’s a no, why on earth would I ever bleach this beautiful melanin God bless with me.'”
How an insult turned into a success story
Photos Courtesy of Instagram/@queenkim_nyakim
At that time, 24 year old Nyakim worked part time as a teacher, part time as a model. After the Uber incident she decided to share the story on her Instagram account with a picture of her and her Sudanese girlfriends.
She couldn’t believe what happened next.
She got an overwhelming amount of likes and supporting reactions on social media, many more than any of her earlier model pictures received.
“I’m used to people asking the stupidest questions ever [about my skin],” she says, adding that she didn’t find the driver’s question unusual. “I was so surprised that people were moved by [this story].”
The massive support inspired Nyakim to post more of her highs and lows on social media. Before she knew it, her number of followers on Instagram grew from a modest 20.000 to more than 300.000. And she attracted the attention of several brands and model agencies that wanted to book her for their campaigns.
From refugee camp to catwalk
But her path to success was rough, rougher than most of us can imagine.
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She was born in Sudan and lived at a refugee camp, where life was a daily struggle.
“My mother fled before I was even born, because there was a war. Soldiers would come and shoot the whole village, machine gun everybody down. She had to make her way with her children on foot to Ethiopia [to our first refugee camp], and she lost my older sister — she passed away along the way. We were there until the U.N. left that camp. After that, we moved to a refugee camp in Kenya, where finally we were accepted into the United States.”
At age 14, she arrived in Buffalo, New York. Because of her very dark skin she was constantly bullied by classmates — reactions like “You black as hell, take a shower” or “Smile so we can see you, Nyakim. We can’t see you” were daily business.
She says about this period: “There was a time in my life where I considered bleaching myself to avoid the dirty looks, the laughter, and for boys to find me attractive”.
Luckily her sister could talk this idea out of her head — her words changed her mindset for good:
“You would not just be bleaching your skin, you would be bleaching your mind. The most satisfying feeling is when you are comfortable in your own skin and when you accept your beautiful dark, dark melanin.”
Feeling inspired by these words, Nyakim decided to ignore all racist reactions and pursue her dream to become a model. Encouraged by her growing group of followers, she has managed to build up a successful career and left her former classmates astonished.
Remember this when you have an off-day
Nyakim still encounters discrimination on and off the catwalk. She feels it’s her mission to empower other black women — and beyond, to make us all accept ourselves the way we are.
“You are beautiful, you are unique, and there are people who love you just the way you are.”
Embrace who you are inside and out, focus on the people who like you instead of the ones that don’t. And find beauty in the things that you don’t like about yourself:
“My skin absorbs the suns rays and my hair defies gravity. Now you can’t tell me I’m not magical!”
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