A girl kept posting on Facebook that she did not accept her black skin and that she wanted to wake up white-skinned every morning. One day she came across the picture of Alek Wek, a very successful and very black model who is considered also very beautiful. This inspired her to think that she is somebody special, too. In fact, many African girls have changed the way they perceive themselves, following the example set by Alek Wek.
Alek Wek was awarded the “Model of the Year” title in 1997 by MTV, and was the first African model to appear on the cover of ELLE that year. Dark-skinned models were rare, if not unheard of, in the high fashion industry. Her industry saw her as new and exotic – a savage beauty. Her distinctive looks, so different from the usual catwalk fare, caused a stir in the world of fashion and won her many awards.
Alek Wek was born seventh of nine children in Wau in 1977 (When I volunteered in Nigeria I met some people from Wau). Her family belongs to the southern Sudanese Dinka tribe. Her name means “the-black-and-white-cow”, which was supposed to bring her luck.
She grew up in a poor, dangerous and war-ridden area, where leaving home meant the risk of rape, or kidnapping, or death. Once a gunman in her yard began shooting like crazy into the night because he took a handle being pressed for the click of a rifle. When the civil war broke out in Wau in 1985, the Alek family had to flee from both rebel and government forces.