You were born in Gambela (Ethiopia) and now an American model of South Sudanese descent. You later migrated to Kenya where you lived in refugee camps, until you finally migrated to the US, when you were 14 years old. You originally settled in Buffalo, New York, and later moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota. It was in Junior year of high school when you felt to really pursue modeling. The career clicked with you when you strutted down the runway in your friend’s designs at a school event. You finally considered a modeling career after taking part in a fashion show at St. Cloud State University. You did overcome all the hardships and adversity and went on to become one of the most widely recognized social media stars in the digital world and as a supermodel. This later propelled your career to the height where you have been at the top of the world of modeling and social media when you became a member of the 2019 L’Oréal League—L’Oréal Paris’ influencer ambassador program. Tell us more about your professional journey of exceptional hard work, tenacity, and endurance?
My professional journey into the modeling industry was not easy. Being from a refugee camp and facing many hardships, I came to America with a dream to be a model. I struggled with being bullied through high school and into college which made me feel like I couldn’t do it…like I wasn’t cut out for it. I had given up and eventually felt I didn’t deserve it. I didn’t possess the beauty standards that the Western World celebrated, so as time passed I just decided to work on self-love, self-esteem and self-confidence and at some point I no longer cared what anybody had to say. I just loved on myself and worked on being the best me. My real journey started when I stopped caring about other people’s negative opinions of me, my background or my skin color.
When my authentic love-of-self began, that’s when I started modeling. I took so many pictures which I submitted to the different agencies in New York and L.A. Years passed, and I wasn’t getting any responses because once again, I wasn’t the typical look seen on the cover of VOGUE at that time. People would say you’ve been trying this for years, you should give up, but I didn’t. In the back of my mind, I knew I was going to succeed. This is something that I was meant to do! Especially after the struggle my family went through coming to America for my siblings and I to get an education and for me to follow my dream.
I blew up in 2017 when one of my pictures went viral. God opened that door for my professional modeling journey to begin. If agencies are not going to sign you and brands don’t want to work with you, I’ll open a different door to show you that you can still pursue what you love. And that was through social media.
From there, He opened another door that I wasn’t expecting, but I was prepared. So when the L’Oreal Paris team reached out after seeing me on social media, I jumped at the opportunity to become a Brand Ambassador for this iconic brand.
I told myself I’d been through the hardest times in life, sitting here in America and listening to what other people said about me. My family has been through too much for you to give up on yourself. Not now, not tomorrow not the next year and that’s when my career took off. That’s when I felt like this is what I needed to do and would always do.
You once said, “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.” You further said, “I empower dark-skinned little girls who are bullied for having skin they can’t change,” Tell us about this spectacular achievement of yours where you have started a movement of self-love and female empowerment?
Seeing a post on Instagram or a girl in an ad won’t automatically make you okay with who you are. My personal movement started when I decided to love myself, became comfortable in my own skin and starting believing in myself. Now nobody can tell me otherwise. I’m happy with who I am, but it wasn’t always this way. I can talk about the struggle I went through, how I cried myself to sleep every night and didn’t want to wake up the next morning and face all the negativity I received daily. But I prefer to use my platform to spread happiness, female empowerment and self-love because I know there are a lot of people like me suffering in silence. Nobody talks to them about it, so I wouldn’t say that I started the movement for girls with dark skin, but I am a big part of it. There’s so many other amazing models on social media and in magazines helping young girls fall in love with themselves and become comfortable with who they are.
You are the world-leading supermodel, social media personality, and brand ambassador. How do you manage such a remarkable multi-dimensional lifestyle?
It wasn’t easy for me in the beginning. I didn’t think it was going to be a big career because mind you I’d been trying for so long. But as my career took off, I had my brother helping me and now I have my manager who makes sure that everything is in line from every message I receive and respond to, to keeping my schedule and getting me to and from jobs. So I feel like I have a team around me that helps me be my better self and maintain who I am. That’s how I’m able to do all this stuff in my life without losing sight of where I came from and where I’m going. I have people around me who support and generally care for me.
What exercises comprise your fitness regime or workout routine you may wish to share?
When I was younger, I had this body that didn’t change at all no matter what I ate. I used to eat junk food and my body would just stay the same. I guess you would say it was God-given, but when I reached the age of 27, I started seeing changes in my body. I was like, okay, now I have to go to the gym. So I hired a trainer and I started doing workouts: sit ups, running and all types of exercises to keep healthy. I had to change my diet as well, but this is all very recent so I’m still working on developing a routine where I wake up every day and exercise.
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