Nyakim Gatwech is a Sudanese-born fashion model known primarily for her melanin-rich skin, which has earned her the nickname ‘Queen of Dark’.
As a refugee growing up in camps in Ethiopia and Kenya, Nyakim Gatwech was never ashamed of her super dark skin and her South Sudanese heritage, but when her family immigrated to the United States when she was 13-years-old, her different appearance made her the target of bullies. Some of the kids at her school in Buffalo, New York, could be very mean, and having never had to deal with racism before, she was confused. Some middle-schoolers were afraid to her, while others made fun of her dark skin tone, and she would come home crying unable to explain to her parents what was going on. Things improved when she moved to St. Cloud, Minnesota for high school, and became with other Sudanese and Somali kids, but she never really felt like she belonged. Even today, some of the things people say about her skin make her feel uncomfortable, but she has learned to take them in stride and educate instead of complaining.
Some people ask Nyakim if her dark skin is the result of some medical condition, or if she can just shower the black away. One Uber driver once asked her if she would bleach her skin for $10,000, which really shocked her. It was her response to this question, which she posted on Instagram a couple of years back, that got her a lot of attention online.
“Why on earth would I bleach this beautiful melanin God [blessed] me with…you won’t believe the kind of questions I get and the kind of looks I get for having this skin,” Nyakim Gatwech wrote. Her post got over 10,000 likes and got her interviews with Yahoo!, Teen Vogue and Huffington Post. She has been using the spotlight to give kids and teenagers the representation that she lacked as a young girl.
Nyakim started her modelling career by mistake, when she was 17-years-old. Her tutor, who was a design student, asked her to model a dress she designed for a student fashion show, and she loved it. Since then, she has been doing modelling gigs both in Minnesota, as well as New York City and Los Angeles.
The 26-year-old African-born model has become a vocal advocate for self-acceptance, speaking out against discrimination based on skin color both at event and through her Instagram, where she is followed by over half a million people.
“The negative reactions or comments don’t affect me as much now—some of them I laugh at. But there are some that go deep and bring me down for a little bit,” Gatwech said in an interview. “Some people say I get followers because people feel bad for me, not because I’m actually beautiful. They say I’m the dumbest person ever. But there are millions more people who think I’m beautiful and give me positive feedback.”
Nyakim Gatwech joins fellow “melanin goddess” Khoudia Diop in using the modelling platform to promote body-positivity and combat racism.