How Alek Wek Went From Sudanese Refugee to International Supermodel

It wasn’t always red carpet.

Image: Vogue

Back when I was obsessed with Ftv, every time Alek Wek came up on the runway my heart did some serious backflips. My aunt brought home copies of fashion magazines and I’d keep copies of the ones with pictures of Alek. I grew up obsessed with her. So, when I saw her on the shelf at Prestige Bookshop I knew she had to come home with me.

In Alek: My Life from Sudanese Refugee to International Supermodel, Alek Wek takes us through her journey from Sudan, to England, and to the world. This is not an all glitz-and-glamour journey as we often think the supermodel life is. She shares her simple childhood, the seventh of nine children and how things were before and during the Second Sudanese Civil War. We also get to know a bit about the Dinka tribe and a few history lessons on Sudan.

Alek takes us through the changes that came with the war; when her hometown Wau became a military zone with lawless militias robbing, molesting, raping and destroying everything around them, with soldiers in town and rebels on the outskirts. Her family had to flee Wau to her extended family’s village where life was very different from the one she’d been accustomed to, then had to separate and flee to Khartoum.

Through the hardships they had to endure, the loss of her father, separating, fleeing to London and all the challenges she had to face, one can tell how tough, humble and tenacious she is. Before the red carpet she was stacking shelves in a supermarket, and cleaning toilets at a salon she worked in.

My favourite part of the book was her take on race, skin colour and beauty standards. She shares how her skin colour has both helped and hurt her in the modeling industry. The challenges she faced included being found interesting but not interesting enough for the industry players to take a chance on her because of the fear of how everyone else, the audience, would respond to someone so outside of the so-called normal beauty standards.

Alek has made a statement in the fashion industry, challenged the notion of beauty and opened the gates for women who are different to be seen and to see themselves. I appreciated some of the life lessons she shared, the humility and authenticity of her voice. And, of course, the cover and some of the gorgeous photos of her inside the book are a bonus for me.

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Autodidact & Bibliophile

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