In true Disney Princess tradition, many of the best female supermodel origin stories seem to follow the Cinderella plot archetype.
Cinderella is more of a persecuted heroin rather than a damsel in stress; an orphan, outcast and is often seen as an innocent; who is aided by a fairy Godmother and saved by a handsome prince who is enraptured by her beauty and innocence.
In the original fairly tail, Cinderella is mistreated and ostracised by her step-mother and step-sisters and is kept from going to the big ball to meet the handsome prince.
Like Cinderella the models journey seems all too predictable. Like Cinderella their early journey sees them bullied, demeaned. Ridiculed for being too gangly, too tall, too flat-chested, too strange-looking. Boys of the same age do not find them attractive. So many grow up believing themselves to be unlovable, even social outcasts.
Just like Cinderella the young model is seen as sweet and soft spoken and clearly vulnerable and unable to save herself, this is where the fairy godmother swoops in – perhaps at an airport (Kate Moss), or McDonald’s (Gisele Bündchen). And the fairy Godmother plucks them from obscurity and drops them into a life of international travel, money and acclaim.
It’s this archetype, overcoming adversity to achieve love and the immense dualities of the human experience of “good triumphant over evil, that has been duplicated.
When it comes to overcoming adversity and “good triumps over evil” plotline Cinderella and company don’t have anything on Adut Akech’s origin story.
Akech was born as her mother fled civil war in South Sudan and was raised in a refugee camp in Kenya. At age eight, she moved with her family to Australia. When she arrived, she didn’t speak any English,
“I was this tall, super-shy, awkward kid,” she says. “I had a weird name, and a gap tooth.”
Track forward to 2019 where Adut was named 2019 Model of the Year at the British Fashion Awards.
Akech credits her indefatigable work ethic to her single parent mother. After arriving in Australia as a refugee, Akech’s mother worked in a laundry, as a supervisor.
“She’d wake up at 4am and come home at 10pm.”
Akech is a longtime diversity campaigner. She’s spoken about her experience as a refugee for the United Nations and championed the representation of darker-skinned models in the industry.
Her impassioned speech at the British Fashion Awards 2019, as Vogue Editor Edward Enninful and Valentino’s creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli presented, ensured there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
“Never doubt yourself or let the world convince you that things are not possible,”
She told the assembled audience of industry professionals, her voice cracking with emotion, resplendent in a electric green Valentino gown.
“If a little dark-skinned South Sudanese refugee who comes from absolutely nothing can do it, so can you.”
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