Minneapolis model and self-proclaimed "Queen of Dark" Nyakim Gatwech has found Instagram fame after going viral for her killer look, bringing visibility to black beauty.
The photo that launched 24-year-old Gatwech to internet celebrity wasn’t planned. She was simply sitting next to multiracial model Precious Katelyn Grant. “We were sitting there having a conversation, and I noticed she had a tattoo of Africa on her shoulder,” Gatwech recalls. “So I was like, ‘Oh, are you from Africa?’”
A passerby noticed that their complexions complemented each other very well.
“Someone just took a picture on their iPhone,” says Gatwech. “The way the lighting was; it was two beautiful black women with totally different complexions.”
As the image circulated on the internet, Gatwech shared a story online that also got a lot of attention. An Uber driver had asked her if she would bleach her skin for $10,000. Her answer was an unequivocal "No." She considers her very dark skin a blessing.
(Instagram: @miss__aude, @iamtberry)
The Uber driver’s suggestion hit a nerve; Gatwech has been bullied and teased because of her skin color.
“Oh my God. You’re so black, I can’t see you,” she recalls her classmates saying to her. “I heard all this stuff and I didn’t know how to deal with it. I was so hurt; I would just go in my room and cry.”
As a model, Gatwech has faced discrimination. After hiring Gatwech, a local designer changed her mind the day before the gig. “The dress fit perfectly, but she was panicking because the color of the dress did not go with my skin color,” Gatwech says. “She said, ‘No, this is not going to work. I have to find somebody else.'”
As she gains more exposure, Gatwech hopes she can be a role model for others. “I hope to speak to young girls about accepting who you are and loving who you are. I wish there had been somebody when I was younger to tell me that,” she says. “You are black and beautiful. You’re different, and there’s nothing wrong with being different.”
Since she’s had so much success as a local model, Gatwech is considering moving to New York or Los Angeles after she graduates from Minneapolis Community and Technical College, where she is studying elementary education. She’s already had one shoot up in Duluth, and now people are emailing her about shoots in Miami and Toronto. “So it looks like I’m going to be doing a little bit of traveling,” she says.
Meanwhile, Gatwech has an interest in doing hair and makeup on the side, especially because it took her a while to figure out the best foundation and powder combination for her skin. “I want to educate other dark skinned models on what I’ve learned,” she says.
Gatwech identifies as South Sudanese, though she was born in Ethiopia, where her family moved during times of war in Sudan. She moved to the United States in 2007 at age 14, first living in Buffalo, New York, and then St. Cloud.
For now, Gatwech continues to work with photographers and local fashion designers. “There are so many designers I work with in Minneapolis,” she says. “They are all pretty talented individuals.”