Alek Wek couldn’t believe people “chose not to eat” when she started out in the fashion industry. The model was born in Southern Sudan and remembers going hungry when she was growing up because of the civil war there. She has eight siblings and they had to live off what they could grow, which they also shared with their neighbours.
At 14 she fled to London with one of her sisters, which is where she was scouted by a modelling agency. She initially thought it was a joke, but was even more amazed when she started working.
Wek, a veteran runway model now residing in the US, found herself thrust into the modeling world, she was shocked by what she saw. “In this world,” Wek tells the Daily Beast, “I found many people were hungry too, but for different reasons. They wanted their bodies to look a certain way, whether their bodies were meant to or not. They chose not to eat.”
Wek’s perspective is unique, given her background: in the 1980s, she fled civil war in Sudan and settled as a refugee in London… only to find herself an Elle cover girl just a few years later. Despite ascending to fashion’s highest heights, her outlook remains firmly rooted in her past and her experiences.
She tells the Daily Beast
“In restaurants in my Brooklyn neighborhood, I always ask for a doggie bag, to bring the leftovers home. My ex-boyfriend suggested more than once that I cut this out, as he found it embarrassing. (Perhaps that’s why he is no longer my boyfriend.) I told him, ‘What’s embarrassing is that I should have so much more than others.'”
It’s a refreshing dose of common sense in a world where unreasonable expectations — and whatever it takes to meet them– often seem to trump all.
Wek has previously used her level-headed voice to speak out about refugees. In July, she attended the first-ever Refugee Congress in Washington, D.C where refugees from all over the world told their stories and offered suggestions for American policies.
“The most humbling thing fashion has given me is a voice, and I hope to use that for other refugees,” she said back in August. Now she’s using it to speak out about hunger — the kind in Sudan and the kind in the fashion world.by
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