Role Model of the Moment: Aweng Chuol

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The fashion world loves Aweng Chuol. She’s captured the imagination of photographers with her unique facial scars and ever-changing eye colours, a result of a parental biogenetic mutation that causes them to change from grey to green to brown, depending on the climate. This South Sudanese model was born in a Kenyan refugee camp before moving to Sydney at age seven. At just 20 years old, Aweng Chuol has been in a Fenty Beauty campaign and magazines like Vogue Italia, Wonderland Magazine and Vanity Fair France. But she has dreams beyond fashion. When she’s not studying two degrees, she’s speaking out about everything from the Sudan crisis to LGBTQ+ issues.

By Elizabeth Harrington

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Aweng Chuol loves her facial scars

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Aweng Chuol got her scars from being ill as a child and from an adventurous childhood “climbing trees and chasing chickens”. She grew up loving her scars. She told Dazed: “They are a part of who I am. I had it instilled in me from a young age that my scars made me beautiful.” 

But not everyone is as open-minded. “People tell me I look like a jaguar or that I’m ‘exotic’. Sometimes I just want to shout at everyone: ‘Look at me, I’m not just a scar, I’m a human’. But I get it, it’s a curiosity. I know I’m different, I know my facial features are different, but to me that’s beauty.” 

Aweng’s facial scars were left unedited in a recent Fenty Beauty campaign. Instead of photoshopping them, the brand chose to embrace her natural skin texture in all its glory – something that is such a rarity, it made headlines. The importance of this act not only normalises acne scars, it proves they don’t diminish someone’s beauty, too. 

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From McDonald’s cashier to role model

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Aweng Chuol was scouted while working as a cashier at McDonalds in Sydney. At the time, she and her mother agreed she was too young to start modelling. But when the same thing happened again a couple of years later, she decided to give it a crack. 

But growing up, Aweng hardly felt like a model. In high school, Aweng was the only African female in her predominantly white school. “I began to think I must be ugly,” she told Dazed. “I didn’t look like the next person. The next person didn’t look like me.” With so little representation of South Sudanese people in mainstream media, she had no visible role models to look up to. She told OkayAfrica: “I took it upon myself to break all the barriers.” 

Today, Aweng Chuol has become the role model she wished she had growing up. “I see myself as someone I wish I saw when I was younger,” she said. “As someone who has grown a lot and grows everyday. I am my own hero.”

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AWENG CHUOL Mini Interview

The path to success has been challenging

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Since her debut at Vetements AW18, Aweng Chuol has walked for the likes of Savage x Fenty, Philipp Plein and Junya Watanabe. She’s also been in magazines like Dazed, Vogue Italia and Oyster Magazine. But it hasn’t been an easy journey. 

“At first I didn’t feel accepted,” she told Dazed. “I felt as if I was a token. It wasn’t just that I was the only dark skinned female, I was the girl with the scars on her face. I had clients that I’d dreamt of working with for years come up to me and say, ‘We only want to use this side of your face because of your scars’. They didn’t even see me as a human. They only wanted parts of me.”

Now, she’s a lot happier. “I’ve accepted that even though people were fetishising my beauty, they were appreciating it.”

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She wants to be president

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When she’s not strutting her stuff, she’s studying two degrees in politics and psychology. And she has big dreams. “My goal in life is to be the first female President of South Sudan,” she told Dazed. “I feel like I’m needed over there, I don’t know if you’ve noticed but we’re in a crisis. It’s time for millennials to take over. Now, not in 10 years time. It’s messy right now, imagine in 10 years time.”

One of the issues close to her heart is #BlueForSudan, a social media campaign that arose following the murder of pro-democracy protesters in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum. Through the power of social media, she’s seeing the world cotton on to the crisis in her home country. 

As the eldest of 12 children, Aweng has always had a sense of responsibility. She’s a vocal activist in issues relating to mental health and the LGBTQ+ community. She identifies as bisexual and knows the importance of feeling accepted to ‘come out’. She told Dansk: “When I chose to bring my girlfriend home, I literally said: “Mum, this is my girlfriend, wassup”. It was never a big deal.”

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She’s leaving a lasting impact on the world

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When reflecting about what it was like growing up as a black woman, Aweng told Dansk: “If you’re a black human in this world, you have to work twice as hard. But as a black person that falls into the box of being a literal minority part of the world – as myself, a refugee, a woman and a LGBT person – it’s even harder.” 

But working twice as hard has never stopped Aweng from setting high goals for herself. “I want to be someone who not only was a model or a business woman, I want to be someone who is known to change things, just not society, from a social point of view, but also politically.”

At only twenty years old, Aweng Chuol has already accomplished a lot. As her modelling career skyrockets, she’s never lost sight of who she is. Whether it’s helping other young girls grow confident in the skin they’re in, or speaking out against war and inequality, Aweng is changing the world.

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