Model Monday: Agbani Darego

In Essence Magazine

Agbani Darego is a Nigerian beauty that captivated the world with her motivational message and good looks. At the age of twelve Agbani’s mother died of breast cancer while she was away at boarding school. Instead of wallowing in her pain, Agbani used the death of her mother as motivation to reach her goals.  In spite of losing the M-Net Face of Africa competition, Agbani went on to compete and win the title The Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria, positioning her to compete in the Miss World pageant. Having come from a conservative family, Agbani’s pursuits weren’t supported by her father, but she remained focused on her goal and couldn’t be dissuaded. That decision paid off. Agbani won Miss World  in 2001 and became the first black African to win the , a competition normally dominated by Europeans, effectively changing her life forever.

At the time of the pageant, Agbani was enrolled at University of Port Harcourt as a computer science major. After winning Miss World, Donald Trump took Agbani under his wing and she transferred to New York University to work with Next Model Management (Donald’s agency) and for a time was heavily involved in the modeling world. Though she isn’t currently pursuing a modeling career, she was featured in US Vogue and Essence, acted as a spokesperson for L’Oreal cosmetics (2002-2004), and walked  numerous catwalks, including Elie Tahari.

Thing is, Agbani isn’t considered beautiful in her own country! In West Africa, she is considered too tall and small to be pretty and even Agbani acknowledges that her grandmother wanted to “fatten her up” so that she would be beautiful and find a husband. Time after time, Nigeria was sending models that didn’t conform to Westernized  beauty standards to the competition and were losing. Upset and ready to win, the local organizers were instructed not to pick who they felt were the most attractive, but who best fit certain height and weight restrictions, Western ideals of beauty. As a result, Agbani was given a chance.

By winning Miss World Agbani revolutionized the modeling industry and how people of color, particularly Africans, view pageantry. She remains a role model for many young women because she is a reflection of them. Though there is still work to be done in terms of how the world perceives body type and height, Agbani expanded international standards for beauty and allowed the world to see Africans in a new light. “I have made history… black is beautiful,” she exclaimed after winning the title.

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