Hailing from East London, Akuac Thiep is quickly becoming a force in her hometown. After studying Anthropology and Theology up north, her unique look and magnetic personality bagged her a contract with Nevs upon returning to London. From there, she’s been photographed by the likes of Nick Knight, Tim Walker and Lea Colombo, modelling for everyone from Molly Goddard to Mowalola.
Below, she catches up with photographer Rachell Smith to discuss her journey into fashion, self-love and the body taboos that need to be broken.
Tell us about your journey into modelling?
I’m a true East London gal who grew up in Clapton, Hackney. I remember wanting to model in my teen years but coming from quite a conservative background it didn’t make things very easy for me. Having an African family and pairing that with Catholicism was never going to be an easy ride. One particular family member likened modelling to prostitution, could you imagine! I [had] to find an excuse to move out and have a bit of freedom, so I went to the University of Manchester to read Anthropology and Theology. I loved it and am very academic, but it didn’t itch that scratch of freedom and creativity. That’s when I decided that it wasn’t going to make me happy long-term. Consequently I moved back home, came back to Clapton and worked at my local pub for about a year.
From there, how did you get signed?
I did modelling jobs unsigned here and there and looked for an agency, but was rejected a few times. It was a bit disheartening. I then met Casting Director Chloe Rosolek at a Burberry after-party. She eventually placed [me] with an amazing modelling agency called Nevs, and the rest was history! It’s been a beautiful journey with an amazing supportive team that encourage me to be myself and don’t try to change the integrity of who Akuac is.
We love your energy on your Instagram, could you talk about what inspires your self-confidence?
I wonder which energy you’re talking about because my Instagram is pretty chaotic neutral… I don’t really want to over-curate my Instagram too much. I want to be as real as possible and to share my work as well as take the viewer on a journey with me. However, you will find an insatiable hunger for memes on my stories, it brings me so much joy. Strangers, clients and friends alike interact with them and it never fails to make me belly laugh! You don’t always have to be so serious all the time. What inspires my self-confidence is exactly that: having the balance to do whatever you want and feeling happy in it because it’s only human. Whether you’re spreading joy, laughter or a sexy ass selfie.
In this shoot you have blonde hair and blonde eyebrows, we would love to know what inspired this and your feelings towards experimenting with your appearance.
Funnily enough, I was offered to have my eyebrows dyed for a shoot I did with L’Officiel Singapore. I said yes because I’d try anything once and I wanted a bit of a Sisqó vibe! Besides that, I’ve had my hair dyed blonde once before that, during the New Year’s Eve countdown two years ago: very spur of the moment, very me.
My experimentation with my appearance started when I began cutting my hair about three years ago, so I could feel confident and comfortable in myself in my own skin. I wasn’t comfortable with how my hair grew out of my head because of the Eurocentric standards of beauty that were imposed on me since I was a child. I always had long flowing dark locks, which of course weren’t mine, but at the time that’s what I considered to be beautiful or feminine. I couldn’t see myself as being attractive with no hair and having dark skin. So I purposely cut my hair to overcome that idea; it hasn’t been easy but it’s given me a whole new lease of self love and I wouldn’t change it for the world. Now that I’ve overcome that and I absolutely love being bald or being completely blonde, the doors of experimentation have been flung wide open. I’m contemplating shaving my brows off, but I think my agent would kill me. Watch this space though…
What would you say to someone who has issues with feeling body conscious?
It’s normal to be body conscious, it’s more common than you think. The people who you think are the most body confident are actually the most insecure. I myself have had body image issues and it’s still ongoing, I’m only human. Now, I’ve learnt that everyone is different and I can’t fit in a certain box that other people fit. I am Akuac Thiep and my journey is different from everyone else’s and so is my body. That’s what I had to learn, and it’s not an over night job but you will get there.
I’d encourage people to work from the inside out. Build up your spirit, take time, and think about all the beautiful and unique things that make you, you. Make sure you a surround yourself with people who understand you and that are going to uplift you when you’re in self-doubt. People who praise you and those who you know will love you unconditionally. These are the people can help you stay in check if you begin to waver. If you don’t have that support system, what helps is looking at supportive communities available online on Instagram or YouTube. We have each other and we can all lean on one another. Times are changing, and the idea that there is a monopoly on one standard of beauty is crumbling. If all else fails, love yourself unconditionally, no one else can do it for you.
You have such an amazing body, it’s like a sculpture, do you feel empowered by nudity?
Thank you so much! I’ve had so many intrusive thoughts, which made me feel as if I’d have to have the same measurements as slimmer girls to be successful in modelling. Or simply just to be considered “hot”. My agents have been so supportive in reassuring me that I’m not inadequate and that I’m beautiful in my own right. I finally know that now, and I’m at peace with it. I’m happy I’m here and present in that, it’s refreshing.
I have always loved being naked ever since I was a child, believe it or not. I really appreciate my body because it is the vessel that has chosen me as its permanent tenant. I have to take it on every voyage I embark on. Therefore, I feel very empowered by nudity. I believe the womanly form is so enchanting, and for me nudity is about embracing the true human experience, to be one with the Earth. To be at one with yourself. Whether it’s sexually, spiritually or physically. Normalise breasts, normalise buttocks, normalise bellies, normalise, cellulite, normalise scars, normalise trans bodies, normalise women not always having been seen as sexual objects. Why can’t we just exist, be naked and stand in our power? I’m sure everyone loves walking around naked at home, I’m just comfortable enough to forget where I am sometimes. You should too.
Follow Akuac on Instagram here.