A post shared by Anok (@anokyai) on

One image was all it took to turn the fortunes of 19-year-old student Anok Yai around.

Ms Yai, a Sudanese studying biochemistry, had been enjoying a party held at Howard University in Washington on Oct 22 when she was snapped by photographer Steven Hall (@thesunk) for her eye-catching street style.

Her striking good looks and keen, casual fashion sense went viral on social media. She (@anokyai) self-deprecatingly said the photo made her look like a “deer in the headlights” and described it as “average” at best.

But the masses on the Internet had different ideas.



A post shared by Anok (@anokyai) on

Her winning looks garnered more than 70,000 likes and comments on both Mr Hall and Ms Yai’s accounts. As her image spread wildly across Instagram, Ms Yai eventually found herself gaining more than 100,000 followers.

The serendipity was not lost on Ms Yai, who first arrived in the United States in 2000 as a refugee. Her family was fleeing a genocide.




She told Vogue: “I first saw the photo after my phone started getting the notifications.”

Her photo also caught the eye of Mr Kyle Hagler, president of Next Management, which has represented the likes of Miranda Kerr and Lana Del Rey. He said: “Anok has something very special. She’s not only beautiful, but she’s also intelligent and has a real understanding of community.”



A post shared by Anok (@anokyai) on

Ms Yai said she hopes to be an established figure in biochemistry, and wants to encourage young girls to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“Women aren’t always raised to be as great as they can possibly be. They’re told to care more about how they look and be extremely feminine. Science, maths and technology are still considered male jobs,” she told Vogue.

Mr Hagler has since signed her up as a model under Next Management – a dream come true for Ms Yai who had always wanted to get into the industry but did not know how.

“I definitely want to be a role model for young dark-skinned girls and girls in general. I want to bring to light ideas of self-love and self-confidence,” she said.

This article was first published at The Straits Times