Sabienne calls herself a ‘mix of cultures’. After all, she grew up in The Hague, the product of an Antillean mother and a Ghanese father. Despite her multi-cultural background, she grew up in a white environment. “That wasn’t a problem in itself, but I did always feel different from everyone else. When I looked around, there was no one who looked like me.”

But now the girl who was once very insecure about her looks is beaming during our Zoom call. “Now I’m actually happy with the colour of my skin,” she says, full of self-confidence. “I’ve learned that as long as you remain true to yourself and work hard, you can do anything.”

Refusal to conform to stereotype

So why did Sabienne, a beginner model, choose to take part in a modelling contest specifically for people of colour, rather than a major nation-wide competition? “I used to wonder if I should take part in a modelling contest like Holland’s Next Top Model. But what I was seeing was that dark-skinned women often had their heads shaved. There’s this idea out there that bald dark-skinned models are more likely to succeed in the modelling industry, because shaved heads properly show off the shape of our faces. But I don’t want that.”

Actually, Sabienne is keen to overcome this stereotype. “Dark-skinned women can do various things with their hair, something that unfortunately isn’t given much attention in the modelling industry. I’d like to show off our original culture, precisely by emphasising our various hair styles as a model.”

Inspiring young girls

Since she grew up in a white environment, Sabienne will be the first to tell you that representation matters. “Starting from primary school, I was always the only dark-skinned pupil at my school or in my form. Even now I’m the only dark-skinned student at my department,” she says. “Because I didn’t have a role model, my self-image was a little skewed. So now I hope to inspire dark-skinned girls who may be going through the same struggle I myself used to go through.”