Africa is home to beautiful women from many cultural backgrounds. A large number of these women have successfully changed the way people perceive beauty. Marie-Noëlle Graobe is one of the  African models that have successfully broken the stereotypes and making the continent proud.

Every model has the dream of traveling and modelling for not only the country they live in but to eventually travel the world. They dream of modelling in all the major cities for all the high-end names and designers. She has realised most of those dreams and continues striving towards achieving more.

The Republic of Cameroon is a West African country bordered by Chad to the northeast, the Central African Republic to the east, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and the Republic of the Congo to the south, and Nigeria to the west. This is where Frenchspeaking Marie-Noëlle hails from, in Doukoula, a place situated in Mayo-Danay, Extreme-Nord in Cameroon, to be precise.

THRIVING IN MODELLING

Since arriving in South Africa in 2017, her modelling career has been flourishing. Marie-Noëlle is one of the hottest new faces on the scene, she was soon courted by top design houses for their runway shows. Her distinctive looks have enabled her to walk the crème de la crème of runways such as Jean Paul Gaultier. She has been featured in globally acclaimed magazines such as Vogue – Italia.

“The modelling opportunities in South Africa were much wider and bigger as opposed to Cameroon. Being here has opened a lot of doors for me in terms of modelling. Booking the Vogue Italia cover was definitely my biggest highlight. This is every model’s dream! It was unreal! I didn’t expect it and I didn’t even imagine it. It’s one of those once in a lifetime experiences, it was truly surreal. Glory to the highest,” she says.

Marie-Noëlle is booked and busy! She is signed with Fabulous.Com Models, an agency based in South Africa, Blare Management in Barcelona, and Karin Models in Paris. As a result, she literally lives out of a suitcase because she travels from country to country.

“As a model, I need to be able to model worldwide and therefore need to be represented by agencies worldwide. They all have different goals and ambitions for me, and I get to work with different people too, so it’s truly exciting. Although the workload does tend to be a lot, because sometimes I’m required to be in different countries in a short space of time and it’s really challenging to be traveling from one country to another in a time span of a month, just to do work. I really have no schedule because it’s always so impromptu as I work on the client’s schedule. So, I could literally be called at any time anywhere, I just never know. But I find my balance in God, without him I wouldn’t be able to do this work. I also have a support system behind me. They are always watching and looking out for my mental health,” she says. 

Her bucket list includes working with the biggest fashion houses like Versace and Yves Saint Laurent. “I know with God; I can achieve it!” she says

The story of Africans in the modelling world is often one of resilience, with a number of black models forging a path for themselves and their communities in an industry that has often stuck to narrow, limited notions of who should be seen and celebrated. The fashion and modelling industry still has much to account for when it comes to its handling of ethnic diversity, different body types, and gender politics, but Marie-Noëlle is one of those models who persevered under daunting conditions to achieve feats of beauty.

She says entering the modelling industry as a black woman is already a challenge on its own, but it’s definitely how the industry still hasn’t adapted to working with dark-skinned models. “Trying to fit into the aesthetic of the industry is also really challenging because it changes every day, this season we might be in, next season not so much. So, keeping up with a trend is hard. 

CHALLENGES OF THE INDUSTRY

The fashion industry has forced an unrealistic image on women, says Giles Deacon, one of Britain’s leading designers. He criticises the fashion industry’s continued obsession with skinny models and points out that the fashion industry tends to portray this image of totally unrealistic women who are not allowed to be themselves and that this was just all wrong. He pins the blame for this on the cowardice of many of his fellow designers.

Marie-Noëlle has also endured some of this prejudice. “I’ve been criticised by designers in front of my face. I’m not the smallest person when it comes to our industry and they would always talk about how my thighs and butt are too big,” she says.

GROWING UP IN DOUKOULA – CAMEROON

Growing up in Cameroon was one of the best experiences, I had the best childhood ever. It was full of so much joy and fun. My childhood was adventurous because I was one of those kids who would always get hurt. I was always doing something dangerous. I have two sisters and three brothers. Unfortunately, both my parents are no longer with us, but I have my sweet beautiful Godmother who’s in Cameroon. 

She started modelling in 2010 but only became a professional model three years ago. Although she gets booked for many runway gigs, shooting editorials is what she prefers most. “I like doing an editorial shoot because firstly, it pays more, and secondly I enjoy being in front of the camera and sharing different sides of me,” she says. 

Marie-Noëlle looks up to people like Maria Borges, an Angolan model who has successfully carved her path in the industry and was named Forbes Africa Magazine’s top model of 2013. “I adore Maria Borges! I actually met her this year in Paris. I admire her work ethic and find her commitment to be very charming,” she says. 

When asked if she still models in her country, she said; “Yes, of course, I can never ever forget my people and where I come from. I show my support by doing makeup campaigns, shoots with photographers and look books with a few designers in Cameroon,” she says.

TRAVELLING

I enjoy traveling, as much as it’s exhausting it truly is great learning about different cultures and countries of the world. I love meeting new people as well. It’s just crazy that I am from a completely different side of the world and that I get to learn about someone with a completely different background to mine. 

I work the most in Barcelona, a city in Spain, but I love Paris in France. It is amazing firstly because they speak French, which is my language. It makes communication so much easier and the people are amazing, and it is a beautiful country.

She says modelling in other countries is different from South Africa. “There is a lot of competition in other countries compared to here. The market is so different in Europe and the language barrier makes it much more difficult, but I still manage,” she says.

FINAL WORDS

She shares how she’s always experienced colourism throughout her life. “Even in my family, I am the one who darker-skinned. But I’ve come to accept who I am and I’m enjoying being dark-skinned and I’m glad that the world is realising how much beauty there is in dark skin. 

My advice to other models is; “Stay true to yourself, never change for anyone. Believe in yourself and always trust in God. He’s the only one that can lead and guide you in this industry. Remember that Vos rêves sont valables – Your dreams are valid!” she concludes.