Saturday, 25 April 2015 08:56

Aminat Ayinde: Beauty in the face of hatred

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Aminat AyindeNIGERIAN-born beauty Aminat Ayinde, who has strutted on catwalks and featured on magazine covers around the world, has told of how she encountered xenophobia in Cape Town.

Ayinde was physically attacked in Sea Point last year by a man who thought she was Congolese, and told her to go back to her own country. “There were so many people around and no one did anything. There was a crowd of at least 30 people but by the time the police came, no one saw or knew anything… we need to unite and to stop killing each other as Africans,” she said.

Ayinde, who appeared on TV’s America’s Next Top Model five years ago, now lives in Cape Town. “There is so much beauty in this nation, in this land in terms of diversity. My concern is Africa, to give back to us, our land and our people,” said Ayinde.

She said working with supermodel Tyra Banks on the show inspired her to venture into acting and producing, and she plans to help young girls achieve their full potential through a TV series, launched in South Africa. “I am an immigrant who left Nigeria for America, and now I am an immigrant again in South Africa.”

An impressive 1.82cm tall, Ayinde’s long, lean limbs are hard to miss when she walks into a chic bar in St George's Mall for our meeting. Wearing an African-print romper with a short black skirt, she towers over me before bending over to give me a warm hug.

Her dark chocolate skin is flawless and it’s no surprise that she was voted the model with the “most banging body” during the cycle reunion.

Discovered in Miami while she was a student at the William Paterson University of New Jersey, Ayinde says a career in fashion was not something she had contemplated.

“A scout for ANTM at the time, Monique Peters found me on the streets of Miami during Spring break. She told me I would make a great model. I said to her: ‘I am sorry but I am a Biology major and I am going to be a doctor, I am not interested in modelling’.

“Back then I was into the Afrocentric look. I had a big afro and I was wearing a white, flowing beach cover-up with lots of wooden beads…I looked like a tree. I was surprised she could see my body under the tent that I was wearing,” Ayinde recalls.

Months later she received a call from Peters inviting her to New York for the ANTM auditions. “I took her up on the offer,” says Ayinde.

“I grew up in a very strict Nigerian Muslim home where being a doctor, lawyer, engineer or teacher are professions that earn respect. The arts were not an option for me.

“When people ask me how did you go from having goals to be a doctor to modelling, I tell them ‘God, really’. I didn’t choose it, I was a very shy, lanky and awkward girl.

“My mother is the fashionista of the house. She has such great taste in clothes and I have always been a tomboy,” says Ayinde.

Without telling her parents, Ayinde took a leave of absence from studying to share a house with other model hopefuls for the ANTM production.

“I can honestly say it’s the best decision I made for myself at that point as a young adult. It was the best experience and vacation of my life.

“As a Biology major, my days were filled with studying and writing research papers.

“(At the ANTM production) I learnt a lot about television as well. It’s a different learning experience, more hands on because you are living it,” she says.

The next chapter for her includes working in film and television as an actress and behind the scenes as a producer and director,” says Ayinde.

“It’s hard for me to watch myself on TV or listen to myself on the radio.

“But I am getting used to it because that is my future goal; acting is amazing. I got a bit of a taste of it and I am hungry for more… I am super excited about the possibilities in TV in general.

“Working with Banks was a bit surreal, as a lot of girls look up to her.

“She is one of the first of her kind – not only as a black American model, but as a woman who has made a name for herself in modelling and in the fashion industry. It was a huge honour to work with her.

“I learned a lot from her… she is a very intelligent woman and a brilliant businesswoman because ANTM is still a cashcow after all these years… a lot of young girls still aspire to be on the show,” says Ayinde.

She says the industry has evolved for the better in the past 20 years, with models of colour and different ethnic groups gracing magazine covers and catwalks across the globe.

“I firmly believe that the fashion industry is much more into women of colour because they are starting to realise that we are the buyers and that we are the consumers.

“If you don’t have someone who represents me I am not likely to buy your products because I don’t feel like it represents me,” she says.

Part of her plan is to take what she has learned from Banks to help young girls achieve their full potential through a TV series, which she aims to launch in South Africa.

“I am not trying to be anyone’s role model but I can be a positive inspiration for you to see what your potential could be.

“There is so much beauty in this nation, in this land in terms of diversity. My concern is Africa, to give back to us, our land and our people,” says Ayinde.

“I am an immigrant who left Nigeria for America, and now I am an immigrant again in South Africa. I came back to Africa because this is where I feel connected,” she says.

Touching on the recent xenophobia attacks, Ayinde recalls when she was physically attacked in Sea Point last year by a man who thought she was Congolese and told her to go back to her own country.

“There were so many people around and no one did anything. There was a crowd of at least 30 people but by the time the police came, no one saw or knew anything.

“That is the problem. When something is done that is not right, you must report it or speak out . We need to unite and to stop killing each other as Africans.” - Cape Argus

- Cape Argus RSA


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