By Manna Zel, she/they
Writer and model Soukayna refuses to settle for one passion. Between their theatre study, foundations in Marrakech and Montréal, and degrees in art history, film studies, and French literature, you can think of Soukayna as a connector of cultures and people.
“I care about connecting people and ideas—whether through creative collaborations, with art festivals, in my own personal practice, and through fashion as well,” says Soukayna, whose aim is to promote the talent coming out of the Moroccan art scene. “I take pride in my roots and am surrounded by such incredible artists, and I want them to receive the recognition they deserve.”
Tell me about your experience in the modeling industry.
My experience in the modeling industry has been very unexpected and difficult. I’ve reached out to agencies in the past and was constantly being rejected. The go-to excuse was, “We already have someone who looks like you.” The blatant racism made me give up on the idea of modeling until a producer reached out to me for my first professional shoot in 2019. I bonded with the stylist on set, who then invited me to do a creative shoot—from there on, I felt I was in.
No matter how much work I managed to get under my belt, no agency wanted to sign me until my portrait made it into a national magazine and started doing the rounds on social media. A few people and agencies reached out afterwards but it didn’t feel genuine, so I decided to stay freelance and heck, I’m on a billboard now. I take a lot of pride in knowing that everything I was able to achieve in the modeling industry so far has been on my own but it does say a lot about the industry and how easy it is to be taken advantage of.
I love modeling. I love being able to represent something and someone I wish I had seen growing up. I want to pursue a [modeling] career in Europe as well and I would love to work behind the scenes. I think my background and cultural, academic, and artistic baggage allow me to adapt very easily and navigate different areas very fluidly. I just love meeting new people and creating new connections.
What did it mean to you to see yourself on billboards across the U.S. and in Times Square?
I was depression grocery shopping with a friend when someone sent me a photo of the billboard and I started crying in the vegetarian section next to the pasta. I used to be heavily bullied growing up, I was also in an abusive relationship for a few years, and my self-esteem has been pretty horrible—dare I say even nonexistent—until 5 years ago. Without getting too sob story, I never thought my face would make it on a billboard. I took a moment to think back on my life journey and how far I made it in different aspects of it and I’m sooooooo proud of myself and am grateful and honored for everyone who has told me that they were emotional seeing someone like me on such a huge campaign. Someone Moroccan and queer. The invisible ones are finally being seen and celebrated and I’m grateful I can be part of that celebration and share it with others.
What does it mean to live your truth?
To not settle for less than what you deserve, to hold on to your values even if people come running to you after you’ve proved them wrong, to be gentle and kind, to spend time with your loved ones and chosen family, to go to the ocean as often as possible, to pick your battles and to eat a lot of seafood. Be unapologetic. No one cares—and I mean it. No one cares. As long as you move through life with genuine love and care, the world will open up doors for you [that] you didn’t even know existed. My truth also involves a farm with goats somewhere along the ride but I’m not in a hurry. I’m in it for the journey.