A US teenager has been given a contract with a global modelling agency, which has worked with celebrities such as Lana Del Rey and Rita Ora, after a single Instagram photo propelled her to prominence.
Anok Yai wasn’t even a fan of the photo, taken at a university festival, saying she thought it made her look like a “deer in headlights” and describing it as “average”.
Yet after it was posted on Instagram, the 19-year-old’s phone wouldn’t stop buzzing as thousands of people shared and commented on the post.
Soon after those vibrations shifted from alerts of compliments to offers from modelling agencies keen to meet with the university student, with some offering to fly her to New York.
Those offers culminated with Miss Yai announcing yesterday she has signed for the Next Models agency, whose models have appeared on the covers of publications such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.
— Next Models (@NextModels) October 31, 2017
“When [the Instagram post] got to a couple thousand and it just kept going higher and higher, I was surprised,” she told the Washington Post. “And I was happy. I always wanted it to happen, but it was something I never expected.
“I got an email from a modelling agency. They said they were interested in having me and they had me call them. And they just set up tons of interviews and it just went on from there.”
Miss Yai, who was born in Egypt and is of Sudanese heritage, moved to the US when she was two years old and grew up in the city of Manchester, in New Hampshire.
As a child she dreamed of becoming a model and avidly watched the hit show America’s Next Top Model with her sister.
But she feared she would not be able to make it in such an overcrowded industry and decided to instead study biochemistry at Plymouth State University, with a view to eventually becoming a doctor.
Miss Yai’s childhood dream was unexpectedly resurrected when a friend convinced her to go to a homecoming festival at Howard University in Washington, D.C, called Yard Fest. Homecoming festivals are a tradition that take place in the first term of the American university year and see alumni return in droves to celebrate at their alma maters.
It was while wandering through the festival on Friday October 21 that Miss Yai bumped into photographer Steve Hall, who was taking pictures for his fashion website The SUNK. He told the student he thought she should be a model and she posed for a few pictures for him.
When Mr Hall posted the photograph to his Instagram account it soon started to garner widespread attention and has since been liked over 14 thousand times on the social media platform. The student’s own Instagram following also began to mushroom in the wake of the post, and rose from 300 to over 50,000 this week.
Following a series of interviews, Miss Yai announced yesterday that she had accepted a contract from the New York modelling agency saying: “Thank you to everyone that’s supported me along the way; hope you follow me on this journey.”
Her mother is keen for her to finish her studies, but the family feels she could complete her course online if her nascent modelling career takes off.
Meanwhile, the teenager is still stunned by the attention that one photo is receiving. “At first, I questioned what everyone was seeing because I didn’t really see it,” she told the Boston Globe.
“Honestly, I think that people get so used to seeing themselves that people don’t see their own beauty because they see it everyday.”