Every single time I speak with supermodel Adut Akech (while it may have only been twice) I’m always in such awe of her maturity. With a presence that far exceeds her 21 years, she’s living proof of the power of staying grounded, and most importantly, staying true to self. On brand with her being ahead of her time, the winner of the coveted 2019 Model of the Year award at The Fashion Awards and recipient of the 2019 TIME100 Next list, is adding another distinguished honor to her belt: Estée Lauder Global Brand Ambassador.

Joining the ranks of Ana de Armas, Anok Yai, Bianca Brandolini D’Adda, Carolyn Murphy, Diana Penty, Grace Elizabeth, Karlie Kloss, Kōki and Yang Mi, the decision was a no-brainer for the esteemed Estée Lauder team. “Adut is one of fashion’s biggest and most influential stars,” said Stéphane de La Faverie, Group President, The Estée Lauder Companies & Global Brand President, Estée Lauder and AERIN said in a press release. “We believe her incredible story, personality and beauty will help us continue to inspire and connect with our consumers and establish her as a beauty icon of her generation.”

It’s something that Akech has been aspiring to for awhile. “I resonated with Estée Lauder because not only is it an iconic brand, but I think just even the story of how it was created and run by a woman is so incredible,” Akech tells ESSENCE. “I want to be a business woman and I am a business woman. That’s very inspiring. Women in general inspire me.” She hopes that her appointment will be one that positively impacts others. “I’m excited for little girls that look like me, and even those little girls that don’t look like me, to be able to see my ad come up on the TV and be like, ‘Wow, I feel like if she can do it and she’s black and she’s beautiful, then I can too.’ I want girls to feel seen, heard, presented, and see themselves through me and through my images.” But most importantly, she wants to inspire family. “I’m excited for my sisters to see my ad the most,” she shares.

But aside from recently securing mega-important beauty deals, she’s also been doing something else she hasn’t tried in awhile: playing with different hairstyles. “It’s been fun,” she says. “When I started my career in the fashion industry my hair just wasn’t growing properly anymore, so I cut it all off. But once the pandemic started and there was no barbershops, it started growing and I realized I actually liked it. It was cute and fun. So now it’s growing and it’s just exciting to be able to try different hairstyles.” It’s been a reminder for Akech of when she was growing up—where hair was a bonding moment between she and her mother. “My mom used to be the one that took care of my hair,” she says. “Growing up having a Black mom you know how they are with hair, and back then I thought it was annoying at times but now I understand. When you grow up and you see how beautiful your hair is and how well taken care of its been, you appreciate that bond.” That bond caused some initial shock, she admits, when she decided to cut all of her hair off. “I used to love getting my hair cut when I was a kid,” she says. “I was such a strange child. One day I just came home bald and my mom was like, ‘What is wrong with you?'”

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That affinity for ignoring traditional beauty standards was particularly groundbreaking considering that Akech is an Australian native. “There’s just more different types of beauty here in the United States,” she says. “Whereas in Australia, it’s not like that. There aren’t much options when it comes to beauty, especially for dark-skinned people.” That contributed to her unconventional views of beauty, even from a young age. “When I entered the beauty industry I already had an idea of what beauty meant,” she says. “And I knew that it actually started with me, it’s about accepting yourself.” And while she knows it’s no easy feat, it’s something that she insists has kept her confident in a such an often-critical industry. “It’s about truly telling yourself that you’re beautiful and believing it,” she says. “That means feeling beautiful in your most natural, raw state. I feel the same way with makeup on as I do without.”

So what’s next for someone so young who’s accomplished so much? According to Akech she’s just going with the flow. “I used to put that pressure on myself and there was obviously pressure from society to do more,” she says. “But I’m on my time, not anybody else’s. It’s not worth compromising my mental state. I need to be in the best state of mind that I can be to truly be my best self. I’m doing great. I’m doing the best I can. I’m doing enough.”

Ahead, shop Akech’s favorite Estée Lauder beauty must-haves.

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