Nneka Ogwumike is a WNBA champion, league MVP, president of the players association and an SI Swimsuit model. She has sparked conversation about mental health and used her platform to speak up for what she believes in. Now, the Los Angeles Sparks forward is opening up about her own body and self-image. This is Nneka Ogwumike’s beauty evolution.
Born in Texas to Nigerian immigrants, Ogwumike grew up with a list of insecurities running through her mind. “Growing up the standard of beauty was very unilateral,” she says. “Growing up in the suburbs of Texas I always thought that my butt was too big, that my skin was too dark and that I needed to get a weave to assimilate.” Her inner-narrative influenced her so strongly that she found it hard to believe someone even when they were giving her a genuine compliment. “They would walk up to me like, ‘Wow, you’re so beautiful.’ And I’m like, ‘Are you just saying that because I’m tall?’ I would always think that in my head,” she says.
Those negative thought patterns persisted into her adult years. It wasn't until one particularly bad experience at a photo shoot that Ogwumike found the courage to speak up for herself and disrupt the cycle. “There was a shoot that I did some years ago and I was almost certain that the makeup artist was making me up way darker than I was,” she recalls. “No one could tell me the truth. I asked the makeup artist, I asked the representative on set and no one said that my makeup was too dark. And then when the shots came out, the makeup was too dark. I sent an email back and I was like, ‘Yo, the makeup is too dark. I said it on set, no one said that it was and now I don’t like the photos.’
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“That was a big step for me, even sending that email because it was a big spot. I didn't feel comfortable and I was scared to say something because I didn't want to not be a part of the campaign. That kind of led me to being more conscious about who I work with and also doing research when I'm on set with hair and makeup and stylists.”
The 2022 SI Swimsuit model suffers from polycystic ovary syndrome and has been learning to live with and combat the hormonal imbalance. “It’s been really tough because there’s times when you got to be on set, understanding that it's about being human. Being patient and gentle with yourself is really important,” she says. “For the record, what I’ve done is I'm completely plant based now, I don’t compromise on my sleep. My facial products are not too abrasive. I’m still learning.”
It’s not surprising to hear that Ogwumike recently worked with Modern Fertility to provide fertility tests to all WNBA players free of charge. Female reproductive health is a particular area of interest for the WNBAPA president, who now has a strong sense of her womanhood. “I love the versatility that we have [as women],” she says. “You can shave your head bald, you can wear a suit. I just feel like we pull it off so amazingly, I really love being a Black woman, I really do. I just love the naturalness of it. There’s just so much about it that I really love. I love having boobs, even if you don’t have boobs, that’s cool, too. There’s just so much I love about being a woman.”