Exclusive: Ex-Supermodel Iman Talks about Her Childhood & Relationship with David Bowie
CEO of Iman Cosmetics and ex-supermodel, Iman Abdulmajid, has opened her heart in a recent interview on various topics such as her childhood, racism in the world of fashion, as well as her marriage with music superstar David Bowie.
The Somali beauty has just turned 60, but she doesn’t agree with the phrase that a woman’s sixties are the new thirties. She claims that women need to embrace their years and be who they really are. But she loves her ripe years and claims:
“My looks have changed. I have laugh lines, not wrinkles. I walk slowly because I am finally in a place where I don’t have to rush from one place to the next. I can enjoy what I am engaged in and be fully present.”
Although her parents gave her the name Zahra, which means “desert flower”, her grandfather changed it into Iman, which means “to have faith”. The famous beauty was often teased about it as a child, but as she puts it, she lived her life according to her name.
She and her siblings were born to a poor family, but as kids they didn’t sense that they were missing out on anything and they were never hungry. Her parents were politically active and would often hold more than one job in order to provide good education for their children.
Iman studied in Italy for a while, but because of her father’s job they had to move to Saudi Arabia. She was forced to complete her education in Egypt because girls were not allowed to go to school in Saudi Arabia. Today, Iman speaks 5 languages besides her mother tongue. The best advice her parents gave her is that she can achieve anything she sets her mind to.
When her father was appointed as ambassador, their family fortunes have changed for the better. No longer were they struggling financially, however, life was different. They would commute only by car and were escorted by security at all times. When a revolution broke out in Somalia, the embassy in Saudi Arabia was suddenly closed, while Iman’s father disappeared without a trace.
That’s when Iman and her brothers, sisters and mother sought asylum in Kenya. With only one suitcase they became refugees over night.
As a teenager, she was spotted on the street by famous photographer Pitter Beard. He offered her $8,000 for a photo session and she accepted, even though it all seemed quite suspicions to her at first. Her first photos were published in Playboy magazine. In the photos she is topless, but Iman says she considers them artistic, not vulgar.
Her photographs were an instant hit and in 1975 Iman was facing a massive decision. She had an once-in-a-lifetime offer to come to America and continue building her career as a model. But it wasn’t smooth sails from there – Iman remembers well that an editor of a famous fashion magazine called her “a white woman dipped in chocolate”, meaning she doesn’t have anything special to offer (but with a racist twist to the statement).
“Even though journalists insisted that I respond to the editor’s insults, I knew better. I was raised in a family of politicians and I knew well how this story could end. Especially because I was speaking to only white journalists,” says Iman.
“There was a difference in the fees of white and black models. A lot of times I lost a job because I insisted to be paid equally,” says the Somali beauty.
When it comes to the fashion world, she claims that racism is still very much present. Even though divas like Rihanna and Beyonce have become mega-popular, things haven’t changed that much since the 1960s.
For herself, she says she has always been proud of her heritage, especially her skin color.
She fell in love with Bowie instantly, but she says she was never really married to him.
“I’m married to David Jones and I couldn’t be happier. When he’s with me and the kids he’s just David Jones, not Bowie. He takes the kids to school, museums, galleries…” says Iman about her marriage to the music star.
They never let their personal lives become a thing of public interest and have been successful in keeping their lives private.
Iman is now concentrated on her cosmetics company and doing charity work.