Model Chanel Iman on Diversity, Body Bullies And Black Women

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Model Chanel Iman is the latest Net-A-Porter online magazine cover girl, and in her interview she gets candid about the industry she has been working in since the age of 13. The now-23 year old is passionate about seeing better representation of diverse, ethnic women on the runways and in fashion campaigns, and she certainly is a perfectly-placed spokesperson about this issue.

Born in Atlanta, Georgia, the half African-American (her dad) and half Korean (her mom) moved to Los Angeles and started modeling at 13. She made the move to New York at only 15 years old and her career has continually been soaring to new heights. At 18 she became the youngest ever Victoria’s Secret models on contract in the company’s history, and also landed her first Vogue Magazine cover by that age. Wow!

Having a decent amount of fame at such a young age could be a free license to let all of that go to your head, but not in Chanel’s case. She firmly believes God blessed her with this career for a purpose and she wants to use her platform for something positive: diversity.

“It’s an issue that my industry is still working on,” she said. “I think that everyone should be equal; it shouldn’t be about color. It’s unfortunate that there is still a lot of politics involved in both the acting and modeling worlds. I do think we’ve come a long way, but things could still be a lot more diverse on the runway and in films.”

Speaking of film, Chanel says watching actress Lupita Nyong’o win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for ’12 Years A Slave’ was so monumental it brought her to tears.

“It was a very emotional moment. All my friends and I were holding hands in front of the television, willing her to win. Then when she did it was like we had been given the award. Because I really believe that having a black woman win an Oscar is going to help pave the way, not just in her industry, but mine.”

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A couple of years ago in an interview she divulged that a couple of times she was turned away by designers who explained to her that they had “already found their black girl” which she still, to this day, finds absurd and will stand by those feelings. It is as issue that has a lot of black women in the industry reeling, including Naomi Campbell and Jourdan Dunn who say it is not enough just to have one token ethnic woman in the show. Every runway show shouldn’t exclude any race on the grounds of ‘designer’s preference’ which they say is a cowardly form of racism.

In this respect, Chanel points out her role models are supermodel Tyra Banks and oscar-winning actress Halle Berry, both of whom have broken many barriers in their respective industries and battled stereotypes. Beyonce is another superstar who Chanel has personally worked with, appearing in her music video or ‘Yonce’ alongside fellow black models Jourdann Dunn and Joan Smalls.

She says this video made a very strong statement about ethnic woman at the forefront of pop culture and entertainment.

“All three of us models are very successful in our careers, but because in the fashion industry ‘there’s only one black girl allowed’, they’ve made us compete to be that one girl. Beyoncé allowed us to show the world that we don’t have to fight against each other. She gave us the chance to see that we are far more powerful together.”

The other physical topic she it outspoken about is body shape. Chanel has always been a naturally very skinny girl, but admits she has put on 15-20 lbs over the past couple of years and is loving it.

“I’ve been skinny my whole life. And now that I’m getting older I’m gaining weight. I love it, because when you’re teased at school and everyone’s always asking ‘Do you eat?’, it’s like being bullied.”

It sucks to hear that there is still so body-bullying happening in the fashion industry. Chanel says she now gets comments from clients about her weigh gain.

“When models are criticized for being too thin, it’s just another form of bullying. It would make me feel so insecure when people used to say that about me, because you’re not allowed to go around telling people that they’re too fat and asking ‘Do you ever stop eating?’, are you?”

While an entire industry may not change from this one interview, or any others she may have done, the more she and others in her top position speak up the more the right ears will listen. Using whatever platform you have and your voice to affect the status quo in any way can be a very powerful thing. Society as a whole can’t change bad situations, it has to start with individuals.

Just like Beyonce portrayed more than one black woman in her music video showing how “powerful” they are together, the same goes for us as women in general. Let’s not wait for the person next to us to try and make a difference. If we aren’t part of the solution, aren’t we part of the problem?

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