I once walked 80 Shows in one Season – Jourdan Dunn

Jourdan Dunn made history in February 2008 by becoming the first black model to walk in a Prada fashion show during the 21st Century. In November 2008, she was awarded "Model of the Year" at the British Fashion Awards. She also won "Model of the Year" at the Harper's Bazaar Women of the Year Awards in November 2013. In July 2014, she was declared an icon by models.com after being featured on their "Top 50 Models Women" list for seven consecutive years. As of May 2015, models.com recognized her as a "New Super", a group of models who have become modern-day supermodels and established themselves as brands and celebrities.

Dunn received the "Inspiration Award" at the Glamour Women of the Year Awards 2015 for her philanthropic work raising awareness about sickle-cell disease and her consistent activism for diversity in the modelling industry. In November 2015, she won "Model of the Year" again at the British Fashion Awards.

In this chat, she speaks on her bittersweet journey to self-love, battling the guilt and self-directed shame of her son’s condition, the joys of cooking and the importance of mental health in today’s world.

 Food is my love Language – Jourdan Dunn

On adapting to the modelling experience at age 15?

At the beginning of my career as a model, I felt resentful because I thought I was missing out on things that teenagers usually do. However, I later realized people might envy me and my lifestyle, travelling to places like New York. Despite this, I decided to enjoy my teenage years without worrying too much about my career. It's essential to remember that people often perceive models' lives as perfect from the outside, but it's not always the case.


On being the first black model to work for Prada in over a decade and the pressure or empowerment that came with it?

I wasn't present at the time because I didn't realize the magnitude of the situation. I was focused on making it into the show and walking down the runway. Back then, Prada was known for cancelling models at the last minute, so I was anxious and ready to go at any moment. I was waiting for Marshall to come and tell me it was time to go, even though I was already fully dressed and ready. I was on edge until the casting director held me back and said, "Jourdan, this is your moment. You're about to make history." That's when I realized the significance of the event. The energy was overwhelming when I stepped onto the runway, and I knew I was part of something historic. The next day, I saw my picture in the papers and was amazed at what had happened. Looking back, I realize it's sad we still have to get excited about and celebrate diversity in the fashion industry. Even after a decade, we are still having these conversations today.

When will the needle stop moving and become the norm?

Yeah, we're still advocating for that. However, as someone on the continent, seeing so many black and African models who look up to you is inspiring.

On your wild career success and feature on so many Vogue covers? Did you expect it?

Yes, it's okay to have a vision of what you want and to work towards it, but it's different than manifesting it for it to happen. I knew I wanted a different journey than my friends when I was younger. I knew I wanted to be creative but didn't understand what manifesting meant. However, I was able to manifest my dreams even when I didn't know what it meant. But when it happened, I was surprised and thought, "Is this my life? Is this happening?"

I made a list of career goals I wanted to achieve, including having my Vogue covers, a live contract, and a Maybelline contract. I ticked all the boxes but found that I was still unhappy and felt empty. My manager advised me to focus on myself and take a step back. I went on a retreat and reconnected with myself. I realized that I couldn't attach happiness to things, whether it's a job, a partner, or losing weight. I had everything I wanted, but I was still unhappy. So, I decided to do the inner work and change myself, which is challenging for many people.

I thought self-love was about having a spa day, saying "I love you" in the mirror, and taking care of yourself, which is part of it. However, I realized self-love is about your shadow self, the parts of you that you don't want anyone to see. We must face and accept ourselves, or we won't be able to let anyone else love us. It's not easy, and it can be messy, with lots of tears, but it's worth it.

When you're self-aware, you're less likely to hurt others because you're not hurting yourself. You need to go through the pain to get through it. You can't just hide it and put pressure on it, or it will blow up eventually. Surrendering and accepting your situation, even if it's not perfect, is the first step to being your higher self and making the choices and actions to become that person.

I realized that I loved being miserable because it was comforting and easy. I could use anxiety as an excuse not to attend an event or be seen by people. But I don't want to feel comfortable anymore. Even though speaking in front of people is uncomfortable, I know sharing and telling my truth is part of my purpose. It's about stepping out of your comfort zone and not being your worst critic.


On being named Model of the Year multiple times and Entrepreneur of the Year in 2017; and the shift from being a face to entrepreneur.

I reached a point where I felt overwhelmed by the amount of love and attention I received. However, I also received lots of messages from girls in my DMs. They would express their desire to be like me, which made me feel wrong about my position. I started questioning myself, wondering if my actions were wrong by highlighting people's insecurities. Posting selfies made me feel guilty and made me question my purpose. It wasn't until later that I realized my purpose is to bring beauty into the world, inspire others, and create art. When people see beauty, it fills them up and inspires them. Beauty is a high-vibrational thing that inspires hope and dreams. I can use my platform to talk about mental health, sickle cell, and being a young mom. I started seeing beauty as everything and using it to inspire people.

On mental health and personal experience with it?

As a tall and skinny black girl growing up in the Caribbean, my journey to becoming a model was difficult. In the modelling industry, my insecurities were celebrated as being tall and skinny is a desirable body type. However, in my community, the focus was on having a curvy body, especially a big bum.

I always felt uncomfortable in my body and lacked self-confidence. Whenever my friends asked me to go out, I would make excuses to avoid being seen. I believed people would judge me. However, now that I am a model, I have learned to love and accept myself. Self-love is the most important thing, which includes self-acceptance.

Whenever I read a negative comment about my body, it confirms what I already feel, which is quite negative. So, I had to change my mindset and learn to think positively about myself. I had to learn to love myself more deeply. Growing up as a tall and skinny black girl from the Caribbean, being a model has been a journey for me. In the modelling industry, my insecurities were celebrated as being tall and skinny is a desirable body type. However, in my community, the focus was on having a curvy body, especially a big bum. I always felt uncomfortable in my body and lacked self-confidence. Whenever my friends asked me to go out, I would make excuses to avoid being seen, as I believed people would judge me.

But now that I am a model, I have had to learn to love myself and accept my body. I have come to understand that self-love is the most important thing. Self-acceptance is a vital part of it. Whenever I read a negative comment about my body, it confirms what I already feel, which is quite negative. So, I had to change my mindset and learn to think positively about myself. I had to learn to love myself more deeply.

On sickle cell and how you handle this as a young mother?

It's challenging to see my son go through this because it's something I never expected to happen. In the beginning, I felt guilty and ashamed because I knew we both carried the trait. However, I always thought that it wouldn't happen to me. But when it did, it was like a sudden realization for me. Witnessing my son's struggles is not easy, but I always try to look at the positive side of things. I believe that with my voice and platform, I can spread awareness about sickle cell disease, and be a spokesperson for my son and all others who are fighting the same battle. I always try to take things in stride and focus on the good that can come out of this.

Advise on how to combat negative inner voices?

I came to the realization that the voices in my head were not real and that I had complete control over them. For instance, if I ask you to say hi in your mind, you will actually stop and say hi. This realization made me think, why not control my thoughts? Instead of following the crowd and going left, I decided to go right whenever a negative thought came up. I believe that people are addicted to negativity, so I swap the negative thoughts for something positive whenever they arise.

This practice is a journey, and I am starting to master it. Nowadays, I don't focus on negative thoughts, and I don't pay them any mind. Even on my low days, I take them as a reminder to be on my game. I use my low days as a cue to relax, read, meditate, move my body or spend time with my loved ones.

I believe that self-doubt is relatively healthy. Whenever I experience self-doubt, I acknowledge it and remind myself not to go down that path. I tell it, "I see you; I see what you're trying to do, but I'm not going that way. I'm going over there." It may sound easy, but it takes practice and perseverance to master this technique.


On unhealthy and toxic practices in the industry that affect models' mental health, models need to protect themselves against.

Like any industry, it's common to feel like you're running on empty and not having any energy left. However, it's essential not to feel ashamed of taking a step back and resting. Resting is crucial for your well-being, and you must realize that taking a break is not a waste of time. Even when you're not doing anything, you're still doing something for yourself.

When you first start your career, you might have a lot of goals and expectations that you want to achieve, like walking a certain number of shows in a season. However, it's essential to listen to your body and take care of yourself, even if it means not achieving all of your goals.

I remember one season when I walked about 80 shows, which is unheard of for most models. But it was a need and a want for me at that time. However, I realized that it's crucial to prioritize self-care and rest.

Taking care of yourself is especially important in the modelling industry, where some girls need a better support system or agency that cares for them. Fortunately, I've always had a great support system from the beginning, including my mom and my glam team, who have always had my back. But for those who don't have that support, it's essential to have your own back and prioritize self-care.


On love for cooking

I love food and cooking. Being in the kitchen, especially on a Sunday for dinner, makes me feel deeply connected to my ancestors and my grandma. When I season the meat from the night before and have my favourite music playing, I feel like my grandma is right there with me, helping me out. Cooking is more than just a task to me; it's a ritual that I thoroughly enjoy, and that makes me feel grounded. I love cooking for my loved ones, too, as it's one of the ways I show my love and care for them. That's legit, my love language.


Advice to young Nigerian models on the rigors of the modelling journey, how to cope social media noise and the pressure of comparison?

If this is truly your passion, something you deeply desire, then never, ever give up. It's essential to stay focused on your journey and not compare yourself to others or get distracted by what they're doing. Their path is different from yours, and comparisons can be demotivating. So, stay focused on your journey, and keep moving towards your destination. Remember that the way you get there will be unique to you. So, if you want to do this, my advice is to never give up.



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