Iman is reflecting on the racism that she encountered after moving to the U.S. to begin her career as a model.
While appearing on the latest episode of Naomi Campbell’s “No Filter” YouTube show, the 65-year-old supermodel discussed her first experiences of discrimination.
Iman, who grew up in Somalia before moving to New York in 1975, recalled, “My first experience [of racism] was seeing the discrepancies in pay between white models and Black models. My rate was different to white girls – it was an unspoken rule.”
The runway star decided to go on strike for three months as a protest against the discrepancy.
She continued, “If I’m doing the same job as a Caucasian model, why am I being paid less? I thought that if I took [the lower wage] I’d be saying ‘I deserve less’.”
Iman also remembered the makeup issues that she faced on her first photoshoot.
“I was at a Vogue shoot with a Caucasian model. When the makeup artist finished her makeup and it was my turn, he asked me: ‘Did you bring your own foundation?’” she said.
The makeup artist then proceeded to “mix and match” the colours that he had. “When I looked into the mirror I didn’t look brown any more, I looked grey,” Iman said.
Inspired by the incident, Iman later went on to launch her own million dollar cosmetics business in 1994.
Speaking about how Black models were pitted against one another at the beginning of her career, Iman shared, “What I witnessed in America when I arrived here in 1975 was how [the fashion industry] purposefully pitched Black models against each other. [The attitude was] you have to dethrone one to take the place of another, but we could see lots of top white models working at the same time.”
On refusing to compete with fellow model Beverly Johnson, she added, “I’m not going to play that game … because there’s space for both of us.”