In the 1980s I went to one of Western Canada’s largest high schools. There were almost 3,000 students and pretty much everyone was white. So I went to a (very) predominantly white high school in what was then a predominantly white city with a population hovering around 350,000. Today, it’s different. The city is bigger — much bigger at 1.2 million people — and the junior high school my daughter attends is super-diverse, both culturally and race-wise. This is all good, but seeing her experience and comparing it to my own makes me strangely uncomfortable. There wasn’t much I could do about the make-up of the city I was raised in, but I’ve recently got to thinking more about culture and race and how growing up in one of the whitest places in the country shaped my perceptions of beauty and have concluded that it was fashion magazines — and particularly the model Iman — that kept me from believing that the stereotypical bouncy, blue-eyed blond girl was the epitome of glamour.

Iman was everywhere, all over the pages of the big fashion magazines throughout the 1980s. It’s a shame that when it comes to models, all people seem to talk about is the “supermodels” like Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington and Naomi Campbell who swooped in at the end of the decade, dominating runways and editorial pages. Not that there was anything wrong with these girls. I like most of them a lot, but the ’80s-model conversation is usually so heavily dominated by the rise of the supermodel that all the girls who worked steadily in previous years are but a footnote.

Not Iman, however. She was the only model I knew by name for years. (I also knew Renée Simonsen’s name, but that was only because she was dating John Taylor and one of my friends was seriously obsessed with him, and therefore by her as well.) Iman was beautiful in a way that stopped me from flipping past straight away when I came across her image in a magazine. She was exotic and regal, sexy and strong. I knew she was from Somalia, but had to look up where that was in an atlas. I knew that she was tall — I knew all models were – but she somehow seemed taller, longer, better and more interesting than the rest. And I know it was Iman who was the first model to really capture my interest, to make me look beyond the clothes (which were my obsession) and at the girl wearing them.

Images:

1. Bill Blass, Vogue, September 1986. Photograph by Gideon Lewin.

2. Us magazine, May 30, 1988. Photograph by Nick Vaccaro.

3. Darvell, Vogue, October 1987.

4. James Moore for Harper’s Bazaar, March 1982. Clothing by Giorgio Armani.

5. Anne Klein, Vogue, September 1985.

6. Kohler, Taxi, November 1987.

7. Moygashel Linen, Vogue, January 1984. Clothing by Oscar de la Renta.

8. Bob Stone for Harper’s Bazaar, December 1981. Dress by Yves Saint Laurent.

9. Francesco Scavullo for Harper’s Bazaar, December 1985. Dress by Geoffrey Beene.

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