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Supermodel On Supermodel: Christy Turlington-Burns X Iman

Supermodel On Supermodel: Christy Turlington-Burns X Iman

As if one supermodel per story isn’t enough – do we have a treat for you! Two of the fashion world’s most famous – legendary model and icon Iman and the equally-iconic Christy Turlington – sit down to chat about everything from beauty to religion, and how to find happiness and self-worth.

This is a truly fascinating interview between two superstars that reveals a great deal about the multifaceted characters of both these extraordinary women. Appearing in Humanity, a new bi-annual publication by iconic brand Citizens of Humanity, this interview will change the way you think about these familiar faces.

Iman on being a refugee and becoming a model

IMAN: I had never worn makeup in my life, never saw fashion magazines, and it was the last thing on my mind. Then all of a sudden I became a model—which was a complete surprise to me, because nobody had even ever said I was beautiful before. So I took it in my stride, I took it as a business, because we were refugees. We left our country; we were living both in Tanzania and then Kenya and had to fend for ourselves. So this was an opportunity—modeling was an opportunity for me to take care of my family and my brothers and sisters, let them finish their schooling.

Iman and Christy on beauty

CTB: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right?

IMAN: Absolutely, and let that beholder be you. The beholder has to be you, you know

CTB: It’s funny—I call both of my children, boy and girl, “Beauty.” Whenever, like, “Hey, Beauty” or “Good morning, Beauty” for both of them, and I just thought about that now, actually, as we’re talking, but the idea that it’s not in an objective way. “You’re pretty” or “Oh, you look beautiful,” but it’s just the idea that you are beauty. It’s this holistic, bigger thing: You’re kind, you’re smart, you’re all of these things.

IMAN: Absolutely, absolutely. It’s like, she would say to me, “What’s so beautiful?” I’m like, it’s never about something specific. It’s not about your lips, nose, eyes. It’s not that.

Iman on girls growing up in today’s world

IMAN: And nowadays they’re bombarded— they’re in social media, they’re bombarded with different kinds of images. And I’m so surprised. I mean, I find the hardest job nowadays is to raise a girl, because the society is so confusing—not only about what beauty is, what body image is, and how we are celebrating women. Nowadays, nobody is ashamed of doing anything bad; they’re celebrated for it. So how do you tell somebody “That’s not right,” when the person has become a star?

Iman and Christy on their nude photos

IMAN: When my parents come, I hide them under the bed.

CTB: I have photos of people I don’t know that are nudes—beautiful nudes by Larry Clark and Irving Penn. But there’s something about when you’re a known person or when you can recognize the person—it’s hard to be objective about it, but I told these girls, I feel terrible about it only because … I feel like I was trying to be strong in the moment, like, “Oh, I’m so free with my body,” but really, I’m not that free, you know what I mean? I’m not that comfortable.

IMAN: I did a topless shot, I think 15 years ago, for Vanity Fair. There was [recently] a story on me and it was on the cover, so they wanted to shoot me, when I was 60, and they asked me, “Can we do it nude?” and I said, “Absolutely not.” And it’s not because I’m older. It’s because knowing what I know now, you know what I mean?


Iman on her favorite photographer

IMAN: I think Bruce Weber. Because Bruce captures moments. You rarely are posing for Bruce, and I have an Arthur Elgort picture that is black-and-white; you would never think it is Arthur Elgort.

Iman and Christy on Milan

CTB: You are smart, because I visited a couple—not very often, maybe every other year, but it’s so stressful to be there when you don’t have a reason to be there. It’s not fun; they’re just looking at you like you’re in a fishbowl.

IMAN: Exactly. “What is she doing? She must be looking for a job.

Iman and Christy on leaving modelling

IMAN: Yeah, but it was like a perfect time to exit. I literally woke up and called my agent and said, “That’s it,” and they said, “Yeah, yeah,yeah, let me call you next week, for my book.” And I said, “No, I’m done.” And I was done and I never went back.

CTB: Yeah, I had a similar thing. I thought about it for a long time, and I guess I really fully haven’t quit, but in my mind I did, because I went back to school. And when I went back to school, same thing. I remember somebody telling me that they were in a location van and they saw me walk by with my backpack, and they were like, “Oh, poor thing.” And I’m thinking, “Poor thing? I’m getting my education, you fools. But I remember thinking about it. I think I quit smoking and gained a little bit of weight, and I was in Paris in the couture and I remember having that moment of like, “You know what, I’m doing something healthy for me, and they’re judging me and I don’t want it—I don’t want it, and it’s such an empowering thing when you can make that choice.

Iman and Christy on ageing

CTB: So what’s the question about beauty you hate the most? Is it, like, the aging ones?

IMAN: The aging ones, but I’ve also always been … instead of trying to fight it, go with it in all the stages of your life.

CTB: That’s amazing; I agree. They just start asking you the age questions, they ask you the age questions immediately, like, before you …

IMAN: Sit.

CTB: Yeah, yeah, it’s like, “Whoa.” And I just even hate the way products are called “anti-aging.” It’s going to happen, it ishappening, there is nothing we can do about it, so why are we trying to say that? And people are surprised when you actually do embrace where you are in life, as opposed to saying, “Ahh!”

IMAN: I would say the 20s, even though I was in the height of my high career, not as sure, self-confidence low, self-esteem low. 30s felt like, “I’m aging, right?” 40s, I started to own it. Funny enough, late 30s is when I met David [Bowie]. At 45, I had my daughter, which was a miracle of delivery—no, it was a miracle conception. 40 was liberating, that I could get pregnant, that I found somebody in my life. 50 was a celebration of a half a century. I became very close to my older daughter. I became kinder, gentler, even to myself. I completely stopped picking on myself.

CTB: Self-acceptance.

IMAN: Yes, self-acceptance and self-celebration.

Iman and Christy on juggling a career and a family

CTB: Yeah, someone once told me sequencing was the way to do it. You can have it all, but not at the same time.

IMAN: If you want a career, do the career first. You get married, then you have to sacrifice, and then children are coming, and then you have to sacrifice more, you know. But then I tell them, it shouldn’t shame you. If you want to have a career and you don’t want to get married, don’t, but don’t think that you can have all at the same time.

Iman on racial diversity in the fashion industry

CTB: Barriers about race and religion in the industry—have you seen a noted difference in terms of representation?

IMAN: I don’t watch fashion shows, so I was not aware of it, but Bethann Hardison, one of my closest friends—she’s an activist. So one day, I get an email from her, and she says, “Do you know that they are not using any working black models in the runways anymore?” Prada hasn’t used them for six, seven years. And when the New York Times wrote about Calvin Klein, they called him the blonde leading the blonde. So all of a sudden, we started to highlight this conversation; I see a lot, the politics of beauty, the politics of race. There is politics behind it. And designers were like, in the beginning, “Oh, we’re not going to be pushed around and be forced to use a black model.” Nobody’s saying this, but they say we’re not seeing black models this season, but they don’t know the harm you’re doing to the self-esteem of a young girl who is trying to get a job. So we talked about it on television and interviews on CNN and there has been a cohesive effort by all designers.

CTB: It’s good just to have it in their consciousness, right? IMAN: And it was very good to see that. It was so visible that the public realized, you know, and that’s very good.

Iman on religion

IMAN: But I’m Somali; Somali is how we were raised. We never wore burkas because Somalis had our own cultures. We adopted Islam, but the world has changed. I’m always criticized by other Somalis and Muslims for what I’m doing as a model and married to a white man and all that. They all say, “You’re going to hell,” and I’m like, “Well, don’t worry about it, that will be me, why do you worry?

You shouldn’t lose sleep over me. Really, please don’t worry. That will be between me and God, don’t worry about me.”

CTB: Well, once again, it’s a confidence. You know what your faith is—it’s a private thing, it’s a personal thing.

CTB: Eddie [Burns] and I were both raised Catholic, but I studied comparative religion in college. I like looking at what’s common and what’s good about all of these religions. You want your children to be exposed to all of it and come up with it themselves, but to have something at least to know and to question. I think atheists are really the most religious of all, because they’re questioning all the time, and if you’re questioning you’re thinking about it, which makes you a much more spiritually conscious person.

IMAN: People will say all the time Islam doesn’t allow that, but that’s just not true. Extremism doesn’t allow that. There is a big difference. You have to question. Make your choice!

This interview appeared in Humanity

What’s your favourite Iman or Christy Turlington moment? Why are they iconic to you? Tell us below…

Written by Yvette Le Grew

Yvette Le Grew is the former Online Editor of The Australian Women’s Weekly, former Head of Digital Content at Westfield & freelance fashion, travel, health & lifestyle writer for titles across the UK, Asia and Australia. Yvette now contributes 'at large' for


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