Iman on Wellness, Diversity, and Turning 60

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Iman is a supermodel and CEO of Iman Cosmetics. She was so acclaimed as a model in the '80s that when fashion editor Carrie Donovan was late for a show, she would ask to see "Iman's work," knowing the designer would have trusted her to spotlight the best parts of the collection and make up for the worst. Since retiring in 1989, she has become a passionate advocate for model diversity as a member of Bethann Hardison's Diversity Coalition. On the occasion of her 60th birthday this Saturday, she talks to the Cut about self-esteem, why the beauty ideal hasn't changed, and when makeup artists deserve to be fired.

How I start my day: I like to get up around 5:30 or six — that’s my favorite time of day. My family is still asleep and the office is still closed, so I can start my day slowly. I first have a glass of warm water with lemon. And then I lie down and keep my mind clear for about 20 to 30 minutes. I get up and have a cup of coffee and slowly ease into it. My husband [David Bowie] loves oatmeal, but I usually do egg whites with tomatoes, scallions, and spinach. Then I walk my 14-year-old daughter to school, even if she walks far from me. 

How I sweat: I didn’t start exercising until the end of my modeling career. When you’re young, you eat and drink what you want and stay up all night and still look good. And one day, you look up and you are on the floor. The first exercise I tried was a group step-aerobics class. I thought I was a very well-coordinated person, but really I was pathetic! But I stayed with it. When I had my daughter, I put on 50 pounds and she was only seven pounds so I knew the rest was all me. I couldn’t lose the last ten pounds no matter what I tried, so someone told me about boxing. I loved it. It makes you stay in the moment that is in front of you.

But my routine has really changed because I had a foot fracture. Last summer, I twisted my foot on cobblestone streets and they put a boot on it. Then I got major surgery on my foot and I was bedridden all last summer, basically watching paint dry. But even then, my foot is not the same. My neighbor is Brian Atwood and he sends me shoes just to annoy me, saying, “When you get better you can wear this.” [Laughs.] So I go and do Pilates three to four times a week. It is very challenging, but I still find it boring. As I age, cardio is the most important thing. Not feeling out of breath is the thing that I miss most. 

On cooking: My ritual is cooking. I find it therapeutic. It comes naturally to me. I can read a recipe and won’t have to look at it again. I started cooking when I began dating my husband. During my modeling years, I didn’t cook. We got up at 10 or 11 p.m. and then went out, eating at 4 or 6 a.m. before going to bed. Life is too short not to have pasta, steak, and butter. I like moderation, but I like the idea of having vegetables a few times a week. I don’t love eating meat. I really only like chicken and fish. 

On modeling and self-esteem: People say that modeling is hard. It isn’t, really, when you compare it to other jobs. I mean, you get to the job and when you arrive, there is a makeup artist, manicurist, and hairdresser and you’re working from nine to five. Seriously. The exterior and environment is not hard. Your self-esteem is the hard part. I can wake up and be like, I look good, I got this. And then I get to the job and there is Cindy Crawford! That will bring you down in a second!

I suffer from low self-esteem. I had horrible self-esteem growing up. You really have to save yourself because the critic within you will eat you up. It’s not the outside world, it’s your interior life, that critic within you that you have to silence. Find something to like about yourself and hold on to that. It’s a constant battle whether you are 16 or 50. As you age, you do really find that quietness inside and that being-comfortable-in-your-skin feeling.

What wellness means to me: It means as it sounds — it has nothing to do with age. No one will see the results of your investment in wellness but you; it’s an investment in yourself. People may not see it but you will see it. When I first got into acupuncture, I didn’t understand it. In Western philosophy, you go to it weekly because you are sick. In Eastern philosophy, you go so you don’t get sick! I tell my daughter all the time, diet should be out of your equation. Not giving your body the things it needs isn’t wellness. Eliminating the things you love is not wellness. Wellness feeds your soul and makes you feel good. 

On diversity in beauty: At the core of it, the beauty ideal is still the same. Everyone still thinks blonde, blue eyes. I saw the letter that the model Nykhor wrote. A similar experience inspired to me create Iman Cosmetics. In 1975, a makeup artist asked me if I brought my own foundation. But now, every line from François Nars's to Iman to Bobbi Brown has a lot of skin tones. So, good for her — the laziness and audacity of those makeup artists! It’s not like you didn’t know this model was going to be there. Makeup artists already know. And why shouldn’t you have the foundation — that’s your job. It’s like hiring a painter to come paint your house and he’s forgotten your paint and has to ask for it! You should get fired, you should be fired!

On turning 60: Yikes! Besides my foot and my accessory-challenged world, I feel pretty good. I feel really healthy, loved, blessed, and I’ve never been more comfortable being inside myself. I’ve been forced to sit still. I tell my younger friends, “Don’t be afraid of change. That is when you really see what your destiny is.” We are always trying to hustle and flow, trying to make things happen. I used to be like that, too. I asked my husband once when he knew he wanted to be a musician. He said at the age of 7. When you have that, the universe will conspire for things to happen since you don’t see anything else. But for average people who don’t have that kind of passion, things happen for ourselves when we let them.

When you are forced to sit still, you really see, as with everything that happened to me. I stumbled into modeling, I had never even heard about it or seen fashion magazines. And makeup — opening my own cosmetics company was the same way. And with my husband, I’d been to his concerts and invited backstage, but never went. But when the time was right, the path was clear, we met. That “aha” moment just revealed myself. That also comes about with wellness. Sit quiet and let it be and reveal itself. 

I don’t read the comments, really, but someone once commented, “Oh my God, she looks so good for 70.” And I said, “Bitch, don’t rush me! I’m 60, not 70.” Bitch, don’t rush me — maybe I should get that on my cake. 

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