Ahead of Mother’s Day, InStyle explores how women are navigating motherhood in 2018, from the role of the pregnancy selfie to new legislation empowering the working mom.
Runway star Jourdan Dunn can pinpoint the exact moment when she knew her career was about to take off. “Booking Prada [in 2008] put me on the map,” says the model, who at just 17 years old was the first black woman to appear on the brand’s catwalk since Naomi Campbell in the ’90s. Dunn had been scouted only two years before at her local mall in London’s Hammersmith district by the same agency that discovered Kate Moss. After that historic walk, Dunn’s life became surreal: She landed the cover of Vogue Italia’s 2008 all-black issue and even received a personal note from Tyra Banks: “It said, ‘I’ve been watching, and I’m super proud of you,’ ” Dunn says. But her most surprising moment? Finding out she was pregnant at 18. “I decided, 'I want to have this baby, and I’m going to make it work,’ ” she says. Here, Dunn talks about that game-changing decision and how she rose to the top as a young working woman.
Your life really evolved between 2008 and 2009. Can you describe what that time was like for you? I was doing all the shows and getting invited to this party and that party, but I didn’t appreciate the position I was in. I felt insecure. I was like, “Yes, I’m a part of this, but I don’t feel like I should be.”
When did you start to realize, "Hey, I’m actually really good at this and I belong here?" Honestly, only recently. There’s always self-doubt that creeps in, but now I treat it as a reminder that actually, no, I am worthy of being among all these people. I do deserve to be at the Met Gala, even though at my first one I called my mom from the bathroom and said, “Mom, I was on the red carpet, and it was OK for a second, but then Victoria and David Beckham came and nobody cared [about me].”
When you found out you were pregnant with your son, Riley, how did you first feel about it? I was at the airport about to go on a two-week vacation to Jamaica with my family. I told my younger brother, who was 15 at the time, “I’m going to get a pregnancy test. Don’t tell Mom where I’m at.” When it said [I was] pregnant, I just felt kind of numb. I thought about everyone else’s opinion—my mom, my agency, the people who look up to me. It wasn’t until I really sat down and thought about it that I was like, “Seriously, you’re talking about what other people want? What do you actually want?” I realized I have to live my life for me.
Courtesy Jourdan Dunn
And you did make it work, right down to walking the runway pregnant at Jean Paul Gaultier’s spring 2010 ready-to-wear show. What was that like? At first I was nervous about people’s reaction. But as soon as I got on the runway and I felt everyone’s positivity and heard cheering, I felt good about myself. Now it’s something I can show to my son and be like, “Listen, you were there with me! That’s me and you, but you’re inside.”
In those early days, how was it being a new mom? Before I had my son, my mom told me to move back home so I’d have more support. The first day home from the hospital I did my hair and makeup for people coming over, and my mom was like, “What are you doing? Don’t put that pressure on yourself.” Once she said that, I was like, “You know what? I am actually exhausted.” Then I spent, like, two weeks in pajamas. I think a lot of new moms put pressure on themselves to be a certain way. But it’s, like, you gave birth. Who cares if you haven’t brushed your hair? Who cares if you have sour milk on your nightie?
Courtesy Jean Paul Gaultier
How did you feel about leaving the bubble of new motherhood to return to modeling? People thought I was going to get back to work as soon as I had him, but I took my time. Although I knew I had to eventually get back into shape, I wasn’t in a rush to get back to sample size. I enjoyed the extra weight. I’d never had those curves before, and it’s what I’d always wanted. When I did finally return to work, it felt good because I felt like the old Jourdan again. I was still breastfeeding, which I did for nine months, and I remember I was in a catalogue for Victoria’s Secret, and they were very accommodating. They set up a corner for me to use every three hours [to pump].
What’s the best mothering advice you’ve ever received? There are no rules to this. No matter how prepared you think you are, you’re never going to be really ready to take care of another human being. Riley is basically my teacher. He’s the one who made me who I am today as a mother.
Courtesy Jourdan Dunn
You’ve been a spokesmodel for Maybelline since 2014. How amazing was it to land such a huge opportunity? I’m big on making a wish list, and in my career it was the Victoria’s Secret show, a Vogue cover, and a Maybelline contract. I’d ticked off two, so the only one missing was Maybelline. I got the news at JFK airport and legit started crying in the middle of baggage claim. I grew up seeing Maybelline commercials with Christy [Turlington] and Adriana [Lima], and they were just themselves. I hope I can do that for another young woman who’s watching me.
You’re such a big part of the fashion world. But is Riley? My life is all over the place, but Riley’s is in London. I like to keep things separate: My time with him is our time; when I’m on set I need to focus on being a model. But he’s a natural in front of the camera—a bit too much. At home he uses the iPad to make his own mini movies. He’ll spend hours afterward watching himself!