Supermodel Iman Is Turning Her Inspiring Backstory Into Action

Badass Women celebrates women who show up, speak up, and get things done. Fashion icon Iman and CARE USA President & CEO Michelle Nunn say putting women first is the key to ending global poverty. 

Iman BAW
Photo: Lara Jade/Atelier Management

“When you lift up a girl, you lift up the family, the community, the nation, and it has a positive impact on overcoming poverty,” says CARE USA President & CEO Michelle Nunn of her organization’s strategy. “If a girl has the chance to do just one extra year of secondary school, that can mean her family’s income increases by 10 to 20 percent.” Since Nunn became head of CARE in 2015, she set a goal of aiding 200 million of the world’s most vulnerable people by 2020. And this year, as CARE’s first global advocate, Iman has joined Nunn’s cause.

“Michelle is a badass because she combines gentle democracy with an iron will,” Iman says. “I’m all caps and fireworks — don’t get me started! But let’s not forget the quiet badass, because she’s no less heroic. She gets things done.”

The supermodel and longtime advocate for inclusivity says her experience as a refugee from Somalia at age 16 connects her to the people CARE serves. “CARE gave me a focal point for what I really want to do in this third act of my life,” she says. “I am the face of a refugee. I am what is possible when people like CARE workers step in to help.”

Change Agents: As one of the few Black supermodels in the ’70s and ’80s, Iman challenged Western beauty standards and helped revolutionize the industry. In 1994 she launched a cosmetics and skincare collection designed specifically for women of color. “When I created Iman Cosmetics there was no makeup for us. My first job was for American Vogue, and the makeup artists asked me, ‘Did you bring your own foundation?’ ” she recalls. “I think my team and I were the first badass beauty warriors in the business.”

Nunn, meanwhile, has dedicated her life to public service. Soon after college she co-founded Hands On Atlanta, a local group that mobilized volunteers, and built it into a national network that eventually merged with Points of Light (founded by President George H.W. Bush), forming the largest volunteer-service organization in the world. The daughter of former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn, she also tried her hand at politics. “I ran for U.S. Senate unsuccessfully, but being a badass is not always about winning. It’s sometimes about entering the arena and pushing boundaries,” she says. “We’ve never had a woman senator elected in Georgia — but we will. And somehow I will be a part of that longer battle.”

Born Leaders: “How many Imans are out there who could contribute in extraordinary ways that we never get to meet?” Nunn asks, referring to refugees. “We’re talking about human beings,” Iman adds. “These people have ambitions and talents just like me.” Her role as global advocate entails sharing her story, helping CARE expand, and encouraging people to get involved as the nonprofit approaches its 75th anniversary.

Next Gen: Lexi, Iman’s 19-year-old daughter with her late husband, David Bowie, was hesitant to support her mom’s relief work at first. “She was worried,” Iman says. “She said, ‘Oh, you’re going to go back to difficult countries?’ I said, ‘I am from a difficult country. I’m used to it.’ ” But Iman hopes Lexi will join her on her travels for CARE to see the results of its efforts. “The best legacy is leading by example, whether you influence your own kids or somebody far away who calls you a role model,” Iman says. For Nunn, women like Iman, who are determined to overcome adversity, motivate her the most. “Every time I visit our work sites around the world, it’s like an antidote to cynicism,” she says. “It’s a reminder of hope and possibility because you see people in the toughest circumstances meet those challenges with strength, resiliency, and grace. That’s a profound inspiration.”

Photographed by Lara Jade.

For more stories like this, pick up the December issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download November 22.

Related Articles