In honor of Women’s History Month, we continue to recognize the economic, cultural, political, and social contributions of influential immigrant and refugee women who’ve helped shape the vibrant tapestry of America. Today we salute Somali American supermodel and human rights activist, Iman.
Iman Abdulmajid was born Zara Abdulmajid in Somalia on July 25, 1955. Her mother, a doctor concerned about preparing her young daughter for the hurdles she would traverse growing up as a Muslim East African female, renamed her Iman, meaning “Faith” in Arabic. Iman and her family were refugees after her diplomat father moved them to Egypt and later Kenya during political unrest in Somalia.
In 1973, Iman was discovered on the street by well-known fashion photographer Peter Beard, who offered to pay her to take photos. Iman agreed, asking for and receiving the $8,000 she needed to pay her tuition at the University of Nairobi. Soon after, Beard convinced her to fly to New York to model professionally, where she signed with Wilhelmina, one of the world’s leading modeling and talent agencies. Before long, the budding icon was walking high-end fashion runways and on the cover of print magazines – one of the first models to succeed in both forums. She remained a featured model in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar through the 1980s.
In 1989, Iman grew tired of her modeling career and left the business permanently. She made several small film appearances before collaborating with the BBC on her documentary Somalia Diary, based on conditions in her native country and its citizens devastated by war and starvation.
In 1992, following years of frustration over the lack of products for her black skin, Iman launched her own line of cosmetic products. She created the Iman collection for women of all colors.
Iman still serves as an activist following her BBC documentary. She has fundraised for the Children’s Defense Fund and domestic violence. She’s also held the role of CARE’s first-ever global advocate supporting its mission to eliminate poverty. She’s written I Am Iman and The Beauty of Color. In 2019, she received the Fashion Icon award from the Council of Fashion Designers.
Iman was married to iconic musician David Bowie from 1992 until he died in 2016.