Jourdan Dunn: When “skinny” was a clog
With about 11 talented designers, over 200 models, thousands of fashion enthusiasts who came with their A-game street style, as well as established and aspiring models, the stage was set to host, for the first time at the GTCO Fashion Weekend, the star of UK runway, Jourdan Dunn.
Scouted by the legendary model scout, Sarah Doukas, Jourdan was signed on a day after she was spotted at a tender age of 15. Her life seemed picture perfect to outsiders; what many didn’t know was that she largely remained unhappy.
While her mates were exploring and enjoying teenage life, Jourdan’s road to fame began. “I felt like the industry was taking away from me the experience of being a teenager.” She told her audience during Masterclass at the recently held GTCO Fashion Weekend as she spoke on “Mental Health”.
While her friends were excited about her new found career path, she was not open to talking about the industry because as she puts it, “I wanted to feel normal. I just wanted to do what teenagers do.”
What many did not know was that this Caribbean beauty struggled with body issues. Coming from the black community— Caribbean, skinny was not celebrated. Women from her community were usually curvy, with full feminine features.
“I didn’t have any of that. So, I had that insecurity of wearing clothes and being in the spotlight. I always had excuses going out with my friends because I didn’t want to be seen.
“Every time we went out, I felt people’s eyes on me and they were judging me. I didn’t enjoy being in my body.” She spent time hiding in herself and the effort could almost make any tip. “At some point, I loved to be miserable,” she confessed.
Jourdan was not always alone in this regard. Many models, before they knew what they could do with their skinny frame, suffered huge complexes beside curvy girls.
For a gangly 15-year-old whose body was still developing, Jourdan’s mental health took a nose dive. Her mental health journey formed the basis of the Masterclass as she opened up on how she got to her present position.
Coming into modeling where skinny is celebrated, and being told that what she is selling is her body and face, her self worth revived. She came to the point where she told herself she didn’t want to feel like this anymore.
“I really had to learn the most important thing which is self-love. Self love is self acceptance,” she told herself.
Having this paradigm shift in her mindset, she chose the path of positive thinking and to love herself on a deeper level. That included daily self affirmations in front of the mirror. Self-love, she says, is acceptance. “You accept ‘you’ and others will accept who you are.”
While her insecurity issues with her body lasted, it was so huge it almost got the better of her walking for Prada for the first time as the first black model to so do in 10 years. Seeing the large audience and the energy around, she almost tipped, but having a good support system saved the day.
Narrating her ordeal at this event, Jourdan says; “I was on the edge and it was when I got to the top of the line that the director held me and said, ‘you are about to make history’. That night, encouraged by her director, she walked the runway to the admiration of the overwhelming audience.
Being a model in the age of social media did not entirely help her mental health. Like many celebrities in her shoes, vicious online followers sought her out on X to throw negative comments at her.
“As a model, you are not you; you are the muse for whoever wants you.
“I feel humans are so addicted to negativity. Some people search you out on Twitter looking for all the negative things to say.”
Her escape device was to shun anything unhealthy or unfollow anyone she considers as negative.
Her resolve not to feed her mind with anything negative paid off and her resentment towards social media got better.”Now, I see social media as an amazing tool if you know how to work it.”
Not only has she walked the social media well, she now uses her platform to speak on issues and inspire people, issues such as mental health, being a mum and sickle cell that she has been dealing with— and for which she has now become an advocate.
Despite ticking all the goals she wanted to achieve in her career, the voices in her head made her largely unhappy. But in all her travails, she was lucky to have a good support system— her mother; something many other girls didn’t have. That support system, helped her to stand up tall and to realise that she was worthy to be in the modeling industry.
Tips for aspiring models
Sharing her top three tips that helped her survive mental health, she says “affirmations, prayer and doing something that brings me joy. It could be cooking but it is basically finding joy. There is joy in tiny little things.”
As a bonus tip, she also added ‘Thanksgiving’. “You have to be thankful for the opportunity that you have.
Despite her challenges, Jourdan has had a remarkable career path that has seen her grace runways for top brands like Emilio Pucci, Bottega Veneta, Gianbattista Valli and covered top magazines like Vogue, Elle UK, Vogue Italia, Wonderland and American Vogue.
The British Fashion Awards ‘Model of the Year,’ in 2009 alone, walked the runway in over 60 shows for the Spring/Summer of that year!
Acknowledged as one of the emerging super models of the British modeling industry, Jourdan dropped some pieces of advice for aspiring models.
“If you’ve got something you desire, never ever give up. And it is important to stay focused on your lane and your journey; not getting distracted.”
She enjoined models to stop comparing themselves to others, pointing out that “Comparison kills everything. So, it’s all about focusing on you and getting to your destination. Don’t give up.”