Naomi Sims, more than a “supermodel”

Naomi Sims, who died over the weekend, has been identified in the media as the “first black supermodel” – largely because of her appearance on a 1968 cover of Ladies’ Home Journal.
But Robin Givhan at The Root says the supermodel label does Sims a “huge disservice.”

That wasn’t Sims. She was not known for her strut or her attitude or for throwing any sort of communication devices at the help. And her relatively short career of only about five years preceded the 24-hour news cycle when a model’s love life or her various temper tantrums could be cocktail chatter.
Appearing on the cover of Ladies’ Home Journal–and Life magazine, too–was not some esoteric coup noted only by the fashion-obsessed. It was a cultural revelation. Sims pushed black beauty into the mainstream in a way that was more provocative and resonant than a million “black issues” of Italian Vogue.
Sims was also a successful businesswoman with a line of wigs aimed at African-American women. She was a model-turned-entrepreneur long before Tyra Banks ever uttered the word “fierce,” long before Banks was even born.

For more on Sims, check out this post from Shark Fu.

Join the Conversation

  • jellyleelips

    Okay, I may get shit for this, but why can’t we laud Sims simply for being a genius model? For some reason, people think it’s sexist to remember a model for being a model. That was the job people knew her for. Emphasizing her other roles doesn’t serve to prove she was more than her looks, it downplays her talent as a model. Okay, that sounded bad. Better put, why couldn’t Givhan have said something like, “In addition to being a supermodel, Sims was…” or, “Sims was also proud of her work as a…” without the comment downplaying her career as a model?
    For anyone interested, two new models carrying the torch for black supermodels are Jourdan Dunn and Emanuela De Paula.
    Lastly, I wish people wouldn’t put an obligatory Tyra bash in EVERY article about black models or black businesswomen. I know Tyra is freaking ridiculous, but she also struggled with the horrible racism of the fashion industry, and was the first black model on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

  • LalaReina

    Point taken because I was going to say something snippy about Tyra;.