03 August 2009

RIP Naomi Sims

"Naomi Sims, whose appearance as the first black model on the cover of Ladies’ Home Journal in November 1968 was a consummate moment of the Black is Beautiful movement, and who went on to design successful collections of wigs and cosmetics for black women under her name, died Saturday in Newark. She was 61, her family said, and lived in Newark."

-- Eric Wilson, "Naomi Sims, 61, Pioneering Cover Girl, Is Dead," New York Times

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.

Those twin cover achievements are far more important and lasting than being able to strut down a runway in 4-inch heels without toppling over or being a designer’s muse. The title 'supermodel' is too limited, too modest for what Sims really managed to do. She initiated a dialogue on how our culture defines beauty—a dialogue that continues to this day. She proved that a pretty face does not mean an empty head—a fact that continues to roil our assumptions. And ultimately, she let the world know that a black face—a black woman—is someone to be reckoned with."

-- Robin Givhan, "Naomi Sims Was No Supermodel," The Root