Imaan Hammam on What Makes a Role Model

Imaan Hammam didn’t set out to be a role model. She was just never taught to be otherwise. The stunning fashion model, who has graced countless international runways, magazine covers, and designer campaigns throughout her still-burgeoning career, has become a defining face for what a new-age supermodel not only looks like, but thinks like.

Hammam’s confidence and the way she embraces her natural looks—like her voluminous and bouncy Afro curls, and her Moroccan, Egyptian, and Dutch background—has helped solidify her as a role model for girls and young women, but also as proof that it’s more than okay to look like your natural self.

The model’s mantra of self-love makes her the perfect fit as global ambassador for She’s the First, an organization that “fights for a world where every girl chooses her own future.” In the partnership, she’s helped promote the group’s mission of ensuring young women around the world retain the right to be educated, respected, and heard. It’s for that reason that Harper’s BAZAAR UK recently recognized Hammam as one of its Women of the Year.

Below, we speak with Hammam about how her ambassadorship with She’s the First came to be, what truly makes a role model, and how she hopes to shape the fashion industry for the next generation.

You’re in this new role as a global ambassador with She’s the First. Tell me why it was so important for you to begin working with the organization and how the partnership came to be.

I come out of a family where my mom has always been such a big source of support for me. Also being a woman and having this type of career and this job, I just felt like at some point I was like, “Oh, my God, I have to help women like me, or girls like me, to tell them and show them that you’re able to dream big and be able to pursue any kind of dream you have.” I’ve always been about women choosing their own future and being independent. And my mom and my parents were supporting me in that way, and I think it’s so important for me to speak out and help these women.

A lot of people, especially high-profile figures or those in the public eye, can be uncomfortable with the title of role model. I wonder if being a role model for girls and young women was something you’ve always aspired to be?

I think so. I mean there were moments where I didn’t believe I was able to get where I am today, so that took some time. But, yeah, I think it’s so important that I’m a role model, and that people can relate to me.

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As you’ve built this career for yourself over the past few years, how does it feel to be someone who has really helped break the barriers for women who look like you, and women similar to you, in the fashion industry?

I would say it’s an honor. As a young girl, I’ve always dreamed of having a career like this. I think it’s so important for me to be able to use my platform and to bring awareness, and especially during these times where there’s so much happening in the world. Everyone has a voice, and I think why not use that voice and help women, and tell them to also be bold and be able to break barriers.

How do you highlight the importance of championing girls, young women, and their dreams through your work?

Simply by urging them to use their platform and to have a voice and speak out, but also by using my platform to share with them. We did a social media collaboration with the Girls Get Loud campaign where this young girl, Lélia, who was 14, I gave her my Instagram for her to bring out her message and to just inspire other young girls and women to just tell their stories and to just bring awareness.

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This past year has been emotionally tense and strange and unlike anything we’ve really seen in our lifetimes. How is She’s the First working to continue supporting young women and girls, and rally them together amid the pandemic and during a time when we’re more isolated than ever before?

They’ve launched a COVID-19 fund to raise money to help girls so they can stay on track during this time. That money then went toward technology to help the girls be able to attend school remotely. Then it also helped them with hygiene, things to stay healthy and be able to find masks and hand sanitizers. It also helped provide counselors for these girls so they’re able to talk to someone outside of their family if they’re having a harder time adjusting to the world’s changes.

You mentioned when you began working with She’s the First that you were really inspired by your family and your mother, and these women in your life who’ve taught you to really embrace womanhood and sisterhood. Was there a certain life lesson that your mother or anyone else taught you that you still refer to today?

My mom, she’s Moroccan, and she went to the Netherlands at 19 years old. She was married, and just by her being an immigrant and being a woman, I just have so much respect for her and for her journey that she had. I can only say that I’m so blessed and lucky to have been brought up in a Western country where I was able to go to doctors, where I was able to go to school. What my mom always told me, like, “Look at what I have done, and look at what you can do because of that.”

I think my mom has just always been such a proud woman. And my dad was in the picture, but when I was 11, they got divorced and it was just us [Imaan and her sister] with my mom. And I think her power to just keep on growing and to be a single mom and to raise these children in a Western country, I think it’s just so hard. But that always stayed with me. My mom didn’t always have it very easy, and I feel like I did. And that’s why I think I’m so strong about helping women like my mom, or some girls like me that have always had a dream.

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You’re part of an industry and a business that a lot of girls and young women want to be part of. What kind of changes within the fashion industry do you want to see implemented for this next generation?

I think there’s a lot that needs to be changed. I would say the most important is to see more women of color. I think that’s really important. I mean, we do see that, but I just don’t fully think it for the right reasons sometimes. Sometimes it’s treated as if it’s just a trend, and I think we’re past that and we need to actually come together and just show the world that there’s different kinds of beauty, and there’s different kinds of women.

But I also think we need to see more female photographers. I’m really pushing for that, because I think that’s also really important. Just also showing these young women and young girls the reality of this industry, and that it’s not just this fashion industry and everything is just beautiful, but also just really show them the work we do and all that goes into it. I think that every model has their own story and their own journey into the fashion industry and how it ultimately shaped them.

This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.

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