Supermodel Beverly Johnson, who made history in 1974 as the first Black model to grace the cover of American Vogue, has revealed shocking details about the extreme measures she took to stay thin during the height of her modeling career in the 1970s and 80s. This includes living on a diet of just cocaine, rice, and two eggs per week, as well as hiding her struggles with addiction from the fashion industry.
Model Faced Racism and Pressure to Achieve Impossible Beauty Standards
Johnson recently opened up about the intense racism and impossible beauty standards she faced as a young Black supermodel trying to break barriers in the industry. She recounted several disturbing incidents of racism she endured from modeling agencies, fashion designers, photographers, and others.
Despite being pioneering as the first Black model on the cover of Vogue, she still faced immense pressure to conform to white beauty ideals of being “chiseled to the bone”, leading to her extreme dieting methods and drug addiction. The industry encouraged drug use at the time to keep energy and weight down. As Johnson heartbreakingly shared:
“I was told by my agents, by designers, by photographers that I had to do something. So they suggested cocaine to help me lose weight…”
Admitted to Living on 500 Calories Per Week from Cocaine, Rice, and Eggs
In a recent interview, Johnson admitted she once lived on just 500 calories per week – consisting solely of cocaine, a small bowl of brown rice, and two eggs. She started experimenting with cocaine in her early 20s after constantly being told she needed to lose weight.
“I got down to 103 pounds by living on just cocaine, a bowl of brown rice and two eggs a week,” she confessed.
This extremely dangerous and restrictive regimen led to her spiraling addiction as she tried desperately to stay thin for photoshoots and runway shows.
|Beverly Johnson’s 500 Calorie Per Week Diet
|1 small bowl brown rice
Hid Cocaine Addiction for Years Before Getting Sober
Remarkably, Johnson managed to hide her cocaine addiction for years while continuing her successful career. But she now admits, “I don’t know how I had the discipline to hide it.” Eventually, she realized she needed to get sober for her own health and wellbeing.
“It was just gonna lead to one road, and that was early death…I knew that I was either gonna overdose, or I was gonna kill myself from depression because I hated what I was doing to myself,” she shared.
After getting clean, Johnson became an advocate and mentor for young models facing similar pressures in the industry. She aims to change the narrative and support women of all backgrounds in feeling empowered and beautiful as they are.
Speaking Out to Prevent Other Models Facing Same Struggles
Now 61 years old, Johnson hopes that by speaking out about her past struggles with extreme dieting, drug addiction, and racism in the fashion industry, she can prevent future models from facing the same traumas.
As she told People magazine:
“I feel if I had someone to reach out to about [what I went through], it would have made such a difference…Hopefully me telling my story will put some light on this issue for these young girls.”
She emphasized that models today should not ignore red flags or feel pressured to compromise their health to succeed in the industry.
While standards may have improved, dangerous ideals still persist today. Supermodel Gisele Bündchen admitted that models still face pressure to fit unrealistic, unhealthy standards. So Johnson hopes the industry can continue making positive changes.
Pushes for Increased Diversity and Health Standards in Modeling
On the 50th anniversary of her groundbreaking 1974 Vogue cover, Johnson’s revelations about the dark side of modeling in her era serve as an important reminder that there is still work to be done.
While diversity in fashion has increased since her time, an analysis by The Fashion Spot showed less than half of magazine covers in 2021 featured people of color. Standards for health remain complex with pressure to be very thin.
Johnson plans to continue using her iconic voice and influence to push for sustainable improvements in these areas. She signed with IMG Models Worldwide, which aims to promote more diversity and wellness support for models.
“It thrills us to support Beverly in this next chapter of her career,” said Ivan Bart, President of IMG Models.
The agency announced developing major branded partnerships and television opportunities centered around Johnson’s advocacy and barrier-breaking legacy.
She also continues speaking at high-profile industry events about her experiences. And she wrote a powerful personal essay in Vogue that same month detailing her groundbreaking rise to fame amid rampant racism in 1970s fashion.
Beverly Johnson’s Ongoing Advocacy for Models
As she moves forward with interviews, television appearances, speaking engagements and op-eds, Johnson remains passionately focused on preventing future models from facing what she endured early on. She also aims to continue driving change in diversity and inclusion standards across fashion.
Some of her biggest media appearances and modeling advocacy initiatives on the horizon include:
Headlining “On Top! The Beverly Johnson Story” – an 8-week off-Broadway production starting in April telling her life story through dance, song, and monologue.
Guest starring on popular modeling competition show “The Face” as a mentor for aspiring models.
Partnering with leading modeling agencies and schools to enhance health education and support services for new talent trying to break into fashion.
Working on an autobiographical book about her groundbreaking but harrowing rise to fame as one of the industry’s first successful Black models.
At 61 years old, 50 years after she first made history, Johnson clearly has no plans of slowing down her advocacy and barrier-breaking any time soon.
As she boldly told Essence magazine this month:
“I’ve got a big mouth. And I plan to continue using it.”
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