For Jourdan Dunn, 2020 has been a year of self-discovery. In February, she announced her engagement to British rapper Dion Hamilton, who proposed on a quiet Sunday to the soundtrack of Intro’s Ribbon In The Sky. In August, she turned 30, an age that often signals the start of a new chapter, and cause for self-reflection. This year has also been the year that she decided to leave fashion behind and start a new career in acting. In terms of love, age and work, times are changing for the Brent-born muse.
“A shift is happening in my life at the moment,” Dunn told us. “Before lockdown, I decided I wanted to take the time to focus on acting. When lockdown happened, it felt like the perfect time to dedicate to it. I started therapy… I feel like I’m building the foundations for the next stage in my life. Fashion will always be there, but I want to dive into something new.
Whether television, theatre or film, she’s wants to do it all. “I have visions of me on stage,” she says. “Also, I need to be in a Marvel film so my son can think I’m the coolest mum ever.”
Dunn has been based in her hometown London with her fiancé and son for lockdown, and while she admits that this year has been no picnic, for the most part, it’s proven fruitful. Without the fashion industry chasing her tail, 2020 has given her the chance to delve deeper to work out what she really wants to do with her life.
“It’s been good to ask myself those important questions and to have the time to answer them,” she says. “I’ve had conversations where I said that I want to retire from fashion: ‘Is this my purpose? What is my life purpose?’ I was asking these questions about where I was going, which I think a lot of people were. It’s been hard, but also quite rewarding.”
She has enrolled in a course in acting at Identity School of Acting, which is also a talent agency that recognises and nurtures diversity in television, film and theatre. She’s in good company – alumni include Laetitia Wright, John Boyega and Weruche Opia.
“I want to earn my stripes and learn,” says Dunn. “I haven’t done acting since school and I loved it so much. I really believed that that was what I’d do when I grew up, but then things took a different turn. I want to do this the right way; I don’t want to go down the cheat route. I want to be taken seriously.”
Now, happily in love herself, Dunn recently signed up to front Bumble’s new #MyLoveIsBlackLove campaign, an initiative celebrating love within the Black community. The project also addresses the lack of representation in the UK about what it is like to date as a Black British person.
“There’s different layers to this,” she says. “There’s the lack of representation in the media and also the context within the Black community where there’s colourism when it comes to Black women and men, but mainly Black women. Lighter skinned women are seen as more desirable. When you look at music videos and how things are portrayed in the media, increasingly the desirable women we see are lighter skinned. That then shapes people’s preferences, which is fine, but it does give a negative view of Blackness or Black love.”
It’s a damaging issue that she noticed not only among some of her darker-skinned friends growing up, but also on social media, specifically Twitter. “Black women were the butt end of all jokes and a lot of the time, it would be Black men making these jokes,” she says. “Obviously, this makes Black women feel unwanted or unattractive to the men in their community.”
Growing up in Greenford, West London, Dunn had her own issues. As difficult to phantom as it might be, she hated what she saw in the mirror and didn’t feel as if she met her community’s ideal about what beauty looked like.
“I was very uncomfortable in my skin, especially in my community where it’s celebrated to be curvy, to have a big bum and big tits – I didn’t have those things,” she says. “I still got attention from boys, but I didn’t understand why. I felt like I was always being talked about – I was so tall and skinny and that made me feel uneasy.”
The story of how Dunn was scouted is now fashion folklore. In 2006, aged 15, she was spotted in Primark Hammersmith by an agent from Storm Management, the agency that famously first discovered Kate Moss. She became the first Black model to feature on Prada’s catwalk in 10 years and in 2014 became the first Black British model ever to enter the Forbes models rich list, with estimated annual earnings of $4 million (£2.4million). Surely, the validation she received from the industry helped bolster her self-esteem?
“Not really because the one thing that I was praised for was the one thing I despised about myself,” she says. “For someone who had always kept her head down and always found excuses not to go out with friends, to be thrown into industry where it was all about doing the opposite was hard. I had spent my life covering my arms in polo necks and I couldn’t do that anymore. I felt very exposed. It took a very long time for me to stand up tall and to accept that I was fine.”
Today, she is much more accepting of herself, having learnt that in order to find love she must, as cheesy as it sounds, find self-love first. She read the self-help books, and dedicatedly chanted positive affirmations, but it wasn’t until she started practising the methods that she’d read about that things started to change.
“You can’t look outwards for love; it has to come from you,” she says. “You’ve got to think about your self-worth. What are your spoken words to yourself like? How are you treating your body? What kind of people are you inviting into your life? If you’re surrounding yourself with toxic people, if you’re telling yourself toxic things, that’s not self-love. It’s more than reading the books, it’s about applying those methods and taking action. That’s when I started to think, ‘I love Jourdan and I’m ready to receive the love I know I deserve.’”
It was, of course, at this point that she met her ‘life partner’ Dion Hamilton, also known in music circles as Sincere. As is often the way with true love, Dunn says she felt that she could be herself with him from day one.
“Our first date was so easy, and we were just bouncing off each other,” she recalls. “There was no trying hard. We were both at that stage of knowing what we wanted and weren’t playing games.”
Hamilton is not the sort of person she thought she’d end up with. When she was young, she imagined she’d marry an American basketball player, but – as she spent more time in the US and met a few men who fitted that description – she realised that, actually, she wanted something different. “Really, I wanted to be with someone from my town who had a similar upbringing and culture – when you share that, it makes such a difference,” she says. Hamilton is, like her, a Londoner. Her relationship with him marks a new chapter in more ways than one; with him, she says, she is no longer the only giver.
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“He surprises me every now and again with seven bunches of flowers,” she says. “I’ve always been the giver in relationships; I wanted to be the receiver, but I’ve never been that person. Then he comes along and he showers me with gifts and, to be honest, I didn’t know how to accept it. It felt nice, but weird. I fought it for a while, but then I just thought, ‘actually, this feels nice and I deserve this. I could get used to this.’”
Dunn stresses that it’s important for uplifting stories about Blackness to be shared right now, especially given the racial tensions that have reignited following the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
“It’s not nice to see my Black brothers and sisters in this way, whether you look at America or the UK,” she says. “There’s a lot of darkness and gloominess at the moment and, whenever there’s this much negativity, you need to overshine with positivity, so that’s why this Bumble campaign is great.”
Dunn has been on quite a journey, and it sounds like the next part of it might be even more fulfilling than the last. She finishes our conversation with a few words of wisdom for any young Black women yet to find love. The message is clear; finding the love of your life is great and that person should feel like home, but first you must romance and love yourself.
“Don’t wait on the world to tell you what you already know deep down,” she says. “You are wonderful, worthy and multi-dimensional and more than able to do anything you put your mind to. Learn to love yourself unconditionally. Love yourself now, not when you find the ‘perfect’ job, partner or weight. Accept who you are now and be unapologetic about it.”
Jourdan Dunn has written a letter to her son in the November issue of Harper’s Bazaar, out now and available to buy at magsdirect.co.uk.
She features in Bumble’s Black History Month campaign #MyLoveIsBlackLove alongside 30 other leading black voices. Follow their reflections of what Black Love means to them @bumble_uk.
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