Journalist. Mother. Bunny enthusiast. Pop culture junkie.

Journalist. Mother. Bunny enthusiast. Pop culture junkie.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

"I'm from the moon, darling."

I can't imagine being a teenage girl in a world where millions of people think you're ugly and they hate you, even though they've never even seen you.

No matter who you are or what you look like, you're trash. And it feels like there is nothing you can do about it. You fall asleep crying. It seems like the world can truly offer you no hope.

You stare into space while you're in class, dreaming of a way to be happy, fantasizing about a world where you are special, and wishing with every ounce of your heart that maybe one day you will feel beautiful.

This is a story about one of those girls.

Donyale Luna was born to a poor black family in Detroit. Her father was cruel and abusive. The gangly, somewhat awkward beauty was quiet, but inside her head raged an elaborate fantasy world. She daydreamed constantly. Her relatives thought she was odd. Her schoolmates made fun of her.

Desperate to leave behind her miserable life, she moved to New York City in 1965 to pursue a modeling career and changed her name to be racially ambiguous.

Her stunningly gorgeous face and long, never-ending limbs shocked the fashion scene. She was immediately signed to an exclusive contract with a famous photographer and a sketch of her appeared on a now-historic cover of Harper's Bazaar. She became famous, fast.

Modeling jobs were overwhelming her schedule. Everyone wanted to be her friend. She started hanging out with Andy Warhol, Mia Farrow, and Mick Jagger. She was the guest of honor at the wildest Hollywood parties.

But only a few months after she found fame and fortune, she received devastating news. Her mother had murdered her father, out of self-defense one night, when he came home drunk and violent.

Unable to cope with the tragedy, Donyale turned to drugs and alcohol for the first time in her life.

Plus, her photo shoots in Harper's Bazaar were having a negative impact on a nation being ripped apart by the civil rights movement. Advertisers in southern states were pulling their advertising and the magazine lost hundreds of subscriptions over it.

Horrified and betrayed by the reaction, she fled to Europe to model over there.

Fueled with self-hatred towards her own race and desperate to be somebody, anybody, other than herself, the supermodel turned her fantasy life into her real life.

She wore blonde wigs. She sported green contact lenses. She made up an elaborate tale to the media, and her new famous friends, about how she really wasn't black, but actually an exotic mix of Irish, Native American, and Indonesian. But her birth certificate and relatives back home knew the truth.

In 1966, she became the first African-American to appear on the cover of Vogue (the British version) but posed in a concealed way that wouldn't offend the magazine's white readers.

She also pioneered the way for non-white models by appearing on the cover of several other major fashion publications.

Time Magazine declared 1966 the Luna Year in her honor.

But while the white public was adoring her, the black community was starting to hate her.

Donyale made it clear in interviews that she couldn't care less about paving the way for non-white models. She distanced herself heavily from the much-publicized civil rights movement occurring in her homeland. She only married and dated white men. She refused to even call herself black, insisting she was that ridiculous global mixture. It was insulting to the black community around the world, to say the least.

(Although, it could be argued that by denying her full-black heritage and pretending to be multi-racial, Donyale was actually breaking barriers by forcing people to view the human race as a global, interlaced species).

As the years went by, her loopy tales and drug use were spinning out of control. She crawled on runways. She showed up late for bookings. Sometimes she wouldn't even show up for photo sessions at all.

In a time where non-white models had to work extra hard to prove themselves, Donyale was unraveling her own career with her own self-destruction. Younger black models, who were hungrier and more professional, such as Beverly Johnson and Pat Cleveland, trampled over her lifeless career.

In the 1970s, she barely made waves, except for appearing nude in Playboy in 1975. She also had a daughter with her Italian lover around that same time.

In 1979, at 32, Donyale accidentally died of a heroin overdose, leaving behind an 18-month-old daughter, Dream.

And while her climb to the top in the modeling industry is epic, her tale is mostly forgotten.

The girl who dreamed of being beautiful and being special and being recognized for who she was, rather than her race, erased her own footprints in the sand because she couldn't even acknowledge her own reflection in the mirror.

She couldn't accept herself.


Swarnali said...

Her life was so tragic...I loved her doe shaped eyes...very mysterious.

JenniH said...

What a gourgeous woman, so beautiful. Her story was fascinating. Why is it that the best always die first?

JenniH said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ms. Dainty Doll said...

So sad...such a shame how her life ended as well. It's like she couldn't find peace from what she wanted to be seen as and the cruel family life she tried to leave behind. I can understand the wanting to be seen as different, but yourself and not being seen as just a colour for people to point out to you all the time. Especially at those times. I'm not that old, but I used to get annoyed at people for always pointing out my colour, I just wanted to be seen as myself. And most would just say that black girl and I would get even more annoyed as I'm mixed race. So, from the point of view of her wanting to appear racially ambiguous, I can understand. Though, being mixed seems to have made me that way already as many guess wrong as to what my race is, haha! I've been Mexican for a long time, but I don't mind ;) And I'm from near Detroit. Really sad story. Shame she's not remembered better!

Tanvi said...

Wish she had accepted herself and had better skills to deal with the hardships. A heartbreaking story!

∞ © ∞

Shannon said...

Just wow. What a story. And of course, being a mommy, the fact she left her daughter on Earth without her b/c she was too interested in her drug addiction made me very angry.

Love these biographies. Just love them.

Erika @ ~TiptoeButterfly~ said...

OMG - a tear almost fell - that story is unbelievable! - i never ever knew! - THANK you for sharing!!!!

GIVEAWAY going on @ my blog: ~Handmade Necklace w/ a Cause ~ it’s perfect for the holidays!

Josie said...

What a tragic story for such a stunning girl.
xo Josie

Bunny Moreno said...

First, I have to say someone posted before me that the best always die first-please the best also live to old age of 98. Just bc a person dies young or tragic doesn't mean they were the best. Okay I feel better now LOL

Second, I don't think she was wrong to not want to represent the Afro-American community. Not everyone wants to be a poster girl/boy of a gender, race, culture, or sexual orientation. I do not blame her for that-she just wanted to be free and be herself.

Although I do believe she was profoundly insecure about her looks but then again we don't know what kind of abuse she had to go through. I can only imagine she must have been very tall for her age bc as an adult she was 6"2" and for a woman that is super tall. I don't think she was crazy at all-I think she was eccentric. I think she lost herself in her magical world a long time ago. I can sort of relate to her-I did that as a child esp after my mom passed. I think its just a way for some to cope. What makes me sad is that no one took the time to understand her and help her. She obviously was carrying a lot of crap around with her.

Did you know her daughter is a dancer and actress in Italy. I wonder if her father raised her or his family or if she has any connection with her American side. From what I can tell she is 100% Italian-very much a part of that community. Shes just a yr younger than me....trippy. Another great post mama! xox

Alex said...

Damn. That's intense.

Chloe Moon said...

Wow what at story. I simply don't understand why famous people once they reach their peak turn to drugs. It's sad. She was stunning and it's a shame. It's ironic she called her daughter Dream even tho she couldn't figure out a way to live in her dream.

Couture Carrie said...

She is stunning!
What an amazing bio!


Rachel Jensen {Da Paura ♥} said...

What a sad story. She was so gorgeous!

socialitedreams said...

i think that

"The girl who dreamed of being beautiful and being special and being recognized for who she was, rather than her race, erased her own footprints in the sand because she couldn't even acknowledge her own reflection in the mirror."

is the most profound thing i've ever read in my life

Sherin said...

This is probably the most tragic story out of all the ones I've read here. It's so sad she couldn't accept her race, and that she had to pretend to be something she wasn't!

Blond Duck said...

But she was so beautiful! It's horrible how we can't see the best about ourselves!

when BABI speaks said...

Her story was really interesting and heartbreaking as well! thanks for sharing.


Tights Lover said...

Amazing bio! What a stunningly conflicted life she led.

While I agree with the other comments that this, overall, is a tragic story, I don't think you should look past the fact that she broke barriers in her industry by initially believing in herself, and rising above an obviously tough upbringing. She can still be an inspiration, I think.

I can never get enough of your bios. You could start your own network and totally put E! out of business. You're so much better at this than they are!!

Cafe Fashionista said...

What a heartbreakingly tragic life. :(

invisiblefashion said...

Hello Dear! I like your blog so much! Would you like to follow each other? :)

Oh to Be a Muse said...

That is a very sad story. If she could have accepted herself then maybe her story and life would have been different. But thanks so much for this story of her life. She did take some pretty pictures.

Maddie said...

Wow such a powerful and touching story! Thanks for sharing! :)

Kim (A Very Sweet Blog) said...

Wow! She went through so much in her earlier life that it affected the latter portion too. I'm african american and totally understand how she felt. You must accept who you are, but how you live your life is another thing. It shouldn't matter who you marry etc. Europe has always been more accepting of african americans than here in the states. That's why i love it so!


I would argue that her drug use and alcoholism stemmed from her inability to cope with fame. Happens to the best of them..

Barry said...

Jen I generally don't have much interest in fashion model bios (nothing personal it's just not my cup of tea). But the way you write always holds my attention and I read everything regardless of what it's about when I visit, without exception.

I love the amount of research you put into these posts and the professionalism of your writing. It's top notch.

A BRIT GREEK said...

So sad and tragic... so young and beautiful too, wonder whatever happened to her daughter.

Yetti said...

You know that was kind of a wake-up call... because I too most days have issue with accepting bits and pieces of myself! Thank you for sharing!

Just a heads up: I nominated you for a Versatile Blogger Award, the rules and such can be found on my site. :)

ravenlocks said...

I could relate to her in some ways. When I was younger, I could not understand the fascination people had with my ethnicity. It was usually the first or second thing people would ask me about upon meeting me. I never denied my ethnicity but I would try to dodge the question or just ignore them because I felt it was strange. I just wanted to be left alone lol.

Now that I'm older, I still don't understand it but I don't care. People think I'm Middle Eastern and I think it's very flattering. There are some seriously stunning people in the Mid East. People rarely guess that I'm Mexican. And that's cool too. That doesn't bother me anymore because there are worse things people can do.

I think part of the reason why Donyale denied her race was because of racism. It's hard when people don't like you because of your skin color. It's awful. But still...making up some cheesy story is kind of lame. But I can't judge. Only she knew the full story.

xoxo Azu

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