As she lay in a hospital bed, the supermodel was hit with the truth about beauty.
On a Friday night in 1983, I was in a taxi in New York riding home from dinner with friends. A drunk driver ran a red light and hit the cab, and I was thrown toward the glass partition. I tried to duck, but my face hit the glass, and the impact fractured my cheekbone, my eye socket, my collarbone and several ribs. For quite some time before that night, I'd felt that my life was going to take a very sharp turn—and not for the better.
I was at the height of my career in an industry that celebrates a person solely for her looks, and that had gone to my head. When everyone is telling you "You're so beautiful, there's nobody like you," you begin to think it's true. But of course there is nobody like you. I just believed it for the wrong reasons.
I had a premonition—I can't explain it—that something was going to put me back on course. For weeks, I lived in fear of what it would be. Once I saw those headlights coming toward me, I knew. All I felt was relief that I didn't have to wait anymore.
The force of the crash sent the taxi up onto a sidewalk, and we hit a building. I barely had the strength to open the car door before passing out on the pavement. The next thing I knew I was in Bellevue Hospital. A doctor came over and asked, "Where does it hurt?" I told him I had the worst migraine imaginable. He looked at me, perplexed, then yelled out, "Does anybody speak Spanish?" Apparently I had answered in my native language, Somali, and to him it sounded like Spanish. I laughed, because I thought that was very funny. The doctors and nurses just stared at me—another woman laughing to herself in Bellevue.
For two days, I was in pure hell, barely conscious. That Sunday morning the doctor came to see me with a copy of the New York Times. Just two weeks before, I had done a shoot with the photographer Steven Meisel, and the photos were published in the Times that week. Lying in a hospital bed, utterly bruised and broken, I couldn't have felt more different from the woman in those photos. The doctor told me not to worry, that the bones in my face could be wired and would heal without major scarring.
But I wasn't worried, because I looked at those pictures and saw a woman I no longer wanted to be. And finally, I wasn't afraid. When I thought about the fact that I wasn't dead or paralyzed, giving up my modeling career seemed a very small price to pay. I had weathered the storm; it was time to heal myself—first the physical injuries, and then the less visible breaks.
Recovery took five months, and I spent those long weeks reconsidering how I was going to live my life. I had to come to terms with the business of fashion and its illusions. Eventually I did go back to modeling, though I still have visible scars. After the bones mended, my left eye was smaller than my right, and my eyebrow never grew back. But you know what? Big deal. I think I became beautiful after the accident.
I became kinder, more aware. I gained respect for other people.
I had grown up.
Printed from Oprah.com on Wednesday, June 19, 2013