Sims was also a successful businesswoman with a line of wigs aimed at African-American women. She was a model-turned-entrepreneur long before Tyra Banks ever uttered the word “fierce,” long before Banks was even born.
Those twin cover achievements are far more important and lasting than being able to strut down a runway in 4-inch heels without toppling over or being a designer’s muse. The title “supermodel” is too limited, too modest for what Sims really managed to do. She initiated a dialogue on how our culture defines beauty—a dialogue that continues to this day. She proved that a pretty face does not mean an empty head—a fact that continues to roil our assumptions. And ultimately, she let the world know that a black face—a black woman—is someone to be reckoned with.
Robin Givhan is a culture critic at The Washington Post.