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5 Things You Need To Know About 67-Year-Old Fenty Model JoAni Johnson

Beauty & Fashion

Whoever told you it was too late to follow your dreams was a damn lie, and Rihanna's latest handpicked Fenty model, 67-year-old JoAni Johnson, is proof of this fact. After walking on the runway for the very first time only two years ago, the recently widowed supermodel is taking the taking the fashion industry by storm and living a life with no regrets.


Although JoAni had always wanted to be a model, she never imagined that her dreams would come to fruition when she was a retired mother of an adult daughter, but God works in mysterious ways. One day, while taking a walk in the park with her late husband, JoAni was approached by an Allure employee who captured her in a video that would later go viral and changed her life forever. Since garnering over a million views after her street style video feature in the publication, the Harlem-born hero has been securing the bag in a major way by working with industry giants like Eileen Fisher, Tome, Chris Peters, and now, Rihanna.

Now, able to tell her story and the stories of other women who have been discriminated against based on race, age, or sex, JoAni isn't taking any sh*t, and behind those silver strands of strength lie a world of love, pain, and perseverance that she refuses to let the world ignore.

Here's everything you need to know about this 67-year-old savage who's taking on the fashion industry one runway at a time:

5.Joani Johnson's Late Husband Is Her Inspiration

Having money, time, and resources is definitely important when launching a career, but the most important thing to have is your "why". It's important to ask yourself why you get up in the morning and work hard, or why do you refuse to give up, because in those moments you don't feel like getting out of bed and you do feel like giving up, this will certainly come in handy. For JoAni, her "why" was her late husband of over 20 years who inspired her to let the Allure representative film her in the first place.

"I didn't want to. But my husband said, 'C'mon, let her take the photo.' I asked my husband first and, again, he said, 'Go ahead, just try it.' I didn't know what they wanted. I was semi-retired and working on my tea blending business."

She explained that while he was alive, the best part about walking the runway was seeing him on the sidelines cheering her on, and I'm not crying, you're crying. After his death, JoAni continues to live out her dream in his honor because according to her, he will always be her reason. She told Refinery 29:

"All of this is for him. My husband was the most wonderful man I could ever imagine. There are so many times that I know that he's with me. On my last shoot, for example, they put on a song that was something that we used to listen to together — I knew that he was there."

4.Her Mother Was A Jamaican Immigrant

Nobody knows discrimination in this country like a person with brown skin, and this was especially true for JoAni's mother, who was an immigrant from Jamaica. The model explained that it was her mother's perseverance that inspired her to press on despite critics of her age.

"I think of my mom, she's 90 years old, and when she came here from Jamaica she couldn't get a job because they said her accent was too thick….We've faced a lot of challenges, We all make it through. I consider it a blessing for everyday that we make it through."

3.JoAni Is Only 5'4'' In Height

I'm no modeling agent, but I'm almost positive that the standard for a runway model is tall, slim, all breaks, and no curves. Growing up in the 60's and 70's, this stigma was also present. There was only one perception of what a model should look like and it didn't look like Jo, and it ultimately led her to give up her dream altogether.

"If you would have asked me if this would be part of my life today, I would have said no way. When I was younger I wanted to model desperately, but at the time the rules were so stringent, I was up against the Pat Clevelands and Beverly Johnsons of the world, and it didn't happen because I didn't meet the height requirement…So I ended up working in showrooms and so forth. I worked in the fashion industry for 13 years and eventually left."

But thanks to brands like Fenty, who prove that inclusivity is more than a trend, JoAni finally has her shot. Don't call it a comeback.

2.She Worked As A Receptionist Before Retirement 

With timeless beauty and charm like JoAni's, a woman could sell ice to an eskimo; or in her case, get a job as a receptionist even though you never learned to type. After leaving her job in the corporate fashion industry, JoAni made an attempt to jump back into the workforce. To her surprise, a lot had changed since she was in school. She explained:

"Every place I went to, they'd ask me, 'Can you type?' And I couldn't type. When I was growing up, my mom said, 'Do not learn how to type! If you learn how to type, that's the only job they're gonna put you in. You don't wanna be a typist.' So I never learned how to type. I said, What am I gonna do?"

A setback is just a set up for a come-up, and JoAni knew this when she went back to school to learn how to type her ass off.

"But then I said, I know what I'm gonna do: I'm gonna be the best damn receptionist they've ever seen. And I was."

1.Steeping Hot Tea Is Her Passion

Along with being an international supermodel, JoAni has another riveting passion in her life: blending tea. The Fenty model dove into her craft 15 years ago by hosting afternoon tea parties while still working her corporate job in New York and became a certified tea blender in 2006.

Featured image by Johnny Nunez/WireImage

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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