A black model battling mental illness hopes to spread awareness while achieving her dreams.
Interview by: Mame’ Damey

Edited by: Amanda Anderson

I t is no secret that the modeling industry is one of the most competitive fields to break into. While it may be glamorous to walk the runway and wear pieces from extraordinary collections created by some of the top fashion designers, there isn’t a model alive who doesn’t hope her name will be more significant than her gorgeous face.

And for black models, establishing an impressive modeling career isn’t quite impossible, but it’s pretty close to inconceivable. Models of color aren’t in demand in the world of high fashion, so every black model must work harder to achieve supermodel status. To Dawn Montgomery, a mental disorder has made her stronger than ever, and motivated her to achieve plenty in a field that makes it pretty tough for women of color.

Dawn has been featured in Black Men Magazine, Roll Out, JET’s “Beauty of the Week,” as well as campaigns for Akoo, PZI Jeans, Seagrams Gin 2009, and music videos for Ludacris and Bow Wow; all while battling Bi-Polar Disorder. She recently sat down with us to talk about battling mental illness, while pursuing a successful career in modeling. More than a pretty face, the Mississippi native plans to spread awareness of mental illness and become a voice for those who refuse to let the disorder take over their lives.

Urban Belle Magazine: You have an impressive body of work, and you have a lot of projects in the future. What age were you when you decided to become a model and what was your inspiration behind starting a career in the fashion industry?

Dawn: I was about 20 when I considered modeling because one of my good friends did a hair photoshoot with me. I was encouraged me to go to castings in Atlanta and since then I always attend many castings that I’m informed about.

Urban Belle Magazine: When did you discover that you were Bi-Polar?

Dawn: I was about 16 and a junior in high school. I was never a destructive student but I was in a state of depression often .I told my mother that I felt something was wrong. She felt I was going to be fine but It wasn’t until I attempted suicide that I reached out to my guidance counselor at school. My mother then started taking me to the doctors and that’s when I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I also suffer from a very minor form of seasonal affective disorder which means that different seasons or weather can also affect my mood. I mostly feel low when it rains to the point that I have a hard time getting out of bed.

Urban Belle Magazine: After you got the news of your mental illness, how did you manage to cope with the disorder?

Dawn: Everyday I’m still learning how to deal with my disorder. If it wasn’t for the support of my family especially my grandmother who is also a preacher and my faith in God I would not have came as far as I have. My grandmother keeps me focused. What people don’t know about me is that I’m also a writer. Whenever I get a in a state of feeling low I either write or read some of my writing.

Urban Belle Magazine: How has the condition affected your life? What changes did you have to make in your life to adjust?

Dawn: I basically have to watch my own actions and keep myself together everyday.

Urban Belle Magazine: Although you have been diagnosed with Bi-Polar Disorder, you have managed to have a pretty successful modeling career. Did your medical condition motivate you any professionally?

Dawn: Yes. Modeling and the work I do actually keeps my focused and motivated. I have to tell myself that I won’t let this disorder get in my way of my career.

Urban Belle Magazine: The African American community still doesn’t know much about the mental illness. In a sense, it is still a subject that is considered taboo. What do you think we all can do to spread awareness about Bi-Polar Disorder?

Dawn: I think we have to put a face on it to get message across about mental illness and I am trying to become that face. It angers that many people who suffer from the same illness as I do are afraid to talk about their illness publicly and are scared of what society will think about them. I have no problem with talking about my illness and sharing my story with others I just wished more people were okay with talking about their illness publicly.

Urban Belle Magazine: In addition to modeling, you have also decided that you want to dedicate your own time to spreading awareness about Bi-Polar Disorder. You have also partnered with the National Alliance for Mental Illnesses to reach out to the communities. What is your plan to action to better educate the African American community on this mental illness?

Dawn: First I want to reach out to as many media outlets as I can to educate the black community because I feel that many African Americans aren’t educated properly about mental illness and tend to ignore it.

Urban Belle Magazine: The fashion industry seems to lack a lot in diversity, and it is usually harder for black models to establish successful careers, as the runways aren’t usually home to women of color. Is it harder to be a black model or more difficult to be a model with a mental illness?

Dawn: It’s definitely harder to be a model with a mental illness. Models aren’t supposed to have a voice but I want my voice to be heard. I want to see more black models with morals and values and speak up because that’s how I was raised.

Urban Belle Magazine: Since the fashion industry is extremely competitive, what advice would you give to young women who would like to pursue a career in modeling, and even aspiring models battling a mental illness?

Dawn: Do your research. Don’t just go get your information about the modeling industry from TV. The inter net helped me a lot throughout my career. It’s very important to know what your getting yourself into before you start.

Urban Belle Magazine: Although you have already achieved a lot in your modeling career, what do you hope to achieve in the future as a model and mental illness activist?

Dawn: I want to become a national activist for NAMI. For my modeling career, I want to do more mainstream magazine spreads and fashion shows. I am a very patient person so I’m just waiting for my good opportunities to come my way. I also have goals of working for ESPN and working for sports radio. I don’t want to limit my self to only modeling.

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