Name: Chanel Iman Shepard
Claim To Fame: Iman was declared one of the top thirty models of the 2000s by Vogue Paris. Her appearance on the July 2007 cover of Teen Vogue is one of its most iconic images. She’s stalked the runway for Tom Ford, Balenciaga, Victorias Secret, Versace, Yves Saint Laurent, Oscar de la Renta, Dior, Bottega Veneta and many more.
Chanel Iman Shepard wants her 2.4 million Instagram followers to consider how privileged they are to be able to swallow without thinking about it. The supermodel is lending her popularity to Smile Train, a non-profit dedicated to “transforming the lives of babies born with cleft lip and palate.”
Iman Shepard is rarely active on the platform and selective about what she chooses to promote. “I’d rather raise awareness for causes like Smile Train,” the supermodel told HelloBeautiful.
“I have children of my own and I just wanted to work with a foundation that helps children.” Something about the suffering of orofacial clefts struck her. “I want to get involved,” she decided. “I want to be a part of this great cause. I just felt really connected.”
According to the Center for Disease Control, “A cleft palate happens if the tissue that makes up the roof of the mouth does not join together,” and “children with a cleft lip with or without a cleft palate or a cleft palate alone often have problems with feeding and speaking clearly and can have ear infections. They also might have hearing problems and problems with their teeth.” Reportedly ,“1 in every 1,600 babies is born with cleft lip with cleft palate” “1 in every 2,800 babies is born with cleft lip without cleft palate,” and “1 in every 1,700 babies is born with cleft palate,” in the United States.
Iman Shepard’s own children are small but she’s already working to ensure they learn about those different from them and the importance of supporting them through their challenges. She uses illustrations to explain the concept of orofacial clefts to her soon to be three-year-old Cali Clay Shepard and fills their homes with books that demonstrate different life scenarios. “ I just kind of let the kids grab a book and we just read,” she said. “She’s still very young, so it’s very difficult to explain the cause but I try to explain how blessed she is,” she said. “I tried to explain that not every child is born with the perfect smile, but with foundations like Smile Train it’s possible for any child to have the perfect smile.” She also works to teach her children about having empathy and respect for people dealing with all types of struggles.
“Me raising them as their mother, it definitely will be something that, um, will be installed in them to love everyone, um, and not just not make somebody feel less than if they don’t have, if they look different,” she said as her daughter reached for eagerly in the background. She does not believe children have to reach a certain age before they are exposed to the realities of others’ circumstances. “It’s important for kids, for children to understand, that children with clefts, they often have difficulty eating, breathing, speaking,” she said before somberly noting that in some cases children can even perish from issues related to “malnutrition.”
She hopes they’ll continue her legacy as an emerging philanthropist and hopes global education about wellness will improve in the future. “Comprehensive care includes nutrition programs, dental and orthopedic, PT care, speech therapy to social and emotional support,” she said. “I want my children to understand and just educate them on, you know, how we can change the world one smile at a time.”
“I feel like as a mother, you know, raising two beautiful little girls, they have to appreciate all the things that they were blessed with,” she added. She expressed appreciation for how her modeling career affords her the ability to aid in the fight against the condition. “Being a successful model, it’s helped me to have a voice and, it’s helped me to be able to reach out to people and I try to use my voice in a positive way to uplift, encourage, inspire, and just bring awareness,” she said.
As one of the most successful models in the industry success has shifted her motivations.
She shared a designer to climb even higher to have more of an impact on eradicating the suffering associated with orofacial clefts. “I’m always touched by people, just around the world, especially, I love hearing the different stories,” she said.
“It really inspires me. And it makes me want to just dedicate my time to do what I can to help, help them out, and just keep working hard so that I can donate as much as I can to the cause,” she continued before asserting, “I can help.”
She is honored that others find inspiration in her.“I feel like that’s, that’s when I know I’m successful as a model, when I know I can touch and reach people in a positive way, I feel like that’s when I know I achieved, I achieved my accomplishments, because that’s what I live for is to inspire and touch people’s hearts.” She wants the young girl seeing her image on newsstands to know that she can find her own way to change the world too. “I want her to believe in herself. I want her to know that if I can do it, she can do it as well,” she said.