A memoir from the model whom fashion designer Halston once called "the new beauty ‘It Girl.’ ”
In August 1974, Johnson (True Beauty: Secrets of Radiant Beauty for Women of Every Age and Color, 1994) transformed the fashion industry as the first African-American to appear on the cover of American Vogue. That appearance, she writes, “left an enduring mark on the country, its view of beauty, and the meaning of beauty for decades to come.” However, as she notes, her life and career have been scarred by unwanted sexual advances that began at age 12 and that include a frightening 1986 incident with Bill Cosby (which the author has talked about publicly following other allegations against the comedian). Johnson’s observation that modeling was "an industry that I would find to be overflowing with a toxic mix of deceit, manipulation, abuse, and backstabbing" is echoed in the details of her unstable personal life, which has been marked by a string of codependent relationships with leeching, unfaithful, or drug-dealing men who robbed her of her livelihood and self-respect, jeopardized her health, and nearly ruined her professional reputation. When she finally recognized that her life had become a battle of "self-loathing and self-destruction,” she was able to start down the hard road toward redemption. Though she remains a sympathetic, candid narrator, Johnson recounts these doomed romances and other personal issues with repetitious lamentations, and she doesn’t seem to have gleaned much wisdom from the experiences. She also litters the book with clichés—on one page, she uses "bright and early," "best and brightest," "nearest and dearest," and "crystal clear.” These are not only distracting, but they hold readers at a distance and demonstrate the author’s lack of real insight.
Johnson remains a fashion pioneer, but her storytelling lacks the wit or polish necessary to make the book a success.