Profiles in Black: Waris Dirie

Waris Dirie

Waris Dirie was “discovered” while working at a McDonald’s in London by the famous photographer Terence Donovan. She got her first big break by modeling on the cover of the 1987 Pirelli calendar, which was shot by Donovan. Dirie’s career soon took off where she appeared on the runways in Paris, Milan, New York, and modeling for top fashion and beauty houses such as Chanel, Levi’s, L’Oreal and Revlon. Some have coined Dirie as having a Cinderella story, and if we know anything about Cinderella her story didn’t start off too sweet. Believed to be born in 1965 (Dirie says she is unsure of her age as her family counted seasons and not years), Dirie was part of a nomadic family in Somalia. At the age of 5 she was the victim of female genital mutilation (FGM), at 13 her father arranged for her to be married off to an older man. Knowing that this was not the life she wanted, Dirie ran away and sought the aid of relatives living in the capital, Mogadishu. As luck would have it her uncle was a Somali ambassador living in London, and off she went working as a maid for the next 2 years before taking a job at McDonald’s.

At the height of her career in 1997 Dirie made the choice to retire as a professional model and became an activist in the fight against female genital mutilation.

Waris Dirie Social Activist
1997 Interview with Laura Ziv of Marie Claire first opened up about FGM
1997 Became UN Ambassador for abolition of FGM
1998 Authored autobiography Desert Flower, 11 million copies sold to date
2000 Woman of the Year by Glamour magazine
2002 Created Desert Flower Foundation
2007 Received Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur Award by French President Nicolas Sarkozy
2009 Desert Flower made into a feature film starring Liya Kebede
2009 Founded PPR Foundation for Women’s Dignity & Rights along with Francois-Henri Pinault and Salma Hayek
2010 Appointed Peace Ambassador for the Year of Peace & Security by African Union

Waris Dirie has written other novels including Desert Dawn and Desert Children. She continues in the fight against FGM through her foundations, work with the UN, and speaking to women’s groups throughout Europe and Africa. To learn more about her foundation visit


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