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How '70s Supermodel Beverly Johnson Got Sober After Using Cocaine to Stay Thin

She said models of that time were "led to believe that cocaine was not addictive."

In the '70s, Beverly Johnson was one of the biggest supermodels in the world, and this year, she celebrates the 50th anniversary of becoming the first Black model to appear on the cover of American Vogue. In a new interview with Page Six, the 71-year-old looked back on her early days in the fashion industry, including the lengths she and her fellow models went to in order to get and remain thin. According to Johnson, they were "led to believe that cocaine was not addictive" and used the drug regularly to supplement their dangerous diets.

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"We didn't know cocaine was addictive," Johnson told Page Six of herself and other models of her time. "Everyone used drugs back in the day but that particular drug for models was used because we did not eat. I remember eating two eggs and a bowl of brown rice a week. I would be shaking in a cab, and I would say pull over because I have to get a bag of M&Ms. I would just stop and get the shakes."

Johnson said that models were then praised by others in the industry for this behavior. "We did not eat, and every time you came to work they would say, 'Yes! Chisel to the bone girl. Yes,' like congratulating you," she said. "Nobody really told you the truth."

She explained that she had her began to realize what she'd done to her body when her mother had her look in a three-way mirror after she'd taken a bath. "It was the first time I saw my bones looking back at me," Johnson said. "It was a major wake up call for me."

Beverly Johnson at an event in New York City in 1974
Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Johnson opened up about her diet and drug use in her 2015 memoir The Face That Changed It All. "I was eating nothing, zero," she wrote (via People). "I drank black coffee, a sip of broth if things got tough, and in the evening, a glass of champagne as a pick me up. We didn't even drink water. We thought it was fattening … The skinner you were, the more fabulous you were."

She told Good Morning America around the time of her book's release that she wanted to write about her experience to help people understand "the dangers of drugs." She shared of becoming sober, "I found sobriety in a 12-step program and I found sobriety with a spiritual path that I started to go on, and also with the strength of my daughter and my family and also just wanting to have the life that I always wanted and the life I think I deserved."

But while she's been sober for 5o years, the effects of that time in her life still linger. "As a model, you had to be a hanger. You could be 90 pounds and chiseled to the bone, and they worshiped you for it. You could not get too thin," Johnson, who's starring in a new one-woman show, Beverly Johnson in Vogue, told The New York Times in a recent interview. She explained that she still battles the body dysmorphia she developed in those days. "I've been in therapy for it my whole life. Right now I think I'm fat," she said.

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Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
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