Zulekha Haywood: Growing Up in the Shadow of Supermodel Mother




Being born into a famous family has many glamorous advantages. However, it comes with its set of struggles, too. Zulekha Haywood knows all too well that the limelight’s shine comes with a price.

She’s the daughter of legendary supermodel Iman and former NBA superstar Spencer Haywood.

Having a world-renowned supermodel as a mother, but not inheriting the typical model figure, can be mentally taxing. Such was the experience of Zulekha Haywood, the eldest daughter of the iconic model and entrepreneur, Iman.

Learn more about how Zulekha Haywood dealt with the pressures of living with a supermodel mother and her insecurities about her appearance.

Who Is Zulekha Haywood?

Zulekha Haywood

Image source: Google

Zulekha Haywood lived most of her early life in the shadow cast by her famous parents’ towering names. People know her as the daughter of supermodel Iman and basketball player Spencer Haywood.

Unlike her mother, who was known for her striking features and regal figure, Zulekha didn’t quite fit supermodel standards. She struggled with insecurities about being overweight as a young child and a blossoming woman.

Zulekha Haywood’s Family

Zulekha Haywood’s Family

Image source: Instagram

Zulekha Haywood was born on July 5, 1978, as the only child of Iman and Spencer Haywood. 

Iman was a Political Science student in Nairobi, Kenya when Peter Beard discovered her. He was so captivated by her beauty that he stopped her in the street and offered to pay her for a photograph. It paid for her college tuition and launched her modeling career.

Spencer Haywood was a basketball prodigy. At 19, he was the youngest American basketball player to make it to the US Olympic Team. He led the team to a gold medal in 1968, setting the record for the most points scored. The record stood for 44 years.

The famous couple divorced when Zulekha was only nine years old. Afterward, they remarried different people and had other children. Spencer Haywood’s marriage to Linda Haywood in 1990 gave Zulekha three half-sisters, Isis, Shaakira, and Nikiah.

Iman was married again to David Bowie in 1992 and had a daughter with him named Alexandria Zahra.

Zulekha Haywood’s Early Life in the Limelight

Zulekha Haywood’s Early Life in the Limelight

Image source: Instagram

Her parents’ celebrity status gave Zulekha an interesting start in life. At only a few months old, she graced the ninth-anniversary issue of ESSENCE Magazine alongside her mother in 1979. 

Three years later, she again appeared on the cover of the same magazine. This time, she posed with both her parents.

Zulekha Haywood’s Career

Zulekha succeeded in forging her own path as an adult. Straying away from the fields her parents chose, she built a business career. In 2002, she started work as the Executive Assistant Office Manager at her mother’s company, Iman Cosmetics.

She worked there for twelve years until she transitioned to Jay Manuel Beauty in 2014. There, she worked as a project manager and brand analyst. Throughout her career, she continued to grow and evolve. 

In 2016, she moved on again and started work as an inventory analyst at Portu Sunberg. 

What Challenges Did Zulekha Haywood Face, Growing Up Famous?

What Challenges Did Zulekha Haywood Face, Growing Up Famous

Image source: Google

Before finding her path, Zulekha faced many challenges as the daughter of famous parents. She grappled with feelings of inadequacy because she couldn’t fit into either parent’s world.

She thought she was too overweight to become a supermodel like her mother. By the time she was eight years old, she was used to diets. Her mother taught her the “basta” diet. Basta means “enough,” in Italian. 

Iman would whisper the word to Zulekha whenever the supermodel thought her daughter was eating too much food.

On the other hand, Zulekha’s father put her on a different diet. This one, Zulekha dubbed the “Eat like a pig, run like a horse” diet. The basketball star tried to train her as a power forward, as well. However, they soon found out she didn’t have an aptitude for her father’s sport.

Failing to succeed in the fields her parents were known for lowered Zulekha’s self-esteem.

“It wasn’t easy being a heavy, ungraceful teenager when looks and athleticism came so naturally to my parents,” she said.

Her inability to fit into the supermodel mold haunted her the most.

She said, “As a child, I knew that my mother was lovely and people liked to photograph her, but when I was old enough to understand that she was a legendary beauty, I was left questioning my self-worth because I didn’t look like her.”

Ultimately, she found a “third option” outside her parents’ interests. She wanted to be happy with her looks and found other models to admire that looked more like her.

In her twenties, she had gastric bypass surgery for health reasons. She lost plenty of weight, but she was determined not to let the numbers define her no matter what.


When your parents have towering legacies, it’s easy to lose your identity in pursuit of others’ expectations. However, as Zulekha Haywood has shown, forging your path and loving yourself is crucial to finding joy.

Claire S. Allen
Claire S. Allen
Hi there! I'm Claire S. Allen, a vibrant Gemini who's as bold as my favorite color, red. I'm a fan of two cool things: strolling the streets in a red jacket and crafting articles that connect with readers. With my warm and friendly personality, Claire is sure to brighten up your day!
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