Diana Hunt Johnson


DianaJohnson 1017Story and photography
by Laurie McCall

Diana Hunt Johnson is the girl from Spearfish, South Dakota who grew up dreaming of glamorous costumes and Hollywood movie sets. Her third-grade teacher recalls she was the one who pranced down the middle of the hallway, arms floating out to either side with hands daintily dangling to hold up her imaginary hoop dress. She never quite fit in with social expectations, which was only confirmed when she rocked Blondie’s “One Way or Another” as a kid in the local talent show and “freaked everybody out.” And again in Home Economics, when everyone else was sewing aprons, and she made a matching tie-dyed halter-top and hot pants. “I didn’t do so good in Home Ec.,” she laughs. “I never did make an apron. Let’s just say that.”

Diana went on to become a news anchor for WXON in Detroit, where high fashion was celebrated and a little extra glam for the camera was a must. She set those things aside to raise her children. Forgetting the spotlight and the glam, she just enjoyed being a mom, focusing on her boys instead. When one of her sons was in second grade, she dressed up as Glenda the Good Witch for a parade, and everyone loved it so much she began collecting elaborate costumes for all kinds of charitable events.

But now that her sons are grown, it’s time for Act II. Diana reflects on the difference. “At 20 you think you know it all, but when you are getting around 50, that’s when you are becoming who you are truly going to be. You’re not being driven by trends, or what everyone thinks is the right way for you to look.” She laughs, “Now the costumes are getting a little shorter and a little more formfitting.”

We began our interview with a photo shoot for the article. There’s no doubt that the first thing you will notice about Diana is her outward beauty, her long blonde hair, Barbie doll proportions, sparkly rose gold nail polish and matching phone case. I ask her how old she is, and she proudly tells me 54. My first impression: She’s a kind person and a gracious host. I watch how she carries herself. She’s an unapologetic kind of beauty with an air of grace that makes me feel comfortable in my own skin—I hate to say, a rare combination of qualities. As we sit down to talk, and I finally get to know her, there is depth and realness to our conversation that has stuck with me ever since.

It occurs to me, Diana’s still the same girl who sang Blondie and sewed halter tops in Home Ec., and fitting in is still the same challenge. But there’s a difference at 50. When she was young she used to dream about escaping into this glamorous life, but now, she’s learned to own her spirit, to do what makes her feel beautiful, and to take it with her wherever she goes, even back to Spearfish. Why should women be expected to be understated anyway?

Women often compliment her by saying, “I wish I could pull that off,” and her message to them is, “You can.” We talk about social expectations of women—how we dress, the length of our hair, what color our nail polish should be. The more I listen to Diana, the more I realize how much of her external beauty just reflects her inner desire to look and feel beautiful, to be noticed and affirmed… the same thing most of us want. Her most endearing quality is how she owns her spirit and her space and because of her confidence, she manages to do that without it being at anyone else’s expense.

She talks about how difficult it has been to truly build relationships with other women. “I miss my friends from Michigan, but I’ve grown to see that I can be by myself. It’s given me a certain freedom, and I’m not being held back by people telling me I need to cut my hair, or I shouldn’t wear high heels.” I can’t help but think of the line from Dirty Dancing, “Nobody puts Baby in the Corner,” and I love the spirit of this woman—who is who she is, especially knowing she will gladly hold space for other women to be who they are, but she isn’t going to change who she is just to make other people feel comfortable.

My favorite story Diana shared was about a group of friends who came to pick her up for a night out on the town. They were all wearing black or grey pants with sweaters and ballet slippers, and she was dressed in a bright green dress with high heels. When they suggested she go change, she went to her closet and pulled out a hot pink dress and came out and said, “Let’s go!” Amen, Sister!

She shared all kinds of glamour tips with me (see the Up Close box), little things anyone can do. No lie, I went out yesterday and found some rose gold colored nail polish, and in the spirit of sharing sisterhood beauty secrets, it’s Sally Hansen “The World is My Oyster,” and I can’t stop looking at how pretty it is, and how such a small thing can make me feel so good.

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Up Close:

About the Girls:
Ten years ago, a friend gave Diane a sketch by Marilyn. A lawyer had purchased the whole set of drawings from a Chicago design house and was auctioning them off one at a time. Diana fell so in love with the drawings that she ended up collecting around 80 of them.

More About the Girls: The artist is Marilyn, and no one knows who she was. She designed costumes for movie stars including Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Lana Turner in The Merry Widow, Hedy Lamarr in Samson and Delilah, Zsa Zsa Gabor in Moulin Rouge, and many others.

YOLO: “Live a life full of adventure. Take risks. If no one else is doing it, you do it. You will be the leader and enable other women to get out of the box.”

Favorite Children’s Book: The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister. It’s about a fish with colorful sparkly scales. The Rainbow Fish learns that happiness and friendship come when it shares its glittery scales with the other fish.

Glamour Girl Tips: “Find at least one thing that makes you feel beautiful. It could be a signature nail polish color, a shiny phone case, lip gloss, eyelashes, a perfume you love, fresh flowers, a piece of lingerie that no one even knows you’re wearing. I love a little sparkle on my eye—a little dab of glittery eyeshadow grabs the light.”