Beauty and Self-Esteem
For women, beauty and self-worth can seem like the same thing. So do women at the top of the hierarchy have the highest self-esteem in the world? That’s one question that “About Face” explored in an HBO documentary on supermodels that aired over the summer.
Some supermodels did think their beauty made them better than others. Kim Alexis admitted she felt that way for while – but got over it. And Beverly Johnson explained:
You do live in a bubble where everyone is telling you you’re beautiful all the time, and get you coffee or whatever you want.
But I was also struck by how many of the world’s most beautiful women had thought they were unattractive in some way or at some point in their lives. Usually because someone had told them so.
While looking at a lovely shot of Carmen Dell’Orefice skipping in the street I was surprised that she didn’t like the photo because of her feet.
I don’t like my feet. I don’t have sexy feet. My mom used to tell me I had feet like coffins and ears like sedan doors. Then I internalized that.
First of all, her feet are perfectly fine. But you have to wonder about the self-criticism that fills women’s heads to make them find phantom flaws were they don’t exist.
Marisa Berenson had not thought she was beautiful, either:
People called me Olive Oil because I was long and lanky. I used to cut out pictures of actresses of the time, Audrey Hepburn and Rita Hayworth, and wish I looked like that.
Jerry Hall – Mick Jagger’s ex — felt she was unattractive, too, because society said so:
I used to be really upset about not having a boyfriend. I’d say, “I feel like a failure. What am I going to do?” And my mom would say, “Well, look at Twiggy. She’s a model and she is even skinnier and flatter than you.”
She got over it and went to St. Tropez to be discovered. A story in itself:
I wore a crocheted metallic bikini and platform shoes that made me 6’4. And I was expecting to be discovered. And I was, within about an hour this guy came up to me and asked if I’d like to be a model.
Most people see themselves through a positive bias according to psychological research. I assume that includes our assessment of our looks. If so, it seems strange that models so often go the opposite way. Maybe it’s a matter of age, going through the self-doubt of adolescence. Maybe it’s feeling unworthy of being at “the top.” Lisa Taylor got into cocaine because:
I was so insecure that I needed to do it. It made me feel like I had something to say, that I was worthy of being photographed, that I was somebody.
But the modeling industry, with its exacting standards — and lack of Photoshop in the early days — could be hard on self-esteem, too.
Paulina Porizkova got the double-whammy. As an immigrant child she was relentlessly teased, only to land as a supermodel and be torn apart once more:
My parents escaped to Sweden from the Czech Republic, and I was called a dirty communist bastard for years. And so when I had the chance to escape and be called beautiful – I don’t think there is any 15-year-old girl who would give up the chance to be called beautiful.
You don’t realize at that point that you will also be called ugly.
They would open my portfolio and start discussing me, start cutting me apart. “Good mouth, but what are we going to do about those teeth? Don’t let her open her mouth. And I don’t like the color of her hair. That can be fixed, but what about those thighs!”
Paulina goes on to explain that looks are not a very good platform on which to base self-esteem:
Beauty is about being self-confident and modeling has nothing to do with self-confidence. Working off your looks makes you the opposite of self-confident. So maybe I became beautiful once I stopped modeling.
Advice we should all heed.
Posted on September 26, 2012, in body image, feminism, gender, psychology, sexism, women and tagged body image, HBO About Face, Jerry Hall, Paulina Porizkova, psychology, women. Bookmark the permalink. 22 Comments.