Surviving Beauty and its Privileges
Or so Calvin Klein opined on HBO’s documentary, “About Face: Supermodels, Then and Now.”
Supermodel, Pat Cleveland, agreed:
I have seen so many girls come and go because they had nothing going on inside.
Maybe that’s why they were supermodels.
Or maybe that’s why they survived being supermodels.
The cover girls had plenty to contend with: the temptation of ego-inflation amid fawning and primping and everyone saying they’re so great because they’re so beautiful. Or, fearing they could never live up to the hype. Anorexia, bulimia… Sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll…
The supermodel’s life was full of highs and lows.
Jerry Hall expounded, “Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol. We met all these amazing people. It was about making this whole world that you would enter into.”
Pat Cleveland relished the memory:
I was a liberated woman in those days. I had the pill, I had the clothes, I had the place to go. We didn’t know who we were with. The girls with the boys and the boys with the boys. Just get with the best-looking thing you can find! And there were a lot of good-looking people in the modeling business.
Some people got lost in that….
Drugs, anorexia… AIDS. “AIDS was like a fire that went straight through the heart of the business,” Paulina Porizkova recalled. “Is my friend so thin because she’s smoking too much or partying too much, or is it AIDS?”
In Pat Cleveland’s eyes, “Everyone was dressing in black and they started disappearing and I knew it was the end of a time.”
I’m not sure why the supermodels who show up in “About Face” came out alive and mostly well. But I was struck by how many had created space between “who they are” and “what they projected” in those super images.
Isabella Rossellini remarked that, “I understood it was an image. It wasn’t me.” Paulina Porizkova, Pat Cleveland and China Machado echoed the theme. Kim Alexis came to see that beauty didn’t make her happy – family did. And Carol Alt remained grounded throughout:
At my first job the editor walked in and said, “Who cuts your hair? Your eyebrows look like shit. And you’re too big for our clothes.” But I knew who I was so it didn’t hurt me. After that it changed for me a little bit but I still knew who I was. I’m a fireman’s daughter from Long Island. And that’ll never change.
When Cheryl Tiegs finished college her agent told her that the key to beauty was “always educating yourself. Always learning something new, always doing something new, having something to talk about. And I think that’s how one ages beautifully.”
Pat Cleveland talked of making people appreciate what you’re wearing by being alive in it:
On the runway it’s as though I’m lifting off the ground. I want to hear drums playing and express all that rhythmy feeling in your soul. It’s almost orgasmic.
Dayle Haddon thought other models were more beautiful than she was, so she brought more than what she looked like.
Through a picture I felt like I could communicate. That’s where beauty lies. How do you translate your experiences – good or bad – into something that is meaningful to yourself and to others?
It was hard work, especially in the South. We were in this Greyhound bus and stopped to go to the bathroom and they said, “You black girls can’t go in there,” except for me because I was only 1/8 black so I didn’t look black, but everyone else did. And then these angry guys came toward the bus with sticks and the bus driver says, “We’ve got to get out of here!” but he couldn’t get the bus started to get away, and the men started banging on the bus and tried to turn it over, and it was very frightening.
Others developed an attitude to protect themselves. China Machado exhibited the unique walk she used to look empowered and intimidating: commanding, with arched back, wide gestures, and head held high – in an effort to avoid sexual harassment.
Most interestingly, some could see their beauty only after living, surviving, and gaining self-assurance. Despite Paulina Porizkova’s ravishing youthful looks she only came to see herself as beautiful a couple of years ago. She now says, “The most beautiful thing is confidence.”
Ah, lessons from supermodels. Who knew?
Posted on May 22, 2013, in body image, objectification, psychology, women and tagged body image, HBO About Face, Isabella Rossellini, Jerry Hall, objectification, Paulina Porizkova, psychology, supermodels, women. Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.