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My Ten Favorite Quotes From “About Face”

“My mom told me I had feet like coffins and ears like Sedan doors.” —Carmen Dell’Orefice

I’m sure that was a self-esteem crusher, but what brilliant similes! I wonder if Carmen will let me steal those descriptions for a character in my next book?

Carmen Dell'Orefice

Carmen Dell’Orefice

Re. professions available to women in the 1940s: nurse (highest level), teacher, actress (“dubious”). Model didn’t exist as a profession; it was really model slash hooker.” —Carmen Dell’Orefice

We’ve come a long way, baby. Unless you include the models who use sex to get jobs, which doesn’t always work, so then they aren’t even getting paid for it.

“I don’t think there’s any 15-year-old girl who would turn down the chance to be called beautiful. You don’t realize that you are also going to be called ugly.” —Paulina Porizkova

Paulina Porizkova in 1982

Paulina Porizkova for Chanel in 1982

I can relate to the first part. I think that is especially the case for a lot of models who were gangly teens, taller than the guys in high school, and maybe quirky looking too. Re. being called “ugly”—anyone who called Paulina that, then or now, is blind! I was never called “ugly” as a model (at least not to my face) but certainly had a heightened awareness of my faults: the dark circles under my eyes, my fake-looking smile, my weak right profile (turns out most people have a superior left profile—I just read an article about that), varicose veins, cellulite, my bulbous rear. Certainly models are compared to each other constantly; every casting is a beauty contest. But I was always pretty psyched to even be in the contest. Which brings me to…

Carol Alt at a casting early in her career, being addressed by an editor who said, “Who cut your hair? Your eyebrows look like shit. You’re too big for our clothes.”

“I thought, I don’t care. I knew who I was.” Later in the documentary: “I always knew who I was: a fireman’s daughter from Long Island.” —Carol Alt

Carol Alt

Carol Alt

Critiques generally rolled off me too. It’s not like they were criticizing my writing–now that stings. But my face? That’s all DNA. I didn’t have anything to do with it.

“I would see my modeling pictures and think, ‘She looks good.’ It was never really me.” —Paulina Porizkova

Totally. In the photos was this product created by great (or not so great, depending) lighting, hair, and makeup. I could look at those photos objectively, pick them apart or compliment them, without any egotistical or self-deprecating intentions. It was just business. Even now, with old modeling photos posted on my site, I’m thinking, Look, this is the magic the industry can create (especially evident when you compare cheesy early pics to striking later ones; it’s not a different model making the difference—it’s a better team). Those photos are as much about the people working on the shoots and the experiences (to illustrate shoots I talk about in my book) as my progression as a model. I don’t mean to say, “Hey, look at me. Wasn’t I hot?” But I do agree with Paulina when she talks about how looking back, a decade or two later, you look a lot better than you thought you did at the time!

“I’m going to leave this country and not come back until Vogue puts a black girl on the cover.” —Pat Cleveland

Model Pat Cleveland

Pat Cleveland

In 1974, they did: Beverly Johnson. Runways are still whiter than they should be, but looking at who’s in the White House, things have improved considerably.

“I was supposedly living this glamorous life, but I was crippled by the idea of growing old and where do I go next? The whole age thing—in our industry, it’s everything.” —Beverly Johnson 

Model Beverly Johnson

Beverly Johnson, Vogue 1974

This is true. At some agencies, aspiring models are turned away from open calls if they are over 18. I certainly felt ancient heading to Europe to start a modeling career at 22. I didn’t expect a “career”; I expected a few months of work at best and then I’d go to grad school or get a real job.

“For many years I thought I’ll do maybe two more months of this and then I’ll go back to my real life. It’s a fun job.” —Christie Brinkley 

Model Christie Brinkley

Christie Brinkley in 1980

Exactly. Models complain about the constant travel, modeling wool in summer and bikinis in the winter, shoes that mangle toes, poses that mangle the body, and crack-of-dawn call-times, but the truth is: It’s a fun job. Plenty of models—even those scraping by and subsisting on Top Ramen—have gotten addicted to the lifestyle. What I and the women in this documentary prove is that a modeling career can have longevity. My income went up as I approached 30, not down. And look at Isabella Rossellini, who started at 28 and graced 28 Vogue covers!

I would dream about modeling. I’d hear Halston’s voice calling me to go out on the runway. Those were the good dreams, the dreams where you are flying.” —Karen Bjornson (who made a modeling comeback at age 50)

Model Karen Bjornson

Karen Bjornson

I have modeling dreams but they are more along the lines of being late for castings or panicking because I’m still with my male model boyfriend but swear I’ve met the man I’m supposed to marry and he’s not a male model!

“With these models, it wasn’t just about their physical beauty. They had character. They had personality. They had something else going on inside.” —Calvin Klein

Next week, a look at what else some had going on inside—insecurity, drug addictions—and what some have going on outside now: plastic surgery.

Plus, as promised, the answer to the captivating question of how much $ my kid netted on her Toys-R-Us booking…


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