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Supermodel Icons Discuss the Ugly Side of Modeling

In my first blog post reviewing “About Face: Supermodels Then and Now,” I praised the fair, balanced view of the modeling industry that the documentary presented. My second “About Face” blog post features my 10 favorite quotes from these stunning women—most are inspiring, funny, innocuous. Now for “The Dark Side of Modeling” and the deeper questions about superficial beauty and aging.

Body Image

Carmen noted that when she started modeling and her image was splashed all over coveted covers, she was 5’9″ and weighed under 100 pounds.

Carmen Dell'Orefice on Vogue

Carmen Dell’Orefice

The photographers and fashion editors, even back in the 1940s, promoted the super-skinny look, which, 70 years later, has become the model norm. While my hunch is Carmen came by her teenage gamine look naturally, Carol Alt talks about starving herself to get thin enough for the Milan shows (then again, she claims to have been a size 16 when she was discovered!). China Machada says, “I never dieted. I never exercised.” I knew plenty of models like that: born with a model metabolism. More and more, girls who are not born naturally slender need to think about the extremes that may be required of them to fit in today’s sample sizes. See my blog on the model Crystal Renn’s book “Hungry.”

Especially as we age, the body ideal we see in magazines becomes less and less attainable. “The paparazzi everywhere looking for that one bit of cellulite— collectively it brings us down,” says Christie Brinkley.


Model Paulina Porizkova

Paulina Porizkova

Paulina started modeling at 15. She discussed a common problem with girls who start that young: “I was a typical 15-year-old girl as far as being completely insecure, and wanting to seem more grown up than she actually was by smoking and playing really hard and drinking too much. I arrived with girls who were 16, 17. I saw the ones who got into drugs, or became bulimic or anorexic. You see enough of that and you start to feel like it’s normal.” Later she adds, “Modeling doesn’t have anything to do with self-confidence. Working off your looks is pretty much the opposite. So maybe I became beautiful when I stopped modeling.”

Sexual Harassment

“What people called sexual harassment, we called compliments,” explains Paulina. “When a 16-year-old is flattered by a man pulling out his penis in front of her, that’s noteworthy.” (You’ll be relieved to hear nothing like that ever happened to me!)

Isabella Rossellini felt fortunate to have started when she was older (I concur). She says, “It’s harder when you are young. Once you are made up, people forget you are 15 or 16. They think you are a 20-year-old sex kitten.


Model Lisa Taylor

Lisa Taylor’s life, spiraling out of control

Lisa Taylor recounts a low point of her career: “On the cover of The Daily News, there was a story called “The Dark Side of Modeling,” with a picture of me. I knew that’s what my dad would see on his train ride home from work.  It was the 70s—everyone was doing drugs, mostly cocaine. I was so insecure, I needed to do it. It made me feel like I was worth being photographed, that I was somebody.” At the end of the film, Lisa (who has had a low-profile life since), stated: “I did get self-esteem from succeeding in something. I don’t regret anything. I’m just really glad I didn’t die in the process.”

Gia Carangi on Vogue

Gia Carangi

Fashion editor Jade Hobson recalls seeing track marks on Gia’s arms during a shoot (Gia suffered a heroin addiction and died of AIDS in the 80s): “I feel somewhat responsible for using these girls when we knew of their heavy, heavy use of drugs. Maybe we exploited these girls, because it gave the photos a certain look.”

Plastic Surgery

Some have, some haven’t. “I did my eyes,” admits former Halston model Karen Bjornson, who revived her career at 50. “It was money well spent, getting the product in shape again. I don’t want to look younger, I just want to look well rested!”

Model Karen Bjornson

Karen Bjornson

Octogenarian Carmen says her fountain of youth is silicone injections, administered by the same doctor over the years.

Carmen Dell'Orefice

Carmen Dell’Orefice, modeling into her 80s

Bethanne Hardison’s secret is an exercise tip: “Planks in the morning!”

China Machada says, “I would never want to do plastic surgery. First of all, I’m a coward.” She quips, “Now that I’m being photographed at 81, I’m not that happy [about this decision]!”

Paulina says, “In your 20s, you are trying to attract a mate. At 50, you don’t need to attract the same thing, so why do you need to look like you are 20? I’m 45; I’m interested in attracting different things now. I have friends looking 20 years younger. It’s not that I don’t feel like I’m being left in the dust, but there’s nothing more attractive to me in a person than confidence and nothing says a lack of confidence like Botox. The only thing you have that is uniquely you is your expression. Change that, and your whole look goes. You may be more perfect, but you’re not you.”

Jerry Hall comments, “We have as role models, people who look scary to small children. They’re taking fat from their bottoms and putting it in their lips. That’s just gross!”


Isabella Rossellini theorizes: “It isn’t women who want to stay young, it’s the whole society… You keep thinking you’re going to be judged.” Lancome dumped her for a younger woman when she turned 40, claiming advertising is not about reality but about dreams. Ever wise, Isabella comments, “I don’t know if that’s true. I’m an old fox; I know which creams work, which products I want to buy. It’s easier to sell to young people, but targeting them perpetrates this idea that women to be beautiful have to be young.” She continues, “Growing old, nowadays you don’t count anymore. Before, you were a looked up to as a person of wisdom.” The star chuckles about not being invited to the A-List parties anymore. “Now my daughter is!” she adds. “My mom would say, the only way to have a long life is to grow old. She didn’t seem very affected by growing old. Maybe that’s why I’m not either.”

Isabella Rossellini

Isabella Rossellini

“I’m 50,” Jerry says, joyously. “That’s something to be celebrated!”

Carmen: “We all have to go sometime, and I want to go with my high heels on!”


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