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About Face doc: Want to hate yourself? Try modeling.

By August 2, 2012 5 Comments

“I don’t think there’s any 15-year-old girl that will turn down the chance to be called beautiful. You don’t realize at that point that you’re also going to get called ugly,” says Paulina Porizkova, talking about being discovered as a model, about halfway through the new documentary film About Face (no relation to this blog or its parent organization).

You can check out the trailer below.


Relatively young women of a certain age will remember the supermodels of the mid-1990s, including Paulina. We thought their lives were so glamorous, didn’t we? Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington, Paulina Porizkova, walking around just looking goooorgeous, us wanting to be like them.

And I think what we can learn here, children, is that even the most successful models feel incredible insecurity, even while being a key cog in the gears that creates awful insecurity and self-hatred for most woman viewers. Another lesson we can learn:

If you want to love yourself, don’t go into modeling.

It turns out that when you’re a model, everyone around you picks on your appearance so much that you never really feel beautiful. Paulina says, “Working off of your looks pretty much makes you the opposite of self-confident.” (I almost cried when she said that.)

Paulina Porizkova gets back in front of the camera.

We hear this sadness throughout the film, even when the models are talking about their fun, exciting partying in the 1970s. Lisa Taylor speaks of her cocaine use and subsequent addiction: “I was so insecure that I needed to do it. It made me feel like I was worth being photographed.”

Our organization, About-Face, started in the mid-1990s, around the time one Vogue editor says “the look changed” due to all the drug use by models that made them incredibly thin. We used to call that look (perfected by Kate Moss) “heroin chic”, and it’s what spurred our founder, Kathy Bruin, to start what she then called the Stop Starvation Imagery Campaign.

In this film, aging is a topic thick with contradiction and its resulting layers. Interestingly, not all of these models are nipped and tucked to high heaven or shot through with silicone for 20 or 30 years, as you might expect: Some, like Isabella Rossellini and Paulina Porizkova, feel that it’s unnecessary, and that women should be allowed to age. Ms. Rosselini, dressed in a men’s suit, quips “Is this the new feet [sic] binding?” China Machado, who is 81-years-old, makes her statement:

It’s not that women want to stay young, it’s that the whole society makes us want to stay young… The most important thing you have, that will make you look different from someone else, is your expression. So you change that, your whole look goes. You could be more perfect… take out the lines… but then there will be nothing left of you.

oh, and never mind the fact that it’s disgusting and insane to inject stuff into or cut open your face and put it back together for the sake of vanity. (Oh, did I say that out loud?)

Anyway, I love this woman, and want to be just like her when I’m 81.

And so much of that opinion seems to depend on the inner sense of self they had long before they were models. The existence of this inner core seems questionable depending on which (former) model is talking.

“Why do we keep talking about this?” asked TJ Walker in a video “review” (which was not really a review because he hadn’t seen the film). I mean, the guy has a point – why do we keep making “educational” films, writing books, “raising awareness” about beauty and its stranglehold on women? Let me venture an answer: Many women in the beauty, fashion, and film industries (or who were formerly in them) are looking down the barrel of misogyny’s gun and yelling into it “HELP!” We have a huge problem here, and it’s making us hate ourselves. I challenge you to name the problem in the comments below. Then, go out and do something about it.

Jennifer Berger is About-Face’s Executive Director.