As an almost perfectly timed addition to the insurgent arsenal of films assaulting the modeling industry (like Sara Ziff’s Picture Me, a controversial documentary about one model marching through the predatory and rule-breaking industry — rules like 14 year olds shouldn’t be walking around topless and acting sexy; and women should have enough body fat to prevent ketosis) HBO is releasing About Face: The Supermodels, Then and Now.
This angle, however, looks at veteran clothes horses who have gained wisdom, earned respect, and survived to tell their tale.
Skipping staples of the 90s supermodel revolution, like Christy Turlington Burns and Cindy Crawford, About Face, directed by renowned portrait photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, instead highlights their superiors. Carol Alt, Christie Brinkley (whose cameo in Nation Lampoon’s Vacation should have erected her a monument) and Beverly Johnson – the first black woman to grace Vogue in 1974.
“Before, you were just a girl” says Brinkley, now 58. Noting how the industry has changed during her near four decade long career, she continues. “Or a clothes hanger, but now you can have a name. You’re a real person, which is nice.”
Their stories are epic. Rock and roll high priestess Jerry Hall, now 55, whose nine year marriage to Mick Jagger produced four kids and a saucy memoir, reveals how her mother pushed her out of the nest. Employing unusual measures to get her daughter discovered, she packed a suitcase full of homemade dresses copied from the Frederick’s of Hollywood catalogue and shipped Hall off to the French Riviera. Risky, but it worked.
The ever defiant Isabella Rossellini, now 59, says that she misses modeling, but fears that the industry has become unrecognizable. The daughter of screen legend Ingrid Bergman, Rossellini began her career in fashion at 28.
“Modeling taught me to be confident and financially independent,” she says. “Now they start so young. When my daughter started modeling at 20, an agent told her she should get plastic surgery immediately. I made a phone call that was one of the most ferocious I’ve ever made.” The lioness protecting her kin. Unfortunately, not all dilettantes are so lucky.
Once considered “working girls,” back in the mid-forties era, supermodels, fashion and runways models, and even reality show sweethearts like Heidi Klum, are now considered business women. Even the lucky ones had to slalom through a landscape rife with eating disorders, rampant drug-use, objectification, pre-teen fetishism, androgyny-worship, and shark-like agents, managers and designers. Add our society, which perpetuates a stigma around aging that is peerless. To see these icons not just pictorializing graceful aging (or injecting youth) – but embracing their stature in society as role models of incredible strength, tireless creativity, and all the while not exporting their femininity, is to me, an act of great heroism. Fuck girl-power. These are wise women sharing their most coveted beauty secrets. None of which can be packaged or sold.
By the way, yes, some have had plastic surgery. But many have not. As Rossellini confides, “I don’t think I’ll do it. It’s too late. My mother once told me that growing older was the only way to have a long life… it’s natural, and it’s beautiful.” Take that, Botox!
About Face: The Supermodels, Then and Now was the Official Selection at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and will air on HBO in the summer.
Darrah’s note: Beauty CULTure art exhibit at Annenberg Space for Photography in 2011, which challenged cultural norms around aging and beauty has been accepted into the Tribeca Film Fest. See trailer here.