This article first ran in the Fall-Winter 2018 issue of NewBeauty, available on newsstands until January 15, 2019.
The last time I visited my hometown, I was standing in line at Starbucks and saw Mr. Snyder, the dad of a friend of mine from junior high. He looked exactly the same. But then I realized that gray-haired guy wasn’t Mr. Snyder. It was my friend. His kids looked old enough to be my coworkers.
And he was old. Which means I’m old too.
Seeing Paulina Porizkova doesn’t have that same effect. She doesn’t look young, but she doesn’t really look old, either. Anyone who grew up in the ’80s has seen her on so many magazine covers, in so many fragrance ads, that her face—those huge saucer eyes and that epic jawline—is ingrained in our minds to look a “certain” way.
Michael Jordan should still be able to dunk. Madonna should still move on stage exactly like she always did. Porizkova should still look the same.
That’s just the way it’s supposed to be.
Except, of course, it’s not. Time has passed, even for our childhood idols, and Porizkova has aged—a reminder that doesn’t come very often to people in the spotlight.
For a TV pilot she taped a few weeks ago, special-effects makeup transformed her into a 70-year-old. “I got so many comments on my Instagram that I looked way older than a 70-year-old. So I went online and looked at photo after photo to see what someone who aged should look like. And I still have no idea. I don’t think we know what 70-year-olds look like anymore.”
She’s proud of her Ultherapy sessions, but hasn’t gotten Botox or fillers yet. “Every day I look in the mirror and ask, ‘Is today the day?’”
“It sucks,” says the Czech-born OG supermodel. “When your entire life has consisted of looking good, aging publicly, in a word, sucks. This is not for the faint-hearted. I look around and see my friends who have other careers, and who have done other things in their lives, and to them, aging is not that big of a deal. It’s not going to war every day as it is for me. I envy that. I envy that so much! Aging erases me as a person because my identity is so tied to what I look like. It’s not fun—I don’t want to have to go to war with my looks. And I don’t want to start trying to look 20 years younger.”
“I’m so delayed,” she laughs. “I’m emotionally delayed on all this stuff, because my life has been all about beauty. I always had to be something very specific on the outside and maintain that because of my livelihood. I never got the chance to become full; I never had a chance to grow into just being a person.”
“I have a lot of catching up to do. I’m constantly battling with myself internally saying, ‘Come on, beauty is not that important! Let go of being so vain and focus more on the things you can do!’”
Her focus now: Spending time with family, writing, speaking out on “filtered reality,” and at least for the next few hours, our cover photo shoot and interview.
It’s one of those hot summer days in New York and she’s arrived on-set with her daughter-in-law and granddaughter. There’s no entourage, no attitude, no airs—she even eats falafel with the rest of the crew and insists on drinking the lukewarm coffee instead of having someone get her a latté from the nearby café.
“This is easy,” she says. “I’m being catered to! My family is being catered to! These shoots are so much easier now than they were in the early days!”
You’ve been vocal that the modeling industry has changed so much that you “hardly recognize it.” Do you still feel that way?
Models used to be models because of the way they looked, not because of who they were. They weren’t famous when they started modeling. They were picked because they were all a certain height, a certain weight and they all had good skin. In the early 1980’s, if you got a pimple, you lost the job and that was that. If you came into work and you had a bloodshot eye, you lost the job.
The environment is much easier now—you have all this extra beauty help. With Facetune and Photoshop, anybody can look good, which is fair because everybody should be able to look the best they can! But as far as models go, they don’t really have to be perfect anymore.
Models even go on record saying that botox and fillers are their secret…
I know! I really love it when women admit to doing them! The thing I hate, personally, is when somebody has obviously had things done but they claim the reason they look so good is yoga and water. I get a little resentful. I think, “You’re lying.” That’s not fair because, as models, we represent an idea of femininity, and if you are lying about it, then the girls who look up to you are being lied to. I’m not a big fan of that. Do whatever the hell you want with your face, but please, let people know—be honest about it. It’s not cream “number three” that has made you look 20 years younger; it was a slight facelift or maybe a little something extra. And that’s cool, no problem.
But that’s not your secret?
I like to think I have an open mind about everything, but the thing that bothers me about them [injectables and fillers] is when people lose their expression. I’m really not into that; I don’t like when people’s faces don’t move because I don’t know how they feel or how to respond to them—it really confuses me. It’s only for that reason that I don’t like them. It’s not because people don’t look great when they use them—they do, they look fantastic.
So they’re not off the table?
I don’t know. I think I’m old and wise enough to say never say never, because you can definitely take this really set position of, “This is all bad and I would never,” and the next thing you know, you’re doing it. You’re caught with your pants down! I never say never to anything.
What about other treatments?
I’ve done Ultherapy three or four times now. Whether it’s delayed aging a little bit, I can’t tell because the fact is, I am getting older, so things are starting to look worse and not better. I don’t think there’s any way out of that. But Ultherapy comes with the promise of tightening and smoothing my skin, which sounds like a great idea to me! So I keep doing it and hope something will happen. But I don’t feel ugly, so I think it’s working!
You look great, but it has to be hard aging in the public eye.
It’s a full-time job—there’s a lot of maintenance required. You’re not quite sure what age you look, or you let yourself age and then you have to battle with your ego: “OK, nobody’s looking at me. People are making fun of what I look like now.” Or, “Hey, look at this beautiful woman who turned into this hideous old thing.”
It makes me feel like I’m in between two worlds because I do want to be pretty and I don’t want to look old, and at the same time, I would like to be seen as pretty for who I am and not for fixing what looks old. I’m really insecure about it. It’s not like I’m going out there saying, “I’m going to age naturally and leave surgeries out of the picture, and fillers and Botox are out.”
The thing I’m really battling with is that I think we should all have the right, or at least the ability, to be beautiful for who we are, and not for being surgically altered. If you want to be, that’s totally cool and there’s nothing wrong with it, but we’re doing away with reality to an extent, and that really bothers me because now you’re not supposed to be old. You can’t be old and attractive now. You have to have that “twilight look” to be aging gracefully, and that’s actually not aging.
It seems you’ve thought about this a lot; did it ever cross your mind when you started modeling?
Youth really is wasted on the young, as they say. I was very aware that modeling itself has a very limited time span, and that I should not just care about fashion or the way I look—I knew both of those things would have an expiration date.
I’ve said this many times before, but one of my favorite sayings is, “Old age is the revenge of the ugly ones.” I remember I heard that when I was 15 and thought, “Bingo, I’ll remember that because that’s exactly what it is.” I only had that awareness because I went through a phase when I was a teenagerbefore I started modeling where I was the ugly one. I understood what it was like to be picked on and told you’re ugly, and to have no boys be interested in you because you’re too ugly. I learned that, “You’re not pretty, therefore you’re not worthwhile.” Then, I became really pretty and was very worthy. That’s also associated in my mind, that being pretty makes you valuable, not being pretty makes you not valuable. Then, you only have a certain amount of time in which to be pretty, apparently, because society places a definite expiration date on prettiness. Again, yes, it’s a lot of stuff to be waking up to every morning.
But you still get a lot of attention. you post bikini shots on Instagram and it makes news!
Instagram is like your own personal magazine. I absolutely understand the beauty of being able to control your fortunes like who you are, what pictures you want to put out there, how you want to present yourself, what thoughts you want out there. That’s really an amazing thing for somebody like me who was a model at a time when all of that was done by somebody else. Your image was really manufactured by other people. You had nothing to do with it. To be able to manufacture yourself is very liberating in a way. Putting the control in your hands is definitely rewarding.
On the other hand, I’m of an older generation, so I kind of think all of that is hideous and I am really resentful that I have to be a part of it. Again, it’s two-sided because I think, “Oh my God, can I just have a private life? Do I have to Instagram everything I do?” No, I don’t, but I will selectively pick things that I think my followers will like, but you do find that you occasionally start living for Instagram, which really disturbs me.
It is kind of a crazy world we live in.
It is, and we are at the vanguard of it. This is where we should be establishing the rules and saying, “OK, here’s the new technology and this is how we are going to deal with it.” I don’t think any of us have gotten it right yet. There’s too much new stuff constantly hurled at you and you’re trying to incorporate it into your life. We don’t have our manners or the social skills down yet for this whole new world. It’s growing pains. It’s equal amounts of hate and appreciation for me.
Also, I’ve been posting “Paulina’s Picks” for almost a year now, so every month, I do a book pick. I do it with a bikini or something sexy because that’s the only time people really notice my Instagram! I have to be in a bikini for people to notice me, and that sucks! I would love to just be able to speak and be heard, but that’s not what people want from me. People want to see, “She’s 53 and she looks like this.” That’s what I’m there for, I guess. I am here for people to comparison-shop and go, “Well, I look just as good,” or “I look better for my age,” or “I could use a little more exercise.” It’s like I’m some sort of a mile marker or something.
And most people don’t have to think of that…
Yes, and it’s not something that anyone would aspire to be. It just happens. It comes with the territory.
But you are in the public eye. people seem shocked that you referred to your separation [from the cars’ Ric Ocasek] as “peaceful,” and even more shocked that you’re out in public together. are you surprised by the attention?
I was shocked by any interest. I thought I would just put this out on Instagram and three people would go, “That’s too bad.” The fact that it got legs and ran away for a little bit, I was like, “Wow, I had no idea!” I just stayed out of paying any attention to how it was reported because I’m not interested in what people are saying, quite frankly.
The only thing I regret is how it worked out for my children—specifically my son who is in college, who wasn’t super grateful when I shared the news. He’s like, “Mom, you couldn’t have waited to put that announcement out until after the semester was over?” Instead, he had to deal with everyone on campus walking around him like somebody died. I told him, “I’m sorry, I didn’t think that any college student would pay any attention to this whatsoever.”
So, yes, I was shocked about that, but otherwise, this is what the deal is. [Ric and I] have been separated for a long time, and our marriage has not been a marriage for a long time. We still love each other and we still live in the same house, and we’re still going to do that until the house sells and it’s fine. It’s a really, really long relationship that I guess, just fizzled out. Nobody did anything evil to anybody else. The balance just stopped being right and then it destructed, but there’s no animosity in any way to anybody involved.
Have you had time to think about what’s next?
That’s a good question. I’m not entirely sure because I am in the middle of this divorce. We have to get the technicalities together, we have to sell the house, and we have to figure out the legalities of our situation. That’s taking up a lot of my creative thinking. It’s not so fun.
But my older son and I have been writing a spec pilot for a TV show and I’m excited about that because it’s something we’ve spent a lot of time working on and it’s almost ready to be presented. My intent is to get the package of the script out and continue working on my memoir, which I had to put aside for a while because I was not in a mood to write it. That’s what I want to do more of—more essays and more writing. But it’s really hard to write and be introspective when you have a lot of other introspective work to do.
That all sounds very exciting though.
It’s fun! I love to write. And I like that it’s something I’ve worked on, not something I wore.