Models. The word alone can send women into a panic of self-doubt and conjure body image issues galore. What is it about models that makes women intensely insecure? It is not the models, the women to be exact, that perpetuate this reaction in women but the manner in which cultures substantiate that a model is the ideal, the embodiment of perfection. To be beautiful one must look like a model. This is of course an impossible feat for a woman as we cannot all look the same way, nor should we want to–and we do not all have access to make-up artists, personal trainers, nutritionists, and all of the other necessities that go along with a life in front of the camera. Any woman who states she is not affected by the culture of beauty in our society is lying; and I would love to see the inside of her medicine cabinet. The societal pressures to be perfect, to be model-like, is a constant sociological problem that has been addressed in numerous documentaries. Have you ever wondered what the aging model thinks about the entire situation? How they handle growing older in a profession that glorifies youthfulness and admonishes aging? Director Timothy Greenfield-Sanders has assembled some of the biggest fashion models from the past 60-years to discuss these questions, and more, about their life as part of the modeling world in About Face.
As told through a series of candid interviews with former and current models of varying ages, About Face is an interesting look at the thoughts, feelings, memories, and varying perspectives on the modeling world. Jerry Hall recounts the fun and excitement of her career. She also remarks that living at the Ford House was the most boring year of her life, thanks to the curfew and strict rules of matriarch Eileen Ford of Ford Models. Hall is also a great addition to the comedy of the film, commenting on plastic surgery and the horrors it creates with some women. Isabella Rossellini has a great deal to say about aging in the industry, and doing it gracefully. Being removed from the Lancome campaign when she hit her 40s because the brand wanted the dream of women looking younger, not the reality. The honesty all of the women featured in the film exhibit is refreshing, especially when plastic surgery is touched upon.
Karen Bjornson comments that she did not have a problem with having her eyes done. It was not to “look younger, but well rested.” The most shocking revelation may come from from Carmen Dell’Orefice, a model who has been working since the age of fifteen; she is now 81 years old. In the fashion world she is known as the oldest working model, still gracing the runway today. Her secret to looking young, by her own admission, is the nip and tuck as needed to her face. Carmen does look amazing, and her age is hidden underneath the fillers and Botox. But there is something more shocking than her admission to plastic surgery, and the following may come as very insensitive. Carmen is interviewed is a very low-cut bodice and her décollage is scarred, covered in age spots, and wrinkled–the eternal youth her face epitomizes is marred by the other parts of her body that show her age; raising the question as to why she does not continue her surgical procedures elsewhere–a question never raised or addressed by Greenfield-Sander and it should have been.
While About Face gives an inside look at how the models perceive the business and aging it is the honest depiction of the models themselves and their insecurities that make the documentary interesting. Seeing the forehead wrinkles, enlarged pores, age spots, hyper-pigmentation, crows feet, and pock marks on the women’s faces remove them from the fantastical image of perfection. They are real women, with the same imperfections as every other women as she ages. They also admit to being insecure, more so because of being in the modeling industry and under constant scrutiny. While women who see models on the covers of magazines or in a pictorial may assume they have high levels of self-confidence the truth is quite the opposite. Knowing this, and having it told in a way from the models where you believe them, trust them, and laugh along with them at the “horrors” of getting older you actually gain a new level of respect for women who spend their lives and careers dependent on their looks.
We live in a society where perfection is sought after continuously. A new procedure to maintain beauty, to control aging, and remain youthful is continuously being marketed to the public. About Face will not change the perception of beauty in culture, but it may give viewers a new respect towards the women who are more harshly criticized than anyone else. Aging gracefully is possible, and even models accept that aging is inevitable–even if some of them do take advantage of the methods to achieve the fountain of youth.
(USA, 2012, 72 mins)
Directed By: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders
Executive Producers: Sheila Nevins, Tommy Walker, Michael Slap Sloane
Producers: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, Chad Thompson
Cinematographer: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders
Editor: Benjamin Gray
Music: Lou Reed, Moby, Yacht, Air, Phoenix, Yoko Ono
Featuring: Marisa Berenson, Christie Brinkley, Isabella Rossellini, Carmen Dell’Orefice, Paulina Porizkova, Carol Alt, Bethann Hardison, Beverly Johnson, Cheryl Tiegs, China Machado, Christy Turlington, Dayle Haddon, Eileen Ford, Esme, Jerry Hall, Karen Bjornson, Kim Alexis, Lisa Taylor, Nancy Donahue, Pat Cleveland, Harry King, Calvin Klein, Jade Hobson