What happens when a stunning beauty ages? Sure, I could tell you, but I suggest you watch "About Face: Supermodels Then and Now" (9 tonight, HBO), which offers interesting and insightful perceptions from women who were in the business of beauty.
The roster of voices is deep; among those commenting are Carol Alt, Christie Brinkley, Pat Cleveland, Jerry Hall, Bethann Hardison, Beverly Johnson, Paulina Porizkova, Cheryl Tiegs and Isabella Rossellini.
Now older, the women are truly wiser. They look back with a mix of amusement, astonishment, bewilderment and clarity at their profession, its superficiality, its glories and its costs. They are the survivors. When Porizkova, for instance, talks about the impossibility of knowing your identity at 15, while working in an industry that takes 15-year-olds and makes them look 20, you understand how fortunate they are to have thrived.
That filmmaker/photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders directs the piece makes sense; he also did "The Black List" and "The Latino List," two films that relied on simple visuals, mostly talking heads facing the camera. He has a great way of making that simple approach pay off, getting his subjects to be animated and absorbing and attractive. And although we almost never hear his questions, the subjects answers reflect the director's great curiosity.
It's not Greenfield-Sanders' mission, it seems, to make a particular point. He just lets the women speak; some bemoan plastic surgery, others don't. Cleveland and Hardison talk about the challenges of being black models in the early days of the industry (Cleveland tells a harrowing story of nearly being attacked during the Ebony Fashion Fair tour), but there's no broader conversation about how beauty and race intersect.
When it comes to the issue of aging, though, a point is, perhaps unintentionally made. Designer Calvin Klein appears and it's clear he's had some, uh, work. The beauty industry isn't just hard on women it seems and women aren't the only ones concerned about aging. The truth is all of these women look great; they are older, thicker, yes, but that's natural. Until we stop thinking that beauty is the treasure of the young, we won't be about to make an about face.