Fashion & Beauty

We Can Handle the Truth

July 17, 2022

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A sobbing Paulina Porizkova, from her instagram posts.

By Valerie Monroe

For nearly 16 years Valerie Monroe was the beauty director at O, The Oprah Magazine, where she wrote the popular “Ask Val” column.

If you’re interested in feeling happier about your appearance—especially as you age—you might like reading what she has to say about it. For more of her philosophical and practical advice, subscribe for free to How Not to F*ck Up Your Face at valeriemonroe.substack.com.

Can’t get enough Valerie Monroe? There’s more at https://valeriemonroe.substack.com.

ONCE AGAIN, dear readers, I am feeling bamboozled. Why? I recently noticed that one of my favorite makeup entrepreneurs, the feisty, plain-spoken Laura Geller, hired supermodel Paulina Porizkova for an ad campaign called #LetsGetOldTogether. And my spidey-sense came on strong.

Furthermore, after I watched the campaign’s launch video (you can see it here), I tumbled into the rabbit hole that is Paulina’s Instagram.

She’s captivating, stunningly beautiful, and aging, apparently, without invasive intervention. And her personal history is worthy of a Lifetime mini-series: Her parents, anti-Soviet dissidents, fled Czechoslovakia for Sweden, where they left a young Paulina with her grandmother for seven years; she married (and separated from) the lead singer of The Cars, who disinherited her before she found him dead in his home, after which followed a nasty lawsuit; she has written a children’s book and a novel; and in 1989 she was nominated for a Golden Raspberry award for Worst Actress.

Okay, a gorgeous celebrity with a patchwork past. Whatever. But Paulina is also known as “the crying lady” on Instagram, because she’s posted several videos of herself quietly weeping or bawling. I mention this because I find such public display both fascinating and creepy. Paulina says she purposefully does it so people know that everyone experiences sadness and grief, and to help contradict social media’s general “life is just a bowl of cherries” messaging. She admits it’s a way of working through her emotions (and she’s not alone; studies show that people use social media to manage their feelings by sharing them in various ways and testing the limits of social acceptance). She wants people to see her raw, I guess, which seems fine when it means showing herself makeup-less in bed. But the Sobzilla—I’ll keep scrolling, thanks

The campaign’s online messaging . . .

Menopause has never been sexier. Ask Halle Berry and Salma Hayek

Mature (definition): Owning and embracing the changes in your body

 Aging (definition): Living your best life and loving every second of it . . .

. . . is that aging, for women, is a competition (especially with ourselves)—and if we want to succeed at it, we’d better do it well. At least as well as Halle and Salma, who are so privileged, financially and otherwise, that the idea of competing with them is almost sadistically unfair. The fact is, for most of us, going through menopause is the opposite of sexy. How was yours? Care to repeat it in a corset and stilettos? I no more desire to embrace my slightly brittle bones than you do. And the moment you try to love every second of your life, I guarantee you’ll find yourself in a cascade of seconds depreciating in pleasure. In other words, this #LetsGetOldTogether message is a warm invitation—to feel like a failure. As a brilliant young friend commented, the campaign doesn’t seem interested in redefining what it means to be aging; it seems to be interested in asserting that mature women can be hot—so what’s your excuse if you’re not?

If you watch the video, you might also notice Paulina is never in the company of another mature squab. Instead, she’s ogled by young women at the pool and at the gym, where she outlasts her younger, sweatier, and less attractive fitness aficionados. The older women (and many of the younger ones) I know long ago eschewed that kind of competition. Most of my 50+ friends would find both situations laughable: Tossing our hair as we stride around a pool in a string bikini? What? The last time I competed with a 40-year-old at the gym, I fucked up my hip so bad I was six weeks in physical therapy. And I was in fine shape. Lesson learned.

A confident woman of the non-Paulina Porizkova variety. / iStock photo.

I recognize Geller’s good intentions. (And I love her makeup.) I believe she would like all of us to be happier as we mature.

@lauragellerbeauty features many ordinary-looking older women and some of the messaging is more benign. But the problem is that you can’t appoint someone who appears to have largely avoided the aesthetic snags of aging as a role model for people who are seeing those snags in themselves and probably not loving them. It’s dishonest messaging. Paulina—and other aesthetically gifted women (by certain standards) like her—still evokes an unattainable beauty standard we’re all accustomed to, no matter what she tells us about how tough it is to feel invisible. As the shrewd entrepreneur Stewy said in one Succession episode, “If you jump out on someone on the road in the middle of the night, hit them on the head, and shout, ‘I’m not ambushing you,’ it’s still a fuckin’ ambush.”



2 thoughts on “We Can Handle the Truth

  1. Ernest Sota says:

    Great article! Very well written, and enlightening. From a male viewpoint, It would be like Tom Cruz leading the aging entourage.
    ES

  2. cynthia tilson says:

    Val

    Thank you for this post; I’d never have given adorable Laura Geller, or her current muse, Paulina Porizkova, a second thought otherwise. But now two thoughts come to mind: bravo to any woman who exudes the confidence to strut her beautifully aging self, but also has the chutzpah to ugly-cry for her 8,000 Instagram fans. After all, our experiences as we age need to count for something more inspiring to others than the usual downward spiral of regret we associate with a privileged Western woman’s existential crisis.

    C

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