My obsession with celebrities comes and goes in waves. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve prowled some famous person’s Wikipedia page, committed all the facts to memory and then promptly forgot all about them a couple weeks later. Celebrity is a fickle lover, my friends.
Right now, the bulk of my adoration lies with Gwyneth Paltrow. I’ve watched “Shakespeare in Love,” “Proof” and “The Royal Tenenbaums” more than 20 times, collectively. A picture of Gwyneth stands as a patron saint over my dishes, and I read her personal newsletter every time it’s released. But I know that, in my heart, this love will eventually die out. If she divorces her hot Coldplay husband, or if she allows herself to get saggy and old, I will find somebody new to worship. So lies the sad and cold truth of star power.
But there is someone I don’t think I’ll forget about once she gets older, less attractive or less talented. Though she’s not someone I actively think about day to day, she’s always there in the back of my mind. She’s also not super famous or successful — in fact, she’s someone perhaps one percent of the population knows (i.e., horny guys of the 1980s and people who watch modeling reality shows) and even fewer give a crap about: former international supermodel Paulina Porizkova.
For those of you who don’t share my crazy obsession with reality television, let me give you a little background. Porizkova came from Czechoslovakia to model at the ripe old age of 15, hit a ton of runways and covers for Vogue in the late ’80s and then finally married Cars frontman Ric Ocasek in 1989 after starring in one of his music videos. Then, just a few years ago, she got hired as a permanent judge on the panel of my favorite show, “America’s Next Top Model.”
Admittedly, I didn’t know much about Porizkova prior to her CW debut. I was vaguely aware of her existence as a model, but I treated her with as much indifference as I would Christy Turlington Burns or Claudia Schiffer. Similarly, when she came on the show, she didn’t make much of an impression. Sure, I thought she was beautiful, and I thought she was kind of mean — not drunken, bitchy, Janice Dickinson mean, but constructively mean — but something was missing. I guess what I mean to say is she just wasn’t that memorable.
Then in spring of 2008 came the bombshell, revealed on “The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson,” that Porizkova got fired from “Top Model” over the phone the day before her birthday after only three seasons alongside the fire-breathing Tyra Banks.
“They needed to cut some fat, and the fat was me,” she said, half jokingly, half not.
On the tiny little YouTube screen on my laptop, I was struck by how sad she looked. Later, she revealed in a blog post that “A day after I outed myself … my phone rang off the hook. I’m still not sure whether it was because people were appreciative of the truth, or merely looking for me to dish further dirt, but the beauty of being 44 is that one spends a lot less time bullshitting oneself. And none of those calls were to offer me another job.”
Appreciative of the truth, that’s what I was. Celebrities these days don’t get fired or let go — they either “weren’t right for the project” or “had scheduling conflicts.” To even insinuate the word “fired,” much less throw it around so flippantly — that’s really unheard of. And refreshing.
Porizkova eventually was signed to The Huffington Post as a monthly-ish online contributor, blogging about topics from aging to politics to books to the ephemeral price of beauty. I cherish the day these columns come out, each containing a bittersweet, affecting epiphany, because they’re realer than anything I’ve read about the cost of celebrity and beauty. There are definitely people more beautiful than others, she says, but it’s really not as big a deal as people make it out to be; it’s about as important as being good at sports or crossword puzzles.
In one of her Huffington articles, “And the Shows Go On,” Porizkova talks about the rises and falls of the modeling industry, how each new girl replaces the next one in a matter of months, how seasons come and go like leaves blowing in the wind. “All the Good Stuff Always Happens in the Ladies Room” is a haunting, beautiful piece about running into Anna Wintour in the women’s bathroom and being completely cold-shouldered, despite the fact that in her prime she had once graced quite a few covers of Wintour’s magazine. And in “Aging,” she chronologizes her struggles with essentially making a career out of what she looks like, only to have it all dematerialize right in front of her. “Old age is the revenge of the ugly ones,” she cracks.
I’ve realized the reason I love Paulina is that she’s willing to call out other people’s bullshit. In a world where skinnier is the new skinny, where stars get their imperfections pumped, squeezed and pruned with collagen and silicone until they are rendered unrecognizable, Porizkova’s words are like a breath of fresh air. Whether it’s calling out Madonna for refusing to age or admonishing Kate Hudson for her breast implants, her blogs are all about urging people to stay true to their natural beauty.
And the thing is, half the time you’re not even sure whether you’re supposed to believe her. Is she just saying all this stuff because she’s still bitter about being fired from “Top Model”? Is she merely jealous of all these celebrities because they’re far more successful and famous than she? It’s possible, but if you think about it, that’s really what makes her human.
I love Gwyneth Paltrow because she’s like the modern equivalent of an English princess. She has perfect skin, a perfect little yoga body, perfect husband, perfect family. She can sing, she can dance, she can act — and she’s got an Oscar to boot. But those are all pretty one-dimensional things to judge a person by, and a lot of them are constructed out of images I have formed from the movie roles she takes or what her PR people present about her.
I don’t just love Paulina because I think she’s beautiful, or hilarious, or because I think she was the greatest judge ever on “ANTM.” I love her because for all her beauty and wit, she’s not afraid to reveal herself to the public as a human being — a person with real-life problems, struggles and hopes, a person just as vulnerable and open to judgment as we are. And for that, I don’t just love her. I actually like her.