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Paulina Porizkova’s new essay collection No Filter: The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful is exactly as advertised: a no-holds-barred, intimate look at the former supermodel’s lifetime of experiences, including all that being a teen model in the ‘80s entailed. Porizkova grew up in Czechoslovakia and Sweden, then moved to Paris when she was 15 years old to start her modeling career. An early chapter in her book describes the rampant sexual harassment she faced, which she quickly learned was “a part of the job.”
Porizkova describes one particularly disturbing scene in detail, from a photoshoot she booked as a teenager.
“I watched in the mirror as the photographer sidled up behind me and placed something warm and yielding on my shoulder. I kept smiling,” she writes. “The thing on my shoulder looked like a large brown flower in the reflection. I got a whiff of something food-like, soup-like. A soft, heavy pretzel? Pantyhose stuffed with mashed potatoes?”
“The makeup artist moved aside a little and laughed. Her laughter assured me this was funny,” she continues. “Finally, I turned my head to look at it directly and realized it was attached to his body. Attached to the part of his body where a penis would be. It rested there, casually, nestled between my collarbone and the side of my neck.”
“He grinned at me as if this was a fun little joke. The makeup artist shook her head lightly and raised her eyebrows, as if to say, ‘Here he goes again!’”
Porizkova was stunned: This was her first time ever seeing a penis, and her only cue for how to react was the makeup artist next to her.
“I wanted to jump up and get away from it. But with another woman laughing, I thought my impulse must be wrong,” she writes. “Her laughter made the whole thing seem…lighthearted. Inconsequential. Like I’d ruin the fun if I didn’t laugh along. I kept smiling. I needed them to like me.”
After that first encounter, Porizkova describes the years of harassment as blurring together: “I long ago lost count of how many times I was greeted by a photographer in a gaping bathrobe. If it wasn’t the photographer, it was a client, or the nephew of a client, or one of the client’s friends…There was a photographer who once shouted at teenaged, virgin me, ‘Look at me like you want me to cum!’”
The pattern was so insidious, and so expected as a part of the job, that Porizkzkova learned to be self-conscious if she wasn’t harassed, fearing that she somehow wasn’t holding up her part of the bargain as a model.
“Being a model was about inspiring desire in the photographer,” she writes. “If a photographer well-known for being creepy didn’t try something, I’d feel uneasy, insecure. It meant that I wasn’t as attractive as the other girls who were getting harassed.”
As a grown woman today, Porizkova has a new perspective on the harassment she faced. She now believes that the modeling industry is so focused on teenage girls in large part because they are easier to intimidate and control, recalling her own insecurity and desire not to rock the boat when she was treated like this.
“I suspect there is another, darker reason for having seventeen-year-olds hawking antiwrinkle cream,” Porizkova writes. “Because a girl doesn’t know to say no. A girl does not know her own power. A girl does not know her value. Because she wants people to like her, she puts up with things she never should have.”
No teen girl should have to go through what Porizkova and her peers endured, and we can only hope that with testimony like this and the #MeToo movement at large, these disgusting habits become a thing of the past.
No Filter: The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful by Paulina Porizkova
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