Age after beauty
Published 18/11/2012 | 06:00
Wrinkles, expanding waistlines, grey hair... for most women, growing older is hard to accept, But how do models cope with the ageing process? Alison O'Riordan reports.
They were the original Irish catwalk queens of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, with long, lean limbs, flawless skin and hypnotic gazes.
Fast forward 20 years – what happens when the beauty bestowed on these glamazons starts to fade?
Does the mirror become the enemy, reflecting a stranger with an expanding waistband, crow's feet and a whisper of white along the hairline?
Ageing is an uncomfortable rite of passage for most women, so surely it's more difficult for those who make a living from how they look.
A recent HBO documentary, 'About Face: Supermodels Then and Now', explored the idea of getting older with some of the most celebrated beauties of the time.
Is it the same for our homegrown models?
Former international model Dubliner Lisa Cummins is honest about the impact of getting older.
"I found ageing difficult and any woman who doesn't say they found ageing a problem is lying," says the 43-year-old.
"When you're judged and given praise for your looks, it's more difficult to age. Your only value is in how you look."
Top catwalk queen Corina Grant agrees that growing older is especially difficult for anyone who has a career in front of the cameras.
"You're not the only one seeing yourself age – the public are seeing you age as well," she notes.
"So, you have people judging you outside of yourself and your family. Modelling is such a great industry, but such a negative one as well. It's not healthy. It's one of those industries that wants you to stay the same forever, and no one can do that – no matter how good your skincare is or how fantastic your genes are."
Carlow actress and former top model Vivienne Connolly also feels that the onset of wrinkles is hard for models who have relied on their looks all their lives.
"You're so focused and concentrated on your looks for so many years that when you're ageing, you're like, 'Oh God'," she says.
"Ageing is not nice for anybody, and we all look at ourselves in the mirror and feel we would like to get rid of that bag or wrinkle.
"Ageing is inevitable. However, it's tougher for a model as one is surrounded by beauty all your life," Connolly adds.
Golden girl Olivia Tracey left Ireland for LA in her mid-30s to forge an acting career and continue modelling. She has a more accepting view on the circle of life.
"Ageing is what all women go through," she says. "It all happens gradually, so it's not as if you wake up some morning and get a shock.
"I look back on pictures from 20 years ago and think, 'Oh my God, I have aged so much'."
However, Tracey has learned to overcome these concerns.
"I was dreading turning 30, but I did not feel any different when I woke up the next day at 30 than I did the day before at 29 years of age," she says.
"This whole age struggle is ridiculous. There is nothing we can do about it anyway.
"Some 70-year-old is looking at me thinking I'm a baby and I'm 52. I don't feel as if I have to fight it; it's a losing battle, so why bother?"
Tracey chose to let her hair go naturally grey – a decision which, she says, has helped her modelling career.
"It put me into an older category and has become my signature look," she explains.
" Cindy Crawford has her mole, I have my silver hair. I chose to age myself before my time and it worked to my advantage."
Mammy to the models is the eternally glamorous Celia Holman Lee, who has been modelling since she was 15 years of age. She is still on the catwalk and, at nearly 62, is the oldest of all the Irish models.
"I forget about age and just deal with it," says Holman Lee. "It's lovely when someone thinks I don't look my age. I'm very comfortable in my own skin and, at this stage in my life, I've no real issues with my body."
Cosmetic surgery has never been on the agenda, either.
"I just didn't go there," she says. "I have nothing against it. I just decided not to, for my own reasons."
Mari O'Leary was once con-sidered one of Ireland's most beautiful women. Noted for her 10-year career as a model, she happily retreated into the public relations world. "Make-up is a wonderful thing," laughs O'Leary. "Physically, you can do a lot with make-up. Besides, ageing is part of life."
Marie Staunton (47) – who started out as a fashion model in 1986 – feels that actresses have a much harder time of it than models.
"Every woman is the same. When I look in the mirror, I definitely see an older me and I have no problem with that," she says.
"There is a definite finishing-off point in a model's career where you diversify and do other things.
"If you are an actress, you grow old in your profession in the glare of a camera, so it's more difficult."
Entrepreneur and former model Jackie Lavin doesn't worry about age at all.
"Anyone who is realistic knows that looks don't last forever, so it is important not to be defined by it," she says.
"There is an over-emphasis on how people should dress, look or behave depending on their age."
So what have been the biggest physical changes for these beauties?
Amanda Brunker, who was crowned Miss Ireland in 1991, isn't afraid to admit she craves her younger self.
"The body isn't what it used to be and that is depressing," she says. "In my head, I'm still 25, but the body looks very different. I'm getting my boobs done next Easter."
In other ways, however, Brunker's perception of her twentysomething self has changed for the better.
"I thought then I was big, but I was tiny. I had the smallest waist and the smallest little arms and long, lean legs," she says.
"I'm more comfortable in my skin now than I was at a tiny size eight. It's hard to believe I thought I was fat then."
Lisa Cummins was also confronted with the visible signs of ageing in her late 20s.
"My body is still in good nick, but it was mainly the face that went – the lines, the colour of the skin," she says. "Looks-wise, my beauty has definitely faded in the cosmetic sense."
Connolly took a hiatus from modelling for a few years after giving birth to her son and managed to maintain her size-10 figure, but still says her body has changed.
"I have two children and it is never going to be the way it was," she says.
"I would like everything to be a bit tighter, like my tummy, boobs and all that, but it comes with age and gravity. You just do your best to maintain it."
And like Cummins, she feels her face has changed, too. "The elastin and collagen reduces – I can see that in my face – but you can't look 20 when you're 60," she adds.
Former Miss Ireland Anne-Marie Gannon was just 17 when she started modelling. It's only now, however, that she realises what she had.
"When I was a young model, I had lovely skin, hair and a svelte little figure, but I didn't see that back then," she says. "In the past 20 years – since I hung up my stilettos – my looks have changed.
"What I love about Irish people, though, is that when you meet someone you haven't seen in 20 years, they say, 'You haven't changed a bit!'"
A former cover girl, Catherine Treacy, now in her mid-50s, found that changes crept up gradually.
"It's all a mental thing, and our eyesight diminishes to help the fact that when you look in the mirror, you're not the same as you were!" she laughs.
"Before, all you had to do was put on lipstick and brush your hair and away you went. When you're older, you have to make more of an effort to maintain a groomed and well-dressed appearance."
The thing Treacy misses the most is her hourglass figure.
"I'm no longer a trim size 12," she says. "I used to be able to put anything on me and it would look good with a bit of accessorising. My shape has changed. When you are modelling, your poise, your skin tone, your figure – it all lends itself to what you put on.
"As you get older, you have to work very hard at maintaining it and spend more on skin products. You have to know your shape a lot better as not everything looks good on you any more."
From the ages of 15 to 21, former model and now MD of 1st Option Models, Jules Fallon (41) didn't have to think about her weight either.
"I was just so tiny – at one stage I even fitted into a size six," she says. "However, I have had to buy dresses in size 22 – not something that I am proud of. There have been years when I found it difficult to look in a mirror.
"People around would sympathise and I would always hear 'but you have a beautiful face', which was sweet, but didn't take away my pain."
Geraldine Brand, a former top model whose career began in the 1970s, is surprised when she looks at the clothes she used to wear.
"I was always eight-and-a-half stone up until the last 10 years. I'm nine-and-a-half now and I'm 60," she explains. "I did get a moment of shock finding in the attic a pair of palazzo pants designed by Richard Lewis with the tiniest of waists – was I really that small?
"Everyone's body changes with age; the trick is not to compete with your daughters!"
Model Jill Diffley, who started working the ramp at 15, recently gave birth to twins and can't help but be astounded by the difference between the body she has now and the one she had in her 20s.
"Obviously after twins, things are not sitting where they should," says Diffley. "Even the skin tone I had in my 20s is not there any more.
"I had a call from Derek Daniels in Assets a while ago asking me if I would like to do a swimwear shoot. Considering I was four months' pregnant, I told him my swimwear days were truly over."
Svelte Sheila Eustace was renowned for having the best pins during her modelling days.
The qualified gym instructor is now based in southern Spain and still possesses the itsy-bitsy figure she had when she was 24 – a size six to eight, to be exact.
"I never stopped working out," says Eustace. "When people relax and come to an end in modelling, they think they can ease up a bit, but I have never done that. If anything, I'm working as hard now as I ever did.
"I was 42 when I decided to stop doing swimwear on fashion shows. I saw photos of myself in which I wasn't looking the way I wanted to look, so I decided to knock that on the head.
"I had always worked with much younger girls and it never bothered me, but at that point I thought I had to draw a line somewhere," she adds.
Along with the aesthetic changes, the former models have also noticed an emotional side to ageing.
"[There's] the feeling that I get when I see my 18-year-old stepdaughter and her friends getting ready for parties. They are all so stunning and fresh looking – it really makes you feel old," said Diffley, whose stepdaughter Shona Wright is modelling for Assets.
Most models leave the profession early to carve out other careers. Model agent Rebecca Morgan of Dublin model agency Morgan confirms this.
"From what I have experienced over the years, models decide to move on from modelling before modelling moves on from them," she says.
O'Leary made a conscious decision to exit the industry at 28 years of age.
"I could see there was an end in sight," she says. "I knew there was a shelf life for modelling and, rather than the idea of them stopping using me, I made that move myself. I knew if I continued, it would have petered itself out."
Fallon believes she is one of the luckier models. "I knew I wanted to be on the other side of the camera," she says.
"After turning 21, I suddenly started to gain weight. Rather than torture myself with what I could only imagine was a future of dieting, I decided to take the easy route and stop modelling."
Lavin, meanwhile, always saw modelling as a means to an end and not as a career.
"It helps you deal with rejection at a young age as there is always someone younger and more beautiful snapping at your heels," she explains. "The trick is to quit at the top before your sell-by date."
However, there are older models who are still strutting their stuff into their 40s, 50s and 60s.
Olivia Tracey returned from LA to the Dublin catwalk in September – 28 years after winning Miss Ireland in 1984 – to do a Marks & Spencer fashion show.
"It was a surprise to the audience that I was in it, but I got a fabulous reaction and it was like a trip down memory lane with people I did runway shows with back in the 1980s," she says.
"It was as if we turned back the clock, but we happened to be 25 years older."
Grant, who started modelling full time at 20, now works on both sides of the camera.
"I have never been a sex kitten but rather the girl next door," she says.
"As I get older, I'm able to move into the next bracket without looking like an ageing sex kitten.
"Modelling started to peter out for me in my mid-30s when I had my first child. People are sick of looking at you, change is inevitable and that's just it. It would be very sad if the modelling industry in Ireland used the same girls."
As Connolly moved into an older category on her agent's books, she accepted that work would dry up.
"I did not want to be doing fashion shows backstage in a g-string with 16-year-old models," she says. "I've no interest in standing on Grafton Street in a bikini. That's fine, but leave it to someone else. I knew my own market and niche."
Brunker still models with Littlewoods Ireland.
"The fact I can still make money partly off how I look is fairly jammy and quite sweet at the age of 38," she says.
However, the mother-of-two went through a difficult time before making a comeback.
"After winning Miss Ireland, I had gotten totally disillusioned with modelling and had fallen in love," Brunker says.
"I had taken to sitting in at night and eating, which is a terrible thing for a model to do, so the work stopped coming in.
"My hair had been dyed so many colours, I had to cut it short. I looked like a bloke and there was no work. I was not surprised – I looked a state."
"It was awful," she continues. "I had been doing so well, then, literally what seemed like overnight, the phone stopped ringing and that was very upsetting.
"I had to go and get a normal job in a restaurant and lost all confidence in myself. I worked in restaurants for 10 years after that until I got my confidence back."
During this unstable period in Brunker's life, her coping strategy became alcohol and food.
"Alcohol was my downfall," she says. "I'm addicted to food and I love beer. I lost myself in food and booze for 15 years."
In hindsight, Brunker says falling out of love with modelling was the best thing that happened to her.
"I couldn't live that life any longer as I'm not a naturally skinny person," she says.
"For me, if I had to stay skinny, I would have been damaging my health."
The impact of ageing can have a huge effect on the ego, too.
How does it feel to go from turning heads on the street to barely being noticed, as the years start to catch up? Connolly definitely noticed that fewer men were giving her a second look. "It's true about turning heads, absolutely, and you do notice it," she says.
"Once it was every second head turning and things such as guards stopping you and you getting away with it. Now, you see it from everybody else's side.
"It's charm more than looks that will get you away with a lot of stuff now. I see the next young girl walking down the street and I watch it from the outside, and laugh."
Invitations can also dry up as time goes on.
"You're invited to fewer parties," says Grant.
"That's inevitable. If you're a PR person and inviting 10 models, you're going to invite the 10 who are hot property, not the ones from 10 years ago."
In a twist of irony, some of these women have always suffered from low confidence, even when they were in their heydays.
"People think modelling is so glamorous, but you're knocked all the time and told what's wrong with you, more than what is right for you," says Connolly.
And it is only now as a mother that Grant says she has achieved the confidence that comes with age and experience.
"As a model, you're rarely asked for your opinion on how a picture looks in a shoot," she explains. "You're used to your opinion not counting.
"Then, when I became a mum four years ago, [I felt] really important for the first time. I'm so much better and happier in my own skin now," she adds.
Eustace, now 48, has worked with generations of stunning girls but never considered herself as alluring as others.
"I have always been around incredibly beautiful girls and would think, 'What am I doing here?'" she reveals.
"It is such a leveller when you work with girls who are more beautiful than you – you never get to that stage when you sit there thinking, 'I'm beautiful'."
Holman Lee agrees that confidence comes with age.
"I feel a lot more relaxed, no matter what job I may be asked to do," she says.
"Maybe when I was 20 or 30, I felt other people looked better and slipped in and out of confidence.
"For me, in a personal capacity, I'm full of confidence now."