- From behind the Iron Curtain into the spotlight on the world stage, this week on "Firing Line."
[crowd shouting] Once the highest paid model in the world, Paulina Porizkova was the 1980s cover girl who became one of the most visible supermodels of her time.
Now, in her late 50s- - Older is sexy.
- [Margaret] Porizkova is taking an unfiltered look at life in the spotlight and the darker side of the industry.
- Harassment used to be called compliments.
- [Margaret] Born and raised in Soviet-controlled Czechoslovakia, she first was in the headlines as a little girl behind the Iron Curtain separated from her dissident parents.
- As a pawn between the East and the West in the Cold War, photographers were coming and taking pictures of me every month or so, making me do these silly poses.
- [Margaret] She made it to Sweden, later to Paris, and then to New York.
She's also opening up about marriage to The Cars' lead singer Ric Ocasek, the process of aging- - Getting a HydraFacial.
- [Margaret] Mental health, and revealing her vulnerable side on Instagram.
[Paulina sobs] What does Paulina Porizkova say now?
- [Presenter] "Firing Line with Margaret Hoover" is made possible in part by Robert Granieri, Charles R. Schwab, The Fairweather Foundation, The Margaret and Daniel Loeb Foundation, The Asness Family Foundation, Jeffrey and Lisa Bewkes, Peter and Mary Kalikow, and by Craig Newmark Philanthropies, The Rosalind P. Walter Foundation, Damon Button, The Center For The Study Of The International Economy Inc, The Pritzker Military Foundation on behalf of the Pritzker Military Museum and Library, and The Marc Haas Foundation.
Corporate funding is provided by Stephens Inc. - Paulina Porizkova, welcome to "Firing Line."
- Thank you.
- You were first photographed when you were four years old as a girl behind the Iron Curtain who became a political pawn in the Cold War.
Your parents were political refugees, fled to Sweden, and then began a hunger strike in order to bring public attention to the fact that their daughter was stuck behind the Iron Curtain.
- I was used as this, like, little chubby child that you should feel sorry for, and until my mother came to get me and brought me to Sweden, I wasn't at all aware of why all these pictures were taken.
You know, as a child, you assume that everybody else has the same life as you.
That photographers were coming and taking pictures of me every month or so, making me do these silly poses, I thought all children were doing that.
- After that experience, you actually developed a distaste for being in the public eye, which is funny because you went on to become one of the most famous international supermodels of the 1980s.
You became the first Eastern European model ever to make it on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and you reflect in your new book that, much of your life, you have spent being seen and not heard.
Now that you're in your late 50s, it seems to me that this has changed.
You've published your third book entitled "No Filter: The Good, The Bad, and the Beautiful."
It's a series of essays, really reflections on lessons learned in your life.
You deal with anxiety.
You deal with depression.
You deal with grief.
You deal with betrayal.
You deal with divorce.
- And aging.
Is there a lesson that you have taken away from this book?
- The lesson I have taken away from this book is, when we dare to be vulnerable and dare to completely strip in front of somebody else, only the most callow will walk away from you, but, the rest, you can actually connect to and on a really human level, which is, of course, something that has escaped me for most of my life because nobody felt like they could connect to a supermodel.
I was, you know, too far out there.
It was, "Oh, you know, you're beautiful.
You have it all.
Like, what do I have in common with you?"
Well, I think, reading my book, you discover how much you have in common with me, and it humanizes me, which is like, for the first time in my life, I get to be a person, and you know what?
It feels pretty good.
- You were 13 when one of your school friends who was an aspiring makeup artist- - Yes.
- Asked you to be her palette so she could send in photographs to a Parisian modeling agency.
That photo that was submitted actually launched your modeling career.
She didn't become a makeup artist, and by the time you were 15, you were professionally modeling in Paris.
- You wrote about that image, "When the photos were developed, everyone looked lovely, but my friends were shocked by the ones of me.
No one had thought of me as pretty, but, in the photos, something magical happened.
It was as if an entirely new person was captured by the lens."
What was it that captured you differently and catapulted you to the highest, most esteemed modeling agencies in Paris?
- Two things.
Luck that my specific brand of features were what was seen as attractive at that point.
- And the other thing is it's actually a question of mathematics.
It literally is mathematics.
It's the angles and planes of your face, the way they reflect light, and I have seen incredibly beautiful women that don't photograph particularly well because the mathematics of their face, their beauty lies elsewhere but in the numbers, and it just so happens I got the numbers.
- Let's talk about that experience in Paris in modeling and the industry generally.
You write that, "The ideal woman is not a woman.
She's a girl."
Is the modeling industry full of girls who are cast as women?
- Of course!
Of course, and, you know, I think things are changing now, but when I started in 1980, the modeling business, you were old at 25.
At 25 is when your death warrant was signed and you were sent out on the burning boat.
We don't need you anymore.
And I used to be told that the reason why they needed these young, nubile girls, as opposed to women, was, again, was a technical thing.
It's the way that light bounces off your skin, and, you know, back in the 1980s, retouching was extremely expensive.
- So, your face was really just like, you know, what they bought is what they got, and you had to deliver.
So, you know, if they bought me for the day, the Paulina face, Paulina had to deliver the Paulina face.
If I walked into work with a pimple, that would mean you don't have a job, you're going back home, and you don't have the money for this week, but, in retrospect, I think that the other darker side of why modeling was so keen on girls was because, you know, girls try to please.
We have been raised to please, to be agreeable, and so when, you know, a photographer asks you to do this or to do this or to do this, you know, you're endlessly obliging and agreeable, and, you know, every job can be your last.
- [Margaret] Yeah.
- So you're not gonna pull an attitude because you can't afford to.
- Harassment was also part of the industry.
- Oh, yes.
Harassment used to be called compliments.
- How much has the industry changed?
- Quite a lot, and I think it's, you know, the advent of media, of social media, and the internet.
You know, if something happened now like what happened to me back in the days with photographers, with their endlessly gaping bathrobes.
[Paulina indistinctly mutters in foreign language] And you sort of had to learn how to avoid it and laugh and sort of take it on yourself so you wouldn't offend their male ego, and we just saw that as a part of the job.
That is obviously not the case anymore, thank God, and I think if a photographer does something inappropriate to a model who's got X amount of million followers, they're not gonna get away with it.
- In March, prosecutors charged three people for allegedly operating a prostitution ring out of a Los Angeles modeling agency.
Does this kind of allegation surprise you?
- Are you kidding?
No, of course not.
I mean, you know, even the very reputable agencies of their day, you would get lots of invitations to go out at night with a group of people you didn't know, and you didn't know that somebody was getting paid to get you there, and then once you were there, well, you know, it was up to the men to then entice you into going on their private plane, to their private island, or whatever it is that they had in mind, and you could usually say no, but then there were the girls who weren't making very much money and were having a really hard time trying to stay in this job that would say yes, and, again, it's funny because, technically, it really is prostitution, and yet it was seen as, well, you know, you go to a beautiful private island for five days and you come home with $100,000.
Like, what's wrong with that?
- You made history a second time with Sports Illustrated when, at 55, you became the oldest model to be featured in the magazine's swimsuit issue.
You wrote, "How do I feel about being the old lady in Sports Illustrated?
Do they really want me or am I here because of what I represent?"
What did you represent?
- Oh, I think, at the time, I represented the token old lady.
I mean, quite literally.
- And what did that mean to you?
I mean, it seems to me that, in many of your reflections on aging, you're leaning into it.
- I don't have a choice.
Well, actually, I do have a choice.
- You do.
- I can make myself look younger, so I get to stay at the main table a little bit longer, or I can sort of sink into this acceptance that this is what aging is, and try to, by example, make it look as cool as it actually is, and try to change people's perspective on this being ugly.
- You write that middle-aged women, yourself included, are rendered invisible by our society's standards of beauty.
- What can you do about that?
- Well, the one thing that you certainly cannot do is stay invisible.
You know, the whole idea of women aging out of being desirable, out of being valuable, out of being worthy, to me, it very much keeps reminding me of, like, you're the cow that, you know, gave milk and had offspring, and then you're no longer useful for that, so you're put out to pasture.
We are women.
We are not cows.
I don't think we deserve that.
I mean, I certainly get plenty of negative comments about, you know, how dare I?
How dare I try to represent my age as still being sexy?
That seems to be a last frontier.
You can be talented and older.
You can be handsome and older.
You can be even beautiful and older, but you cannot be sexy and older.
That is absolutely out of bounds.
- Your husband, your late husband, Ric Ocasek, who was a lead singer of The Cars, died suddenly as you all were pursuing divorce proceedings, but amicably, and you confronted that tragedy bravely, even when learning that you had been disinherited from his will after his death.
Much of your experience in grieving and navigating that betrayal as well, you shared publicly with your Instagram followers.
[Paulina sobbing] What made you decide to share your feelings of vulnerability publicly with people you didn't know?
- That's very easy.
It's called a worldwide pandemic.
You're shut in your house.
You cannot see anybody.
There are no friends to hold your hand.
There are no distractions, and you're ready to kill yourself, so it's probably better to reach out, even if it's sort of into the dark of the internet and social media, and raise a little cry for help, which is what I was doing with my unfiltered, vulnerable post.
That was me drowning.
You were watching me struggle to stay alive.
- Were you in such a dark place that you considered harming yourself?
- Oh, yeah.
- Did you make plans?
- I felt like there was an incredibly thin line between staying anchored in this world and taking a step over to the next one.
I had two children who were deeply grieving their father, and I think that more than anything kept me anchored in the, "Well, you can't right now.'
I mean, I would find solace in ideas like I'll kill myself later when the kids are over it.
[Paulina chuckles] - Wow.
- So, yeah, it got really bad.
- You talk about depression.
You talk about anxiety, which has plagued you for your entire life.
- And also the stigmas associated with mental health and getting help.
- Yeah, getting help or not getting help.
Having been an anxious person my whole life, well, since childhood, and being in this career where, for a model, every job, every day is a different day.
It's different people, different settings, different locations, so you never have a routine and routine does stabilize you.
It does make you less anxious.
That is something I never had the benefit of.
I just had to white-knuckle it for long parts of my life, but this is where, just, you know, aging and acquiring the wisdom of having seen yourself through all these difficult stages, where you find that, you know, the acceptance of, "Yeah, you know what?
I have anxiety.
I'm a woman who has high anxiety and that's okay."
- You reflect on the use of antidepressants, which you're very clear that you're grateful that these drugs exist.
- And you have used them at times, but you also have reflected on how there's a downside, or at least in your experience.
- Yeah, I mean, again, I can only speak for myself and I am not attempting to speak for anyone else.
For me, antidepressants gave me a vacation.
I mean, I was on them for about four years and I felt, for the first time in my life, that buzz of anxiety that's like my steady background music ceased, and I went, "Oh, it's quiet."
Like, wow, and that feeling of constant pressure sort of released, and then as it did that and I was feeling like, "I'm feeling pretty good," I also realized that it released all of the things that made me me.
You know, my desire to speak, my desire to connect, my desire to be involved with things, my desire to have sex, it released all of those as well, so then I felt like, eventually, I had to make a choice.
Do I want to be the me who suffers, or do I want to be the not-quite-me who feels good?
And I made the choice.
Because I'm Eastern European, possibly, I made the choice to be the one who doesn't always make it easy for herself, because I believe that the best things in life are not easy.
- In 2017, you wrote an op-ed in The New York Times entitled "America Made Me A Feminist."
You've lived in Czechoslovakia, in Sweden, in Paris, and then in the United States, in New York City.
Why was it America, of all those places, that made you a feminist?
- Because America was the only country in which the role of a woman was very unclear to me.
So, in Sweden, women were all powerful.
We were better than guys, because we could do everything a guy could do.
We would also have children, and the choices of our mates were up to us.
It was kind of a wonderful time for your sexually formative years to be spent in Sweden in the 1970s.
It was great.
The Czech Republic, Czechoslovakia at the time, it was made very clear where women were on the scale of things.
You know, they were mostly somewhere with the domestic animals.
You know, you were to be cajoled and sweet talked, but, you know, when you were annoying, get kicked and get out of here.
Like, it's an absolute patriarchy, no question about it, and a misogynistic country.
Then I get to France, where women are treated with a kind of respect and adoration and a fair bit of fear, as though, you know, they're somewhat dangerous creatures, and they can be, but, in France, the woman didn't shout to proclaim who she was or what she needed or what she wanted.
She had her little dark avenues to make her way and put herself in the place she wanted to be, but it was always kind of behind the men, and I wasn't that into that.
I was just like, "Oh, my Swedish upbringing."
I'm like, "Hello, I am woman.
Hear me roar."
And everybody went, "Too loud, too loud, much too loud."
- So why did America make you a feminist?
- Well, because this was the only country in which the female role was not clear to me, because I came here, and first I find out, you know, that women are amazing.
This is the '80s, mind you.
We wear gigantic shoulder pads because, you know, we are powerful presences, and, yes, we can be CEOs, but when it really comes down to it, we're getting paid less in the workplace, and if you do get to a position of power, well, then the critique of you is endless, and I thought, "I don't understand this.
I'm being told that I can do everything in this country, and then I am torn apart the minute that I prove that I can."
And that is what sort of made me think we are not equal here.
- Listen, this program, "Firing Line," originally was hosted by William F. Buckley Jr. for 33 years, and he was an ardent anti-communist.
[Paulina chuckles] Your mother, she would clandestinely listen to Radio Free Europe, which was the American-backed news agency that broadcast behind the Iron Curtain.
In 1983, William F. Buckley Jr spoke to Frank Shakespeare, who was the chairman of the Board for International Broadcasting, which oversaw Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
Take a look.
- It doesn't follow, in my opinion, that simply because people in totalitarian societies- - [William] Know the truth.
- Know the truth that they are at the moment- - [William] Liberated.
- Liberated, or able to do something about it, but it does follow that there is a general usefulness to mankind to know the truth, and that, over a period of time, in certain circumstances, it can make a significant difference.
- I happen to sit on the board of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and I'd love to know, why was Radio Free Europe important to your mother?
- Well, my mother, like a lot of the youth in the country, suspected that there was a different world than the one that was presented to us, and Radio Free Europe was literally the only way that you could find out about this world that was beyond yours.
I mean, it's literally like, imagine yourself living in the zoo.
You're in a cage and you're told every day that, "Be grateful for your cage.
You get food.
You're taken care of.
Outside there, you have no idea what's outside."
Well, Radio Free Europe provided you with what's outside.
It told you what was outside, and it made those who found it, and were willing to risk their lives, essentially, in order to listen to it, with an idea of freedom that was unknown to us, and that the outside was not only not scary, but preferable, and so it was a very dangerous program.
- You talk about the power of totalitarianism, that you were trained that the state was your family, and that your responsibility as a good member of a family would be to turn in other members, perhaps your own family members, if they weren't sufficiently loyal to the state.
We were taught this from preschool and on that we would be praised for delivering the news to, you know, help the country to weed out those terrible people who were, you know, making us suffer by spreading lies, and so, yeah, as I was writing in the book, the real terror of occupation, of being occupied, is not having to stand in a bread line at three o'clock in the morning, and the fact that you only really have flour and lard to eat, and that you will never get new clothes, or there's only one Barbie in a toy store in the entire city.
Those are not the dangers.
Those, you can navigate around.
The danger is that you cannot rely on your belief.
Your brain is occupied.
It's like an alien takes over your brain and starts making other decisions for you.
- You had choice words when Russia invaded Ukraine.
- [Margaret] How do you feel about it now?
- I am still really effing angry, and I have to say, Ukraine, to me, unlike my country who, being used to being occupied for their entire existence, always kind of just threw in the towel, but, in Ukraine, those people picked up weapons.
Those women and men just went to battle, and they're doing it, and they're doing it every day, and I am so sad and so heartbroken that this is necessary, and yet so incredibly inspired by their bravery and by their insistence of not letting this Goliath swallow them.
I mean, that's inspiration.
- Paulina Porizkova, thank you for joining me on "Firing Line."
- Thank you.
[upbeat music] - [Presenter] "Firing Line with Margaret Hoover" is made possible in part by Robert Granieri, Charles R. Schwab, The Fairweather Foundation, The Margaret and Daniel Loeb Foundation, The Asness Family Foundation, Jeffrey and Lisa Bewkes, Peter and Mary Kalikow, and by Craig Newmark Philanthropies, The Rosalind P. Walter Foundation, Damon Button, The Center For The Study Of The International Economy Inc, The Pritzker Military Foundation on behalf of the Pritzker Military Museum and Library, and The Marc Haas Foundation.
Corporate funding is provided by Stephens Inc. [upbeat music] [upbeat music continues] [upbeat music continues] [upbeat music continues] [bright musical jingle] [gentle music] - [Announcer] You're watching PBS.