The Beauty of Aging

Kim Izzo | February 4th, 2011



Cheryl Tiegs (63)
Before the era of the supermodel ushered in household names like Linda, Naomi and Cindy, there was Cheryl Tiegs. A ’70s poster-girl staple,  a fantasy of millions of adolescent and grown-up men and with the girl-next-door sexiness that women found unthreatening, she was the model you wanted to have over for dinner.

Not much has changed. At 63, Tiegs, who graced the covers of Glamour and Vogue not to mention her iconic photo shoots for Sports Illustrated is still hot. On set in Los Angeles, there is much excited anticipation when her call time nears. Then, at last, she’s in front of you, her homespun sweetness intact. Her soft-spoken voice and cover-girl smile elicit awkward shyness from some of the crew — the men. One camera assistant even mutters, “I want to go out on a date with her, and I’m only 39.”

As far as models go, Tiegs is a star. But it wasn’t always so. “Today, we know all the names of the top models. [In the ’70s] they didn’t know my name. Sports Illustrated used my name and CoverGirl but, for the most part, no one knew who I was,” she explains. “Then I was on the cover of Time in 1978. That’s when my world changed.”

She recalls her newfound celebrity being a challenge because she had been so private.  “All of a sudden, people were talking about me and knew about me,” she says in a manner that implies she still amazed by her fame. “But I was around before People magazine. I was around before Entertainment Tonight. I was around before all this paparazzi madness. So, it was kind of sweet back then. And it’s just gotten way out of control now.”

Currently single — she became a mother of twins at 52 — and living in Los Angeles, her professional life has not let up with appearances on various television series, including a stint as a judge on True Beauty. She is also a spokesperson for Cambria, a company that manufacture quartz kitchen counters, and has her own line of skincare called Ageless Woman. The latter holds particular resonance for a woman who spent her life in front of the camera.

“I’ve thought a lot about aging gracefully,” Tiegs admits. “I think that it’s very important not to have too many injections, not to have too much work done. Beauty comes from within. I know that’s a cliché, but clichés are around because they mean something.” She says that for her the key is to keep learning, keep growing and get outside your comfort zone. “I think the older we get, we know what makes us happy. We know what time we like to go to bed,” she continues. “Well, break out of it every once in a while and just do something different.”

As a model baby boomer, Tiegs is well aware of her generation’s altered approach to beauty and aging. “Women today are mavericks. We’re doing something that’s never been done in the history of civilization because we’re living older, healthier lives. So beauty has been prolonged. There’s something about the beauty of youth, but there’s something wonderful about the beauty of wisdom.” Shirt, Hugo Boss, $445

Esme (50)

Being discovered is something many teenage girls still fantasize about. And in today’s culture, that equals some online overexposure or a reality show. But back in 1976, it was old-fashioned right time, right place for Esme Marshall when an editor for Mademoiselle was scouting in Boston for its annual back-to-school issue. A few Polaroids and a photo shoot later, Esme — first-name only, please — was a model living in New York.

And what a time it was, signed by bad boy agent John Casablanca for his newly formed Elite agency, modelling for Halston, Ralph Lauren and Bill Blass among others and hanging out at Studio 54. Her hair short and dark, Esme was the antithesis of the blond girl next-door types such as Christie Brinkley who were de rigueur at the time. But fashion was changing, and the industry began to gravitate to edgier-looking girls who better personified the era’s extreme silhouettes to go with the fast-living ’80s attitude. A fact that proved perfect timing for Esme.

“For me, that was great because I had a true love of fashion. I loved the clothing and I think when I worked with photographers and editors that they really had that sense,” she explains. “I knew I was there because they liked the look to sell the product but I was always very concerned that we were showing the beautiful design. I was always in tune with that. We’re really here to sell these clothes. We’re not there to dilly-dally about.”

Her hair still cut in her trademark short style, Esme, now 50, is the mother of four children and currently works in client services in a film production company in Santa Monica. She remains in look and demeanor every inch the star model. Blessed with good genes, she says she does her best to lead a healthy lifestyle. But aging well is something she thinks about.

“I’m a very upbeat person, so I think it shines from within. Life isn’t perfect, and there are challenges and disappointments. But I think you need to surf those waves that come at you in life with grace,” she explains. “That’s a big term in my vocabulary with my children and family. Some days don’t go the way you think they’re going to go. Throwing a temper tantrum and having a hissy fit is not going to be the answer to the question. You need to put it behind you and move forward and learn from it.” Shirt, Red Valentino, $385

Beverly Johnson (58)
Statuesque. Confident. Elegant. That’s Beverly Johnson — model, actress, entrepreneur and pioneer — in a nutshell. Johnson, now 58, made waves when she became the first African-American model to grace the cover of American Vogue in 1974. Just one decade after the American Civil Rights Act was passed, the impact of that one photograph still reverberates. “Around the globe, people were trying to interview me — from Africa, from Sweden, to all parts of the world — about what that cover meant, that finally America is recognizing black beauty in the mainstream,” she told the website Black Voices.

The power of a Vogue cover in endorsing standards of beauty is as potent today as it was then. On the occasion of her Vogue cover [March 2009], American First Lady Michelle Obama said that she considered it her own most important one because it showed young girls of colour that they too could be beautiful. Johnson’s 500-plus covers later helped create the climate that allowed models like Iman, Naomi Campbell and Tyra Banks to join the ranks of other iconic models.

After modelling came the book, Beverly Johnson’s Guide to a Life of Health and Beauty, as well as acting gigs on shows as disparate as Law & Order, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman and The Parent ‘Hood, as well as being a judge on the reality show She’s Got the Look.

But her business instincts brought her away from the camera and into the boardroom with The Beverly Johnson Hair Collection, which designs and sells wigs and hair accessories to the African-American market. This year, she followed that success with hair care products sold at the U.S. chain, Target.

Johnson has said before that the key to looking young is being happy and no doubt a huge part of what keeps her happy is time with her daughter Anansa, a plus-size model. “She is just one of my heroes,” Johnson told a reporter. “She’s got what I’ve been trying to get for decades. Just loving yourself and loving your body the way God made it.” Shirt, Ralph Lauren, $75

Pia Gronning(61)
The first thing you notice about Pia Gronning is that she’s comfortable in her own skin. The Danish model, who turns 61 this month, has the expected visible signs of aging — fine lines, wrinkles, grey hair — but, oh, how she wears them! With the striking beauty typical of northern Europeans (think Liv Ullman), Gronning’s charisma in front of the camera has only grown over the years — a fact not lost on Montreal-based Marcelle Cosmetics who selected Gronning as the face of its new line for mature skin.

Discovered while at high school in 1973 in her native Denmark by legendary agent Eileen Ford, Gronning was a fixture in fashion magazines until about 1986 when she moved to Los Angeles to try her hand at acting. Instead of a movie career, however, she found herself in high demand as an interior designer (upon seeing Gronning’s home, a friend asked her to do his house, and word of mouth spread). She kept at it for 12 years, working for a slew of film industry types.

But modelling beckoned once again. “I started seeing girls I used to work with in New York back working, and I thought, ‘They’re doing it. I can do it.’ ” Modelling full time again, she’s discovered that society’s changing attitudes toward aging, have made it more enjoyable.

“I never had the dream to become a model. But what I like about being back in it now, at my age, is that I don’t have to be perfect anymore, and I like myself a lot better than I did then,” she explains. “I have accepted myself. I mean, I’m still not perfect, but I get treated with a lot more respect, more like a human being, not like just a figure with hair and make-up. So, I’m enjoying this round. I really am.”
The phrase “natural beauty” is apt and is something Gronning is determined to maintain. When asked what aging gracefully means to her, she doesn’t hesitate: “Accepting the wrinkles and the things that are not as perfect anymore, without doing all this horrible surgery that so many women are doing. When I see some of these women, I can’t even recognize them. I just want to get old gracefully.” Shirt, 3.1 Phillip Lim, $365

Linda Morand (64)
As a model in the 1960s, being compared to Jackie Kennedy was a great compliment. Perusing the portfolio of mod model Linda Morand, it’s easy to see the comparison but it’s also striking how modern and relevant that look remains today — the short fringe, chin-length bob and false eyelashes not to mention that the ’60s fashions smack of current trends.

Now 64 and living in Manhattan, Morand, who retired from the business in 1975 to have her family, has become the archivist for the era: she is the creator of the fashion model archival website and Morand says she began the project after a search on Google turned up nothing. “And I thought that’s terrible. What about all these girls who were Revlon girls and on Vogue covers and all that,” she explains. “So I put up a website for myself [], and people started writing to me asking, ‘Could you put up pictures of me, pictures of my mother or my favourite model?’ Now we have 25,000 images.” While Morand doesn’t own the images, she does own the archive, which put her in a good position when a producer approached with an idea to do a television special — a supermodels hall of fame. “It will be a two-hour special, where we’ll honour these girls, like Cheryl Tiegs and Twiggy and the really famous ones.”

Always an entrepreneur — she ran a modelling school in the 1980s — Morand is also writing a book called A Walk Through Fashion History, illustrated by Gregg Nystrom, an artist famous for his work in paper dolls. “It’s going to be my story of how I started,” she explains. “I was this little model and then I met Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton and Cheryl Tiegs. There will be drawings of these girls wearing the clothes.”

Graceful and elegant, Morand is the picture-perfect example of growing old with style. But she admits that she has found aging a challenge; she battles it with good diet and exercise, including facial exercises that were popular in the ’50s, which she’s hoping to bring back into vogue with a book or DVD in the near future. Of course, like many beautiful women of a certain age, she says the key to being content later in life is attitude and some regular beauty maintenance. “When you get to be in your 60s — this is something I would say to the younger Zoomers — your attitude changes,” she says. “Now, I look at these girls who are 70, and they still look fabulous. Aging is an attitude. And I am very, very much for that the older women should still be attractive. I did let my hair go grey and I was invisible. I’m a big flirt and I like to look [at men but noticed] they were not looking back. And it’s funny, just a few blond highlights in the grey parts and I became 10 years younger.” Shirt, Nada, $255

Jolie Jones (57)
It’s a fact that models routinely begin their careers as teenagers. But 12? Before model-cum-actress Brooke Shields hit it big as a tween in the 1980s with her controversial Calvin Klein ads, there was Jolie Jones. Her gorgeous face became sought after by dozens of magazines and fashion houses — all at the tender age of 12. Discovered at a party in New York that she attended with her music mogul father Quincy Jones, the young girl quickly leaped at the chance to model.

Jones says she hit her peak in the late ’60s. “When I was 14, it started to really pick up. By 15, I was working all the time.” One of her favourite jobs was a photography shoot called Anatomy of a Model, shot with big cats, including a male lion. “It was a long job, a day or two. But it was so exciting because all [the models’] menstrual cycles had to be co-ordinated because you can’t work with wild cats a week before or a week after your period. There’s one week a month that you can work with them,” she explains. “And I got to work with a tiger, a cheetah and a lion.”

Now 57 and the mother of two grown sons, Jones describes the aging process as interesting. “I’m really into that aging thing and trying to be graceful about it.” For her, that means consistently exercising and eating right, avoiding things like alcohol, sugar and white flour. Still, she admits, “When you’re used to feeling like you look perfect all the time without any work, then it’s an adjustment when you get older.”
Another adjustment came in the form of her sensitivity to EMF (electromagnetic frequencies) and RF (radio frequencies) — meaning she has trouble being around cellphones and electronic devices. The crew was asked to shut down their mobiles while she was onset so she could concentrate.

“I am extremely sensitive to radio frequencies from cellphones and wireless networks,” she explains, citing high levels of heavy metals in her system caused by eating too much tuna. She says in its early stages, the condition made her feel in a heavy fog. “Like a heavy, thick cloud entered my brain from the temples and being totally disoriented,” she explains. “It was painful in fact. My joints would tingle and ache. Also, at times, I would get palpitations in my chest and I was very drained.” She points out that even when phones are on silent or vibrate, they are still emitting RF waves; in areas with poor reception, the devices blast RF waves, trying even harder to find a signal. She is in the process of writing a book on her condition and says, “Most brain surgeons when pressed will admit that the rise of tumours in young people is a direct result of phones up against the ear.” She is convinced that these frequencies with which we are bombarded will be discovered to be as dangerous to our health as asbestos and cigarette smoke was years ago.

To combat her condition and to allow her spiritual side to flourish, Jones lives in Vermont alongside her dogs and horses. Jones also uses medical grade essential oils and is in the process of developing a skincare line called Joie de Jolie. This simpler lifestyle makes her trips to Los Angeles a bit jarring. “I came here from eight months in Vermont, being with my horses every day. We’re supposed to be living around trees and nature,” she says. “That universal life force is what makes us happy and clear and calm and healthy and adjusted.” Shirt, Lafayette 148, $225

Shari Belafonte (56)
There is one word to describe Shari Belafonte: cool. That’s cool as in hip, not aloof, au contraire. Decked out in jeans and tank top, her face makeup-free, her head encased in dozens of bleached dreadlocks, she sits perched on the back of the sofa casually chatting with the photographer and his assistants, watching them work instead of choosing to wait her turn for hair and makeup in the privacy of the dressing room. She could be a member of the crew. Indeed, between film, television and photo shoots, there isn’t a type of set the 56-year-old model-actress-filmmaker hasn’t hung out on.

Belafonte has graced the covers of more than 300 magazines internationally since debuting in 1980. “I loved shooting Vogue,” she beams. “Whenever Richard Avedon called me for anything, it could be cleaning toilets, and I’d have been, ‘Yeah, sign me up!’ ”

Belafonte says she’s close to her famous father, Harry, who was more than a little ambivalent about her choice of career. “He didn’t really want his kids to get into the business because it’s such a hard business,” she explains. “I give him credit for being concerned but, having been exposed to it all our lives, there were no surprises. I knew there was tons of rejection and you build yourself up for it. When it happens — and it happens a lot — you just have to be prepared.”

Rejection may be part and parcel of show business, but a successful acting career, including a starring role on the 1980s prime-time soap Hotel, kept Belafonte in front of the public eye. But her passion has always been behind the camera. She studied film production at Carnegie-Mellon and has carved out a career as both a director of photography and a stills photographer with a recent exhibition in New York. Belafonte has also turned her attention to writing and has a mini-series in development.

Her style is funky and eclectic. a fact that was first noticed when she appeared on Johnny Carson accidentally wearing two different shoes. Fellow guest Bill Cosby made such a joke of it that she started wearing two different shoes on a regular basis for a time. “To this day, I still have people coming up to me saying, ‘You’re not wearing two different shoes!’ ”

Not surprisingly, Belafonte’s health and beauty regime is just as offbeat. “I hate to say it but at the end of the day when I’m in the shower, if I feel like I’ve got grit or grime or makeup on my face, I put Vaseline on to deal with the grit and then I wash it off with rubbing alcohol,” she laughs, then adds, “And I drink martinis and I smoke pot.”

As for the distinctive dreadlocks? They are all her own. But back in the day, she was one of the first African-American women to shear off her hair. Yes, long before Halle Berry.
“I did it before Halle Berry was born,” she jokes. Her smile and her laugh are infectious. Asked if she’s always so optimistic, she nods. “I am happy. Nothing not to be happy about. I’ve always been pretty low-key.” Shirt, Nada, $255

(February 2011)