The last two words you would expect to see next to a photo of author, actress, and iconic supermodel Paulina Porizkova are “old” and “ugly.” But last April, that is exactly what a man wrote on her Instagram account after she posted a photograph of herself in a bikini.
Rather than ignore the comment or respond with anger, Porizkova, 57, went on Twitter the following day to satirically thank her troll for “feeling her pain,” which encouraged her followers to post their own photos with the hashtag #OldandUgly.
“That made me go viral for the first time in my life,” she says. “All of these amazing women jumped in, posting their pictures and saying, ‘I’m old and ugly; how about this!’ It was the best thing ever. I had such fun.”
Porizkova joined Instagram six years ago and filled it with happy images of her life, her family, and her vintage magazine covers. “I didn’t understand the concept of it,” she admits today. As her fanbase grew, she realized she had an important outlet at her fingertips and began posting behind-the-scenes pics and videos of the “real” Paulina — wrinkles and all — often alongside lengthy, thoughtful captions on aging.
It was a revelation for “women of a certain age,” and today her followers number more than 800,000. “It’s incredibly satisfying to have built this platform on my own,” she adds. “All of these people have found me in an organic way, being drawn to what I have to say.”
The world is about to hear even more from Porizkova in her recently published memoir, No Filter: The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful. A collection of essays, the book covers many facets of her life, from her childhood in Czechoslovakia (now the Czech-Republic), living with her beloved grandma, to her escape from behind the Iron Curtain to Sweden at age 9 with her mother and younger brother to reunite with her father, and her beginnings as a model in Paris when she was just 15.
The book also reveals the emotional struggles she endured during her marriage with Ric Ocasek and in the aftermath of his sudden death in 2019.
Their fairytale romance began in 1984, the same year Porizkova landed her first magazine cover: the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. The 19-year-old was cast in the music video for “Drive,” by the Cars, one of the world’s hottest bands at the time, of which Ocasek was the lead singer.
When they met in person, she writes, “I knew this was the man I was going to marry.” Their age difference — he was 40 — and the fact that he was already married couldn’t stop the inevitable. They were wed a few years later and went on to have two adored sons: Oliver, 24, and Jonathan, 29.
But behind closed doors, their relationship was headed for a not-so-happy ending. “Our marriage began to dissolve as our two sons grew up,” she writes.
Although they had enjoyed many good years together, by the time she was 52, she felt invisible. The couple mutually agreed to divorce, though they continued living together — with separate bedrooms — for the next few years as the details were hammered out.
And then the unimaginable happened. On September 15, 2019, she was bringing Ric his morning coffee when she discovered he had died during the night. He was 75. As horrific and shocking as that was, a day later, while still reeling from the trauma and grief of his passing, she learned that her husband of 30 years had changed his will just weeks earlier — claiming she had abandoned him — and left her with almost nothing.
“Abandonment is the one thing I’m most afraid of in my life,” Porizkova says of the painful wording. “I specifically had not abandoned him. I kept staying at home to help him and take care of him. It was such a blow.” Eventually, the will was successfully settled.
We sat down with Porizkova recently and learned how she’s been coping with the complicated combination of grief and anger. We also spoke frankly about aging today and what she really thinks about embracing where she is right now.
Q&A With Paulina Porizkova
Experience Life | What inspired you to write your memoir?
Paulina Porizkova | In my life, I’ve been incredibly blessed, and I’m grateful. But I was in a position as a young girl, young woman, and woman who was looked at and therefore seen more as an object than as a human being. I was always trying to be heard, and somehow, I understood that being truthful, being real, and being vulnerable are the things that get noticed.
Also, part of my life has been people translating what I say, making their own assumptions, and then writing it down as they wanted to. I always felt the real me was hidden. I desperately crave love, and I’m embarrassed to admit that, but people can only love me if it’s the actual me. This book is a pretty good door to who I am.
EL | Your Instagram account — @paulinaporizkov — has also been a very honest outlet for you, especially after Ric passed away.
PP | After Ric died, I was this open wound — I was so desperately lonely and desperately sad, and I just wanted to reach out to somebody. It was the middle of the pandemic, too, and nobody had time to sit and hold my hand. So, I reached blindly into the ether and found other people who felt the same, and we did a lot of social-media handholding.
EL | It’s been three years since his death. How are you doing now?
PP | You know, until my husband died, I never cried. I took such pride in not crying — it felt like it was a loss of power. But now I think it’s also a gain in empathy, which I value much more. So yeah, it’s still really hard. And I hope it continues to be hard, because I spent 35 years with this man. He’s been my entire life, and such he will remain, forever, until I die.
EL | How have you been processing your grief?
PP | Exercise and meditation are the two most helpful things. Pilates is my favorite, because it’s a challenge and I love that.
As for meditation, I used to hate it, but now I do it every day. Also, I’ve been in therapy since my 40s — that’s a permanent thing in my life.
EL | You write in your book that when you were 52 you thought about modeling again, but your agent said . . .
PP | “You’re thinking of resurrecting your career? Forget it, girl! No one wants to see women with wrinkles.” Age is the final frontier in modeling. We want to see representation of body type, and beautiful women who are confident in whatever shape, size, color, and cultural heritage they are. But wrinkles? How many wrinkles do you see out there? I’m very proud of mine! I love them, even if I don’t think that every single day. I have to keep reminding myself that I love them. I love them on other women so why wouldn’t I love them on me?
EL | Has your perspective on aging changed since . . .
PP | Things went south [laughs]? No, I’ve always thought aging should be a good thing. But I went through a period where I second-guessed myself a lot. I was in my early 50s when my marriage fell apart. I felt invisible to my husband, to the world, and in my career. And for a while there I wobbled. I thought, OK, maybe I should start looking younger. I should have the cosmetic-intervention stuff. How should I navigate this?
It was Instagram that helped me. It was the people who came and said, “Thank you for being real.” I thought, Oh, it’s important for me to stay in my skin. I can fix it, or I don’t have to.
Not fixing it seems rebellious. I’m standing up for something. I could fix my aging if age was, in fact, a bad thing. But I don’t believe it is.
EL | You do document on Instagram some of the treatments you’ve done to refresh your face.
PP | Yes, I share that because I don’t think it’s fair to claim that this is all done with water and exercise when, in fact, I’ve used lasers and the Plasma Pen, which is supposed to help with the collagen around my eyes. It’s super subtle and I have no idea if it does anything, but I’m under the impression that it has helped.
EL | Have you done any work internally to embrace aging?
PP | I’m still in the process of reassembling myself. I’m not there yet. I still have days where I’m struggling with the idea of not being “pretty” anymore. But I love beauty so much more than prettiness. Real beauty isn’t valued enough.
This article originally appeared as “Seen & Heard” in the December 2022 issue of Experience Life.