LOS ANGELES — Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder but the fashion, beauty and modeling industries adhere to a strict code, one with a bar set so high even the most aesthetically pleasing are on a mad quest to achieve physical perfection. This beauty phenomenon is explored in the documentary Chasing Beauty featuring interviews with models, stylists, makeup artists, and physicians dishing on everything from extreme diets to plastic surgery. I recently caught up with LA-based director Brent Huff, a former model and actor, for an exclusive e-interview on his film and the allure of beauty.
Why a documentary about beauty?
I was a model for 16 years and worked in New York, Paris and Milan. As a model, I witnessed a lot of crazy things and always wanted to make a documentary about the industry. I found the beauty business to be fascinating, narcissistic, thrilling, sometimes vacuous and often heartbreaking.
Were there challenges with making this film?
I found that the models were surprisingly forthcoming with their thoughts and comments. Most bared their souls and wanted their voices to be heard. Ironically, what the subjects in the film were most concerned about was the way they "looked" and I am not just talking about the models. Doctors, agents, photographers, make up artists, psychologists all wanted to know how they looked on camera. Most everyone is insecure when it comes to their appearance.WATCH the "Chasing Beauty" trailer below:
Standards of beauty have changed over time. Voluptuous women reigned in the Renaissance era and just a decade ago, blondes had more fun. Why is being uber thin equated with beauty and the “Euro Asian” look (as termed in the film) preferred today?
Yes, standards of beauty do change. In the Renaissance era fuller-figured women were more desirable. Right now, thin is in but it often comes with a price. How can these 5'11" girls stay a size 0 or 2 and still be healthy? Several models have literally starved themselves to death. Models sometimes do very unattractive things to stay thin – drugs, smoking, laxatives, purging, etc.
But I do feel change is coming. Israel has now placed a law that models must have a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 18.5 to prove they are not malnourished. Now there are top models like Kate Upton and Lara Stone who are voluptuous for sure. The models who seem most in demand are "ethnically ambiguous" or "multi-cultural." I believe the look of a model continues to change much like the style of clothes. Male models tend to be metro right now and uber skinny.
W magazine’s beauty director Jane Larkworthy stated in the film, “Beauty today is about being yourself.” Do you believe the magazine industry adheres to this philosophy?
I think being yourself makes you happier which does make you more beautiful.
I wrote an article about celebrities replacing models and your film touched upon this topic. Do you believe models will become extinct and replaced by celebrities?
Not forever. We are going through a phase where being a celebrity reigns supreme, even if it's for only 15 minutes. It is not only actors who have replaced models on the covers of magazines, but reality stars as well.
Why do you believe companies are choosing celebrities rather than models to be the face of their brands?
[Money], plain and simple. The companies do the research and celebrities sell magazines. The numbers don't lie. When celebrities quit selling magazines, you will see the change. This is why there are very few supermodels these days. In the 90's people knew the names: Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, Linda Evangelista, Cindy Crawford and Kate Moss. When I ask the young girls today who their favorite model is they will say Heidi Klum or Tyra Banks because they see them on television. Young girls don't know the top models today like Natalya Vodianova, Karlie Kloss, Chanel Iman, Lara Stone or Joan Smalls.
Beauty is so highly coveted in the fashion industry. Should it just be about the fashion?
I think it is one in the same. Fashion should be about beauty. Fashion is however more subjective than physical beauty.
Your documentary featured former supermodels as well as aspiring models. Whose story resonated with you most?
Honestly, both stories resonate with me. I know what it’s like to be starting out, facing rejection after rejection. Aspiring models face more rejection in a month then most people face in a lifetime. It is hard not to take it personally, especially when you're only 15 years old. Sometimes it leaves emotional scars for life. There also comes a time in every model's life when the phone slowly stops ringing. Someone younger has taken your place. That's a tough pill to swallow and as Paulina Porizkova said, "Nothing ages worse then a beautiful woman's ego." France seems to accept aging better than we do in the United States.
Director Brent Huff on location filming "Chasing Beauty."
After making this film, what words of advice or encouragement do you have for aspiring models looking for fame and fortune between the pages of a magazine?
Look in magazines and try to be honest with yourself. Do you have "the look?" Do people stop you on the street and say, "You look like a model?" A very pretty girl who is a pageant or homecoming queen doesn't usually become a fashion model. There is also other types of modeling you can look into if you don't fit the physical mold of a fashion, runway or haute couture model. There are lifestyle models, fit models, plus sized models, etc. Remember, almost every image of a model you see in fashion magazines has been photo-shopped. Nobody looks that perfect.
There was a quote in your film from Audrey Hepburn: “Happy Girls are the prettiest girls.” Would you say the girls are happy because they are pretty or pretty because they are happy?
Being pretty doesn't make you happy. There is a very high rate of suicide among male models if that tells you something. Tragic but true. Being happy makes everyone more beautiful and attractive.
What do you hope viewers take away from the film?
Being beautiful has its pros and cons. There are advantages definitely but there are drawbacks as well. Don't put all your eggs in the beauty basket because it is a very slippery slope. Let's face it, people don't mind watching beautiful, rich or famous people fail.
Describe your documentary in three words.
Models, fantasy, and reality.
Do you have other projects in the works?
I just finished a documentary film about teenage prescription drug abuse in this country entitled, “Behind the Orange Curtain.” Teens are dying in record numbers due to the prescription drug epidemic. Everyone should wake up because the problem is here. You can read more about the film at behindtheorangecurtain.net.
In which cities is “Chasing Beauty” playing?
Dallas, Chicago, Atlanta and Houston.
If you were a Chic Spy Agent, what would be your code name?
Exclusive. It is a name that should never be heard or seen.
The Chic Spy
(Images courtesy of Brent Huff)