Paulina Porizkova, NO FILTER: The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful

Paulina Porizkova, NO FILTER: The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful

Zibby is joined by actress, writer, and former supermodel (oh, and palm reader!) Paulina Porizkova to discuss her poignant and heartfelt collection of essays No Filter: The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful. The two discuss their experiences with fierce vulnerability – grief, beauty, and aging. Paulina also shares details of her turbulent childhood in Russian-occupied Czechoslovakia, and how trauma from that time still infiltrates her personal life today. Watch Paulina and Zibby at their Live Talks Los Angeles event on Tuesday, December 6th at 9 pm ET!


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Paulina. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss your absolutely beautiful book, No Filter: The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful.

Paulina Porizkova: Hello. Thank you for having me. So pleased to be here.

Zibby: I literally dogeared — I don’t know if you can see this — every other page. You had so many poignant, really heartfelt moments. You left nothing on the table. You were so open. I learned so much about you and your loss and grief and heartbreak and all the rest. I just wanted to say thank you. I know in the back you said you wrote it in three months or something crazy.

Paulina: I did write it in three months.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. Tell me the whole genesis of this project and everything else.

Paulina: First of all, thank you. Thank you for reading it. I don’t know how I can thank you for liking it because it wouldn’t really be your fault if you didn’t, but thank you anyway. I so appreciate it. Obviously, when we write a book, it’s pouring out your insides to the outside. The reception thereof, it works differently than judging you from the outside and going, well, you’re too old. You’re not pretty enough. You’re not tall enough. You’re too fat, or whatever. It’s got so much more weight when it’s your insides that you’re letting the outside world see. How this book came about, it was actually, Maria Shriver contacted me kind of out of the blue. I didn’t know her. Of course, I know who Maria Shriver is, but I didn’t really know her personally. She contacted me because she followed me on Instagram. She said, “Hey, how would you feel about writing a book for me, for my new imprint?” She has an imprint called The Open Field where she publishes only a few books a year with a few — I don’t have the exact number. She wants to publish books that will make the world a better place. I had gotten twenty agents contacting me and asking me for a memoir tell-all. I was like, that’s never going to happen. I’m not old enough to write a tell-all. Thank you very much.

Maria approached it with, “I would like you to do it the way that you do your Instagram. Write about the stuff that you write about on Instagram, about beauty, about grief, about your perspective as a middle-aged woman and starting over.” That got me really inspired. I thought, that, I can do. Oh, my god, that could be really fun. Then I went into the jungle to join a reality TV show where I had no food and no sleep and completely wrecked my already-not-great hips. When I came back, it was right before Christmas, right before December. I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t walk up stairs. I was so screwed from this physical experience. Then Maria came in and said, “Do you want to sign the contract? Can you deliver March 1st?” which gave me exactly three months to finish the book. I thought, well, I’m not able to walk or do anything else, so yes. I also can’t refuse a challenge. I think I have a problem. If you challenge me, I will do any challenge that I’m faced with. I took it on and did it. I had no days off. I woke up, and I wrote until my brain turned off, and sometimes in the late afternoon or early evening, for three months straight. No breaks, no weekends, nothing. Just wrote. There you have it. That’s the story of how I wrote my book.

Zibby: What was it like revisiting — there are a lot of chapters or short essays in here that are just so emotional. You talk so much about what it was like to lose your husband from whom you had been separated, what happened after, the very public cutting out of you of his will and how you had to deal with that, not to mention the private pain, but also the public issues that come with being a public figure. I just imagine some of these chapters, you must have been sitting there with tears pouring down your face. Were you? Is that just my imagination?

Paulina: You know what? That’s a really good question. No, I don’t think I was writing anything with tears pouring down my face. I think this is true for a lot of authors; it’s that you take the events from the outside and you pull them in. You sort of have to marinate them. They have to turn into fertilizer inside you. I had been in the process of converting all this external information that changed my life and had me starting up from zero, basically, for two and a half years when I sat down to write the book. The events, they had become done. I had processed them. Now I just had to put them on paper and try to be as honest as I could because I wanted you to be able to share my experience with me. It is the whole point of my writing, whether I’m writing for Instagram or whether I’m writing an article or whether I’m writing a book. I want to pull you in with me. I want to pull you into my brain with me. Then the challenge was really just the actual words and the actual metaphor and the simile. Am I describing this the way where I feel like I can reach you? It wasn’t until I was recording the audio version of it, which was a week ago, where I actually got to read — I read the book out loud anyway because that’s what you do, make sure that everything flows right. I sat down to actually read the finished work. It was with the emotions that I wrote it with. That’s when I started choking up, when I was reading. Then I thought to myself, kind of patted myself on the head and went, yeah. When I’m reading it and I have to catch myself because I’m having a hard time breathing and tears are welling up, then I accessed the emotion that I’m meant to access. That was really a long answer to your short question.

Zibby: That’s okay. It’s totally fine. Actually, it goes with what you say in the book about how you got through grief and heartbreak to begin with, which is by analyzing it. That was your only way, was to somehow set it apart, intellectualize it, see it. Then you were able to take your first steps through it.

Paulina: Exactly. You might be the first person that actually spotted that, that got that. It’s absolutely accurate. There was no other way to do things.

Zibby: The way you wrote about grief — I, like many other people, have been through grief myself, and so I feel like I’m particularly attuned to how other people experience it and ways that they write about it. I love to read about it. I’m a glutton for punishment. Hold on, I want to find the passage that was particularly beautiful. Although, so much was. Oh, no, I hope I can find it right now. Here, let me read this. Is it okay if I read a paragraph or two?

Paulina: You have no idea how thrilled I am.

Zibby: You probably relate to this. You said, “I read every book on heartbreak I could find. All the books advised me to distract myself. Take dance classes. Travel. Go out with your friends, but none of those things were possible now that a pandemic had shut down the world. My friends and family had already borne a year of my grief, and they were also isolated and unhappy. Calling them to cry again seemed selfish. Everyone was suffering. People were dying. My heartbreak had all the importance of a summer cold, but that didn’t make it hurt any less. There were only two pieces of wisdom from all the books that I really found helpful. One advised me to change my ex-boyfriend’s name on my phone, so he became Mr. Emotionally Unavailable. The second was from a Buddhist book that advised me to allow myself to give into my pain and physically trace it. Where does it start? How does it feel? Observing the pain gave me respite from thinking about the cause of the pain. I noticed that the pain formed in my chest and radiated up my throat into the back of my mouth and my nose to spill over into my eyeballs. While the physical pain of grief feels like a tall, strong, cold person gripping you from behind, arms crossed over your chest and forcing your air out, the pain of heartbreak is more immediate. It is someone plunging their hand into your chest, taking ahold of your heart and crushing it between their fingers.” Wow, that is powerful stuff.

Paulina: Right now, I’m welling up with tears, which seems kind of inappropriate to you reading my words. I’m sorry.

Zibby: No, don’t be silly.

Paulina: I was still hurting so badly when I wrote that. The fact that there’s one person in the world whom that resonates with is such a gift. I’m going to start crying. What a gift that is. Thank you.

Zibby: So much of this resonated with me. So much will resonate with so many other people. In addition to all of the really deeply emotional stuff that you have in here, you also gave me a really interesting look at what your early life and what life in Czechoslovakia was like. Your chapter, Occupation, which comes later in the book, I found absolutely fascinating. You talk about being a young girl in Czechoslovakia and also, by the way, your whole thing where you became this well-known girl trying to flee and go to Sweden. Oh, my gosh, what a crazy upbringing you’ve had. You tell us all about what it’s like living in this communist country and being afraid to turn in your parents when they say something anti-Russian and living with that fear. Then how you extrapolate that onto your relationships and how this feeling of occupation actually makes you feel secure because it’s so familiar and what that does to your relationships, talk about that.

Paulina: Wow. You know what? It’s funny because this essay poured out of me when I was — I had gone to Israel for a wedding while writing every day. This is when Ukraine was invaded by Russia. When I heard that news, it does things to you. It’s like my life kind of coming back to me and then looking at the Ukrainians and going, oh, my god, it’s happening again. That, I didn’t foresee was going to happen in my lifetime again. It just brought all this up. It brought all these feelings and all of that up. I wrote it just as occupation of the soul and the mind and how dangerous propaganda is and what the real danger of occupations are. The end, where I circled around to relationships and occupation, that was the very last little bit. I was finished with the essay. It was my editor and my reader, Kerry Egan, who read it and she said, “Is there something more? I feel like there’s something more to it. There’s something more. Think about it for a second.” Then it just clicked in my mind. I went, oh, my god, this is how it ties into the rest of my life and also my book. Funnily enough, my friend Ann Patchett, who was kind enough to give me a really awesome blurb, that was her favorite essay. She said, “The way you circled around to that just blew my mind.” It was accidental, like most things in my life, completely unpremeditated. You leave yourself open and vulnerable. Things come out, and especially when you have the benefit somebody prodding you a little bit and going, think about it a little more. What else do you think? What else is there? It’s kind of like therapy, isn’t it?

Zibby: I was going to say, I want your editor to talk to me for fifty minutes a week or something.

Paulina: Truly. She actually did a lot of that during this book. Because I was on such a short timeline, I needed somebody to read this stuff and go, this sucks. This is good. Go this way. Do not go this way. Back to the occupation part, when I wrote those words, I didn’t even know how true they were. I literally caught myself maybe yesterday — again, I’m out there dating and doing all of this stuff again and realizing how vulnerable I am to love bombing. You know that term, love bombing?

Zibby: Yes.

Paulina: I was like, oh, damn. I fall for it every time. That hooks back into this sense of being safe. I take you. I claim you. You’re now mine. That, to me, still represents safety, or represented. Emotionally, it still does. Logically, I’m looking at it from the outside going, be careful. Be careful because you’re going back into that same groove that is actually dangerous. That is not what you want. I’m still struggling with it. Logically, I know all this stuff. Emotionally, I’m still trying to get stronger.

Zibby: That’s the way it always goes. At least you got through the first part. Here’s my question. Do you read palms over Zoom?

Paulina: No, sorry. I can’t see them well enough.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. I was like, I wonder if she could tell me. For context for people listening, you read palms. Even though it’s not the way it goes, necessarily, in guidebooks, you have your own system. You had someone who you told might not live that long and then died the next day in a car crash. By the way, you should’ve seen me in bed reading your book being like, I can’t believe that that happened. That’s a gift too. Do you still do that? Do you still read people’s palms?

Paulina: I still do that, and especially if it’s somebody — I’m happy to do it for anybody if there’s time and if the place is right. I don’t think I could find a partner without first checking their hands at this point, which is a little embarrassing. Again, like I say in my book, I’m not even sure how much I believe it or how much faith I put into it. I am aware that this is one of these faith-guided things. It’s not science, for sure. How much verity do I want to give this? Unfortunately, it hasn’t failed me in the past. I wish it had so that I would be a little bit more on the fence about it. Instead, the more I read, the more I think, damn, it seems to be accurate. It seems to work.

Zibby: Maybe you could somehow tie that into your book tour, book tour and readings.

Paulina: That would take a really long time.

Zibby: That would be a long signing line. I would be remiss without discussing beauty and aging a little bit. As an aging middle-aged woman — we’re all aging, but of course, this is very top of mind. In your chapter when you were describing all the lasers and how you were in your jammies with your big glasses for the UPS guy or whatever, you’re like, why do I do this? Why am I subjecting myself to this? By the way, your skin looks amazing. Whatever you did clearly worked.

Paulina: Thank you. There’s nothing more important than good light.

Zibby: You have, literally, the siren call for women aging in the back of this book. If anyone is ever feeling worried or sad or discouraged about their changing body, you have several pages literally as if you were talking to me or to anyone. There’s a reason. Your laugh lines are to be celebrated. It was a beautiful, beautiful, powerful mandate to appreciate age and what it does to our bodies. Tell me about your views on that.

Paulina: Oh, god. It’s so funny because I have so many, and mostly because I’m still also in the process of battling with it. I’m not done learning here either. I was actually just trying to write a post about it for Instagram today. Obviously, in the book, I’m talking about how, and I really do feel this, that you really feel the objectification of women in how we’re not allowed to age, looking-wise, how we’re not supposed to look older. That’s being objectified as a piece of art or as a thing because nature is forever changing. Nature, which is what we are, is dismissed. We are being objectified. We are not allowed to change. Although, the change is nothing but natural. That change is not celebrated. It’s frowned upon. That’s always in the back of my mind. It’s like, but this is a natural process. What would happen if we celebrated that process instead of put it down? What if we, instead of trying to hide it, were highlighting it? All of this stuff. Then of course, there are so many conflicting pieces of information in society where, at the same time, women that want to feel better about themselves and want to feel more confident do things like I do too, lasers. Some do Botox and fillers and facelifts and whatever to stave off the aging process. I used to be very judgmental of it when I was younger because I was younger and I was an idiot, truly.

Now that I’m fifty-seven, I’m like, oh, I see. I see what is going on here. It’s a desire for us not to be dismissed from the main table because of the way we look. By purchasing a little bit more youth, we get to stay around and get heard and be seen. Who is okay with being dismissed? As a woman, you’re kind of screwed both ways, aren’t you? If you do interventions, then you’re not embracing your inner beauty and your confidence as a woman. You’re setting back all the other women that are trying to. If you’re aging naturally, then you get dismissed from the table. Then you have to become a loudmouth. Then you have to stomp and yell and go, hey, attention over here. You can’t win either way. That’s society. That’s history. That’s culture. There’s so many things involved in that that sometimes I feel like — I was something called an agist advocate. Then I think, yeah, but I’m just one person. I can’t change the entire view of our society by myself here, and so I will cave. I do have little holes burned around my eyes in hopes to grow a little more collagen. I go and do whatever lasers that are on offer that promise me slightly smoother skin in the hopes of not being dismissed so easily. I can’t tell you where I’m at with that. Still, I’m in the middle of that seesaw going, um, this way? This way? This way? I have no idea.

I look to other women for inspiration. I find that I get inspired by women that are unapologetic about whatever choice they make, whether they choose not to age, be unapologetic about that. I also admire the honesty that goes with it when they say, yeah, I’ve had tons of stuff done. This is what I’ve done so that you can know. If you want to look like this, this is what you can do. I really appreciate that sharing. I get a little discouraged when somebody is my age and looks twenty years younger and they tell me that it’s water and yoga. I’m like, no, it’s not. You’re keeping it for yourself, which they have all the right in the world to do too, by the way, to keep it private, to keep it to themselves. It’s just, as a woman, I appreciate that sisterhood reaching out and sharing. I want to be that sister. I want to be the one that shares. Then the other unapologetic one is just taking the age on and going, this is who I am. This is what I look like. Screw you if you don’t like it. That’s what I’m striving for right now. It’s not so much the looks part as it is being unapologetic about who you are, fully accepting yourself and putting it out there and going, this is me. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to look at me. It’s okay. You don’t have to listen to me. It’s all right.

Zibby: Avert your eyes.

Paulina: It’s easy. You just go like this.

Zibby: I also really like to share openly about my feelings on Instagram. I posted this weekend about how I just feel like my aging has become something very much that I cannot ignore. Not just that, but I have a sedentary lifestyle now that I’m running this business and doing all this stuff, and so I’ve put on weight. I feel like at this age, it’s so much harder, and the hormones. I said it in a nice way.

Paulina: I have to look that up.

Zibby: Go check it out. I was blown away by the comments of how desperate women are for someone to talk just like people are for you. People really need role models for getting older and people voicing it and not being ashamed to discuss it. It’s happening to everyone. We can ignore it, but there are all these forces at work. If we can’t talk about it and share that it’s a challenge — no matter what, we have to decide what course we’re on, like what you were saying, either/or on the seesaw. I either have to rush back and get my highlights done or not. I find myself all the time being like, okay, so you chose to go gray. Talk to me about that. People I barely know. All to say, I feel like, obviously, you’ve seen from all of your beautiful posting and your book and everything, and my little dabble into it, the chord, the very raw nerve that this hits with women of a certain age.

Paulina: Because it’s kind of a miserable place to be. There is a weird expectation that you cease to exist at a certain age. What women over their fertility-bearing years do seems to be of no significance to anybody. That’s the strangest thing.

Zibby: Yet it’s actually the most amazing, fruitful time of a woman’s life. You have not as many responsibilities. You have all this wisdom and power and intellect. It’s like, watch out, world. People are looking the wrong way.

Paulina: Unquestionably. I agree. Maybe in part, it is that we get more and more powerful. We are no longer the minder of the family and the moms. We no longer define ourselves through providing and nurturing somebody else. Finally, you get you back. You have learned all of this stuff. At the very least, you have some pretty damn good organizational skills, right?

Zibby: Yes.

Paulina: I think maybe it’s easier for the world to dismiss us so that we don’t become too powerful. We are dismissed on the basis of our looks, unlike men, not on the basis of our knowledge or power or everything else that we are. It’s our looks that will have us pushed away. It’s our looks that make us invisible. It’s almost starting to seem like it’s intentional because there is nothing as strong as a confident, seasoned woman.

Zibby: Case in point. Look at you.

Paulina: I’m still working on it.

Zibby: Paulina, this has been so much fun. I wish I could talk to you all day and go shop for wallpaper together. You could read my palms. We could hang out and talk about aging.

Paulina: Zibby, where do you live?

Zibby: I’m on the Upper East Side. I’m here in New York.

Paulina: You’re a New Yorker. It’s actually in the cards.

Zibby: It’s in the cards.

Paulina: You and I can actually hook up. I can actually read your hands.

Zibby: I would love that. I would love it, really.

Paulina: Awesome. You know what? I’m totally in the market — I was going to say for new friends. I have all the freedom in the world now to meet new people and form new contacts and friendships. It’s the greatest thing about life.

Zibby: Yes, I agree. Let’s do it.

Paulina: Let’s do it. A girl who reads, a lady who reads…

Zibby: I wrote a memoir too, by the way. We could talk about that.

Paulina: I’m going to read it. Then we can talk about it. Fantastic. I’m going to purchase. Thank you so much. What a pleasure.

Zibby: Thank you so much. Honestly, you never know what you get when you open a book, and this was just such a gift. It really was. It hit me at just the right time. That’s the greatest thing about books, when you really find your people.

Paulina: You have no idea how — I’m going to float on clouds for the rest of the day. Thank you.

Zibby: Oh, good. Have a great day. Hope to see you soon.

Paulina: Thank you. You too. Bye.

Zibby: Bye.

NO FILTER: The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful by Paulina Porizkova

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