Modeling, glamour and cults is “Chasing Beauty” in a nutshell. It gives a behind-the-scenes look at the industry, society’s fixation on attractiveness and what beauty is through interviews with supermodels, fashion photographers, psychologists and more.
The pacing is grabbing from the get go and starts with a crazy statistic that 23 percent of young American women would rather lose their ability to read than their figures.
“Beauty is like money, it’s a currency,” says former model Kelly Andersen, and writer/director Brent Huff addresses our culture’s fascination with youth and beauty and how that’s reinforced to young women through television and film.
Budding models ages 5 to 21 are interviewed amid mildly disturbing footage of kids practicing their catwalks, and we follow an L.A.-bound woman from the Midwest and a high school football star who’s trying to make it as a shirtless Abercrombie and Fitch greeter.
Following them through rejection and resilience is difficult, and the industry is painted as all-business, cold and unforgiving.
Director Huff breaks down how we view beauty as a society through facial imaging analysis, how the most exquisite men and women are Photoshopped 100 percent of the time and the high standard of beauty today.
One modeling agent says fashion designers dictate sizes, which is more important than weight. Eating disorders are showcased, and the same modeling agent said a tell-tale sign a model is bulimic is she orders ice cream after a meal - it pads the burn of purging afterward.
“Chasing Beauty” spares no gory details of model insecurities. The most intriguing, and most distracting, segment is its look at first male supermodel Hoyt Richards’ 20-year involvement with a cult.
This felt like a serious sidestep, but it showed cult leaders actively preyed on models as a result of their insecurities, need for positive reinforcement and wealth. This was way too interesting of an insight into modeling that could’ve been a documentary in itself, and here, this film didn’t do this subject justice.
On the plus side, serious props for its view on beauty as a whole.
Modeling scouts and stylists admonish plastic surgery, and “Chasing Beauty” ends with industry heads reflecting on what beauty is.
“To me, a lot of beauty is from within,” says modeling agent Marion Smith, and stylist Brandon Sapin says beauty is “an attitude. It’s an air of confidence. It’s an aura.”
A Beverly Hills plastic surgeon says beauty is just a physical feature.
“We can change it, but the one thing I can’t change is your attitude about yourself,” says Dr. David Sayah. And male model Richards says he considers someone’s spirit and innate kindness more attractive than looks.
“Chasing Beauty” is a well-done documentary that covers a lot of ground, and true to its tagline, it “shows the ugly side of being pretty” - and for me, staring into ugliness has never been more captivating.
Available: Amazon Prime, Netflix Instant.
IndieWatch is a weekly review of independent film and documentaries.