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Beauty’s Inside Story

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Beauty’s Inside Story

From magazine cover to analyst’s couch.
Jill  Muir-Sukenick Ph.D.
Jill Muir-Sukenick Ph.D. More by this author
May 21, 2011 at 10:00 AM

Going from a modeling career to the world of psychotherapy could hardly present a sharper contrast. In the former, it’s all about striving for unreal beauty, smiling for the camera and looking happy. In the latter, it’s about striving for authenticity and smiling only if you feel happy. Shifting the focus from the external to the internal is the very journey Dr. Jill Muir-Sukenick and I have taken and it has culminated in the writing of a book entitled Face It: What Women Really Feel as Their Looks Change.

Our joint venture began in 1988 when our husbands, former college buddies, by chance ran into each other. As they reminisced, we realized we had a lot in common. We had both modeled in the '70s, during the heyday of high fashion. Jill was represented by Ford and I, by Wilhelmina. We had some great experiences, traveling around the world, meeting interesting people and making enough money to support our education. In the back of our minds, we both knew modeling would serve as a transition from one career to another, but we made the most of the experience until we both decided to go back to school and pursue degrees in psychology.

We didn’t know each other while modeling, but the day we met we talked about what a challenge bridging these two worlds had been. Jill and I laughed as we recalled bringing our text books to photo shoots, only to be told by our agents to leave them behind so as not to appear too “brainy” to book jobs. We also remembered how we rushed from these shoots to our graduate classes, making sure to wash off our makeup and hide our portfolios. We wanted to come across as focused on intellectual pursuits, not on “superficial” vanity. In a magnified, exaggerated way, we were facing the conflicting cultural messages many women experience about their looks at some point in their lives. Can we be ambitious and smart, but care about our appearance? Do looks matter? Should they? Is there such a thing as narcissistic feminism? Feminist narcissism?

Over the last twenty years, Dr. Sukenick and I have studied the complicated feelings women have about their appearance. We realized we had a unique vantage point from which to study beauty from two very different perspectives. We became especially interested in understanding what women really felt when they reached the age when looks inevitably start to change. We used data, both from our own experiences, going from in front of the camera to behind the couch, and those of women we saw in our practices. We wanted to learn why some are able to accept their changing looks, move on and still feel attractive, and why so many others have such a difficult time. We realized if we could identify the psychological process used by women who felt good about themselves as they aged, we could create a guide that would help other women.  Our book Face It is that guide. It provides a six-step psychological process that helps women look and feel great at any age. The process is neither easy nor painless, but like any effort put toward internal change, the results are more often satisfying and long-lasting. Internal change leads to external change, to a beauty both inside and out. 

About Author
Jill  Muir-Sukenick Ph.D.
Jill Muir-Sukenick, Ph.D., a psychoanalytic psychotherapist in New York City, is a former Ford model who also did television and film work. Muir-Sukenick, who received her Ph.D. from NYU, often treats models in her private practice. She has been a Continue reading