Demand Grows For Older Models

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There's been a sea change in the fashion industry — the rise of models over age 40. Lara Harris, a "classic" model" who put her second career as a psychotherapist on hold to return to modeling, speaks to host Andrea Seabrook.

ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Andrea Seabrook.

Your average runway fashion model these days is close to six-feet tall, slender and in her teens. Model Lara Harris fit this description at one point, but by her 30s, Lara Harris thought her modeling career was over.

So she left New York for Los Angeles, did a little acting, went back to school and got a graduate degree in counseling. A new career in psychotherapy beckoned.

Now in her 40s, Lara Harris has been lured back into modeling with the promise that the industry has a place for older women these days.

Ms. LARA HARRIS (Model): I was doing my graduate work, and I finished my thesis, and I came to New York to play for a weekend, and I saw a former agent of mine, who told me there was a lot of work for me.

SEABROOK: Were you surprised, given the fact that you're older than your average model these days?

Ms. HARRIS: Well, I did know that there was a new market for women. Some people say it's women over the age of 25, some say it's women over the age of 35, I've heard it's women over the age of 40, but in any of these cases, the shelf-life of modeling has been dramatically extended, and I knew that, but I didn't know that I would receive such a warm welcome back.

SEABROOK: So can I ask how old you are now?

Ms. HARRIS: I think it's important to keep secrets. As an actress, it's a question that's often never answered or is lied about, and then as a model, if the answer gets me the job, I will tell you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEABROOK: Let's back up a little bit. Why do you think that there is this new market for older models?

Ms. HARRIS: Well, I think primarily it has to do with women in the workforce. I mean, they have buying power, and they want to see themselves reflected in the ad campaigns, in the catalogues and the magazines that they read.

I can remember when I was 20 years old in New York and doing an advertisement for a Mother's Day ad, and I was the mother, and I can remember doing a recent ad for Mother's Day, and I was the mother. So I think both examples still exist, but today there's more willingness to use a woman who might actually be the age of a mother rather than dressing up and sort of sophisticating an 18-year-old young girl to look like a 35-year-old woman.

SEABROOK: Do you approach modeling differently now that you're older?

Ms. HARRIS: Yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HARRIS: Well, there's - I have no expectation of myself, and I don't think any of my clients do, either, that I would be perfect, and I think when one's younger, there's a feeling that you almost could be, you know, exactly what shows up in the picture, and I think as one gets older, there's just more sense of one's frailty or imperfection or what's not working, and…

SEABROOK: You still seem pretty sensitive about your age. I mean, you won't tell us how old you are because you sort of alluded to the fact that it affects your career if people know how old you are.

Ms. HARRIS: I don't think it really affects my modeling career as much as it might affect my acting career.

SEABROOK: Would you say that the modeling industry, based in New York, is more open to older faces in women than the movie and television industry, based in L.A.?

Ms. HARRIS: Yes, I would. It does seem to me that there is a very refreshing approach to women and aging and what makes a woman attractive here in New York, and in modeling, my agent has talked about how they don't want you to have plastic surgery. They don't want you to do things that are going to make you appear younger than what you are, where as we know in Hollywood, that's pretty rampant.

SEABROOK: Why don't they want you to do that in modeling?

Ms. HARRIS: I think it takes away expression, and I think expression is part of what makes a photograph.

SEABROOK: So what do you think the cutoff is now? What do you think is too old for you to model now?

Ms. HARRIS: Looking at the industry right now, I'd say 60 to 65, although Carmen(ph), the absolutely flawless older model, I think is around 70. So there really are no limits.

SEABROOK: Lara Harris was a model, then studied to be a psychotherapist, and now she's a model again. She joined me from NPR's New York bureau. Look for Lara Harris on magazine covers soon.

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