Every woman wanted to look like them. Every man wanted to date them. They're the supermodels—the "it" girls—of the '70s, '80s and '90s who graced the covers of hundreds of magazines, strutted down the catwalk and took over your television.
California surfer girl Christie Brinkley was 18 years old and studying art in Paris when a photographer spotted her. "I dreamed of being an artiste in Paris, and I thought that modeling was just for people who couldn't do anything else," Christie says. "But I did love looking at the magazines and kind of thinking, 'What would that be like?'"
Christie says the man asked her to come to his studio and pose for photographs, but she shrugged off his offer at first. "I was like, 'Yeah, right. I'm [not] going to fall for that,'" she says.
Then, a few days later, a friend of Christie's explained the man was, indeed, a noted photographer. "Out of curiosity, I thought, 'Well, let me go check it out,'" she says. "I swung by my house, and grabbed a couple hats and things so I could change my look."
The photographer took a few snapshots of this California girl, and the rest is history. The photos landed on the desk of a modeling scout, and within months, Christie was the face of everything from Chanel perfume to Prell shampoo.
In the 1970s, Christie's fresh face made her the new beauty standard. Since then, she's been the face of Cover Girl for 30 years and has graced more than 500 magazine covers.
But, beyond the dazzling smile, Christie's had her share of heartache. In 2008, Christie's fourth marriage to Peter Cook ended in a much-publicized, painful divorce. Now, she says she's learned her lesson. "I'm way too trusting," she says.
Although she still believes in love, she doesn't see another marriage in her future. "Marriage is to try to formalize a lot of things for the sake of the kids," Christie says. "My kids are growing up now, and that's not necessary."
At 57, Christie is an activist, artist, actress, the proud mother of three and a cover girl who's more creative than ever.
During her modeling days, Christie says she used to sketch in her journal. Today, she paints, sculpts and creates artwork from her Hamptons home. "I have to be creating all the time," Christie says.
Christie says a vegetarian diet and the way she takes care of herself physically, spiritually and emotionally helps her look fantastic at 57. "Plus, great genes; my mom, at 80, is gorgeous," she says. What else does every woman need? "A great dermatologist."
Stephanie Seymour's been called a "supermodel among supermodels." This Victoria's Secret angel is famous for taking lingerie out of the bedroom and onto the runway. It all started when she was a young girl who "worshiped Brooke Shields."
"I wanted to be Brooke Shields," Stephanie says. "And my mother was an aspiring photographer, so I was, of course, the only one who would sit still long enough for her to get things in focus, and I loved doing that."
But don't let her photos fool you. In reality, Stephanie says she's shy, and when the camera starts clicking, she has to transform herself. "I decide what character I am," she says. "I allow myself to become another person. Because if I'm just Stephanie, I'm not comfortable. When I have to jump and do all these things, I feel so silly, but if you become someone else, it's okay."
Looking back on her early fame, Stephanie says her success could have been dangerous. "I, luckily, came from a very middle class, very grounded family, but I don't think it's healthy because you're really a child suddenly with a lot of money and a lot of attention and you're flying all over the world," she says. "It's a lot to take in. So you just try to keep your feet on the ground."
Fabulous at 42, Stephanie is the mother of four children, ranging in age from 6 to 21 years old. "I always wanted to be a mommy," she says.
For the past few years, however, Stephanie's personal life has been tabloid fodder. She and her husband, Peter Brant, were in the throes of what seemed to be a bitter divorce, complete with name-calling and ugly accusations, until they recently decided to reconcile. "I had an epiphany," Stephanie says. "[I] went to my husband's house with a sort of peace offering. ... I just said to him, 'We both love our children too much to let this go on any further.' Most of what's said in the press really is nonsense, and we just decided then and there to reconcile and work things out between the two of us."
Stephanie also got bloggers buzzing recently when a photographer snapped a private moment Stephanie shared with her 17-year-old son, Peter. While on vacation in St. Barths, Stephanie and Peter embraced on the beach, and a writer described the moment as "strangely intimate."
Stephanie says the media's response is a misinterpretation. "I've gone through a lot in the past two years, and I gained a lot of weight, and it really upset me. So I spent two days indoors, and when I came out and finally decided to just go outside, my son was so happy to see me," she says. "He was wooing me and gave me a big hug and a kiss, and we had no idea that that one second would be turned into something that could ever be thought of as [inappropriate]. He's my baby. He's a gorgeous young man, but he's my baby."
Beverly Johnson revolutionized modeling when she became the first African-American woman to grace the cover of Vogue magazine. This achievement meant so much to Beverly because for her, Vogue is "the bible of the fashion industry." Oprah remembers Beverly's cover as a "major deal" for African Americans. "It meant possibility. It meant movement. It meant hope," Oprah says.
Funny thing was, when Beverly shot the cover, she says she didn't realize she was making history. "Not until the press started calling," Beverly says. "It was such a huge responsibility for a 22 or whatever-I-was-year-old woman. I just wanted to be a model."
Being a young "it" girl had its dangers too. When Beverly was starting out, she says she had issues with body image. At one point, this 5'9'' model weighed just 103 pounds. "Everybody kept saying how fabulous I looked and how chiseled to the bone and gorgeous [I was]," Beverly says.
Beverly's mother set her straight about her weight. "It wasn't until my mom dragged me out of the bathtub and took me in front of this three-way mirror that she had in her room that I went, 'Oh,'" Beverly says. "My bones were sticking out in the back."
At 25, Beverly says she also suffered from a midlife crisis and worried that her career would soon come to an end. "At that time, the careers were five, six years, and you were in and out, and that was scary—not knowing what you were going to do after this," she says. But, Beverly pushed past her fears and became stronger. "I always feel like it was one of my things that made me grow up and made me try to start developing other parts of myself," she says.
Now she's a fierce 59, but Beverly worries she may have spent too much time focusing on her modeling career. "Early on as a model, I really was just concentrating on this physical appearance and a lot of other things got stunted," she says. "Mentally. Spiritually. Emotionally. ... I think that I made a concerted effort to try to catch up." Today, Beverly's working on starting a business and exercising the aspects of her personality she put on hold for a while.
It's also Beverly's mission to be a voice for domestic violence survivors. "I am a victim of domestic violence," she says. "I just think we've become so desensitized towards women being beaten and abused and murdered that everybody just thinks it's okay, and it's not."
Cheryl Tiegs became well-known with a sexy photo in Sports Illustrated in the '70s. "I still get fan mail wanting me to sign that particular picture; I don't know why," Cheryl says. "I don't know why it's so racy, sexy. It's just a simple shot."
Soon after donning her famous swimsuit, Cheryl became a household name in 1978 when Time magazine named her the "All-American model." "That completely changed my life," she says. "It was a huge seller and everybody became my friend in America, and I kind of liked that because I would walk down the streets and people would say, 'Hi, Cheryl. How are you doing?' I just thought, 'Oh my God, my world has changed.' All of a sudden, I've got all these friends."
"[The magazine] made you a real person and not just a stick figure model," Oprah says to Cheryl.
Cheryl eventually stopped modeling and launched a design career. "I thought, in modeling, I was always in competition with myself," she says. "Not with other girls."
When Cheryl reflects on her modeling experience, she says it's a lot different than the world of fashion today. "I don't know if it's harder or better or worse, but when I did Sports Illustrated, there would be the editor and the photographer and me and a suitcase full of bathing suits. We'd go off to a pretty beach and take pictures," Cheryl says. "[Today] the makeup artists have assistants and hairdressers have assistants. ... There are about 50 people on the set. But when I was doing it, [modeling] was very familial. It was very sweet and very personal. Today it's gotten to be a big production."
At photo shoots, Cheryl says she used to do her own hair and makeup, and she even helped the photographers carry the equipment. "The girls [now] are pampered a little bit more," she says.
Even though Cheryl was a natural beauty, she says she didn't always feel camera-ready. "I was always in competition with myself, as I said," Cheryl says. "Some days were not so good, and on those not-so-good days, I would drink a lot of water. I would talk to friends. I would go on a hike."
Today, Cheryl's still spectacular at 63 years old. When it comes to aging, she doesn't think the process is any worse for supermodels. "I think every woman, maybe every man, looks in the mirror and says, 'Oh my God, there's a wrinkle,'" Cheryl says. "So we're all in the same boat."
Supermodel Elle Macpherson's career began with a bet when she was just 16. "A girlfriend of mine said to me, 'I bet you 20 bucks if you go into my modeling agency, they'll take you on,' and I was, like, 'No, they never will,'" Elle says. "For me $20, at that time, was a lot of money so I said, 'I have nothing to lose.'"
In fact, the agency had everything to gain...they signed the Australian beauty, and eight months later, Elle landed her first television commercial.
In the mid '80s, Time magazine nicknamed Elle "The Body" and that body landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated's coveted swimsuit issue a record five times—more than any other model.
At 47, Elle is now the mother of two boys, the global spokesperson for Revlon and the head of a lingerie empire. "I'm more confident about the way I look today because I have access to better hair and makeup people and better lighting," Elle says with a laugh. "But, as a woman, I don't put as much importance upon the way I look. It's really about who I am as a person."
In 1988, Czech-born beauty Paulina Porizkova was the highest paid supermodel in the world. At age 24, she married rocker Ric Ocasek from the band The Cars. She and Ric have been going strong for more than 20 years and have two children together.
Paulina isn't afraid to talk openly about the aging process. "Nothing ages as poorly as a beautiful woman's ego," she says. "Every time a guy passes by me when I've made an effort and doesn't take a second look, it hurts a little bit."
She still remembers an incident with a mail carrier that bruised her model ego. "My mailman handed me a letter and told me he wasn't sure if I was aware that there was a hot model living in my building. And he was speaking of me," she says. "It hurts a little bit."
Although aging may hurt sometimes, Paulina is grateful for the experience. "I could just go and Botox it all away, and I would be all plumped up and looking 10 years younger and reinvigorated, but then I'm just delaying the process," she says. "You forget to remember that aging is a privilege, and it's not a birthright."
Supermodel Veronica Webb still remembers the moment she knew she made it. "My mother called me from the grocery store, and she said 'I'm looking at this cover of Elle magazine here. Is that you?'" Veronica says. "It made me feel real. It made me feel legitimate. I'm one of those girls like Iman or Lauren Hutton or Beverly Johnson that I always dreamed about being."
Veronica broke new ground in the industry when she became the first African-American model to land a multimillion dollar contract with a major cosmetics company, but she says her rise to the top wasn't easy.
"Weight was always an issue," she says. "I grew up eating everything deep fried. Everything was baptized in deep fat. We can't eat that way and be slender. You can't eat that way and have great looking skin—you just can't. Your weight is very much tied to your self-esteem if you allow it. I really had to get that under control."
Over time, Veronica says she realized that who she was and what she did for a living were two different things. "Who you are is how you live your life and the way you treat people," she says. "It's not being defined by your job."