Now Don't Be Catty: At 20, Is Paulina Porizkova the World's Most Beautiful Model or Isn't She?

updated 07/01/1985 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/01/1985 AT 01:00 AM EDT

It's 4 in the afternoon, and the top fashion model is famished. As the 5'10" looker swoops into Manhattan's Empire Diner, you expect her to order some Spartan summer salad, hold the dressing. But she demands, "What's the fatteningest thing you have on the menu?" The 20-year-old blonde obviously doesn't intend to worry about her perfect figure. "Modeling sucks anyway," she says.

Czechoslovakia-born Paulina Porizkova may not love the heady heights of high fashion, but in just two years her pouty poses have gotten her 14 Glamour and eight Cosmo covers and made her, as photographer Francesco Scavullo rapturously puts it, "one of the great stars of our time." The striking, assured face is not all. Her scantily-clad body, splashed on the covers of two successive SPORTS ILLUSTRATED swimsuit issues, has turned Paulina into a major sex symbol, and last month she was visible in her entirety in Gentlemen's Quarterly. "I thought it was nothing because I'm used to European standards," she says. Notes Scavullo: "She looks marvelous when she wears clothes and marvelous when she takes them off."

Nonetheless, as she attacks her banana-cream cheesecake as well as a companion's hot fudge brownie, the $300,000-a-year model enthusiastically blasts her profession for making her feel guilty about such pleasures. "I've always hated modeling," she says. "It's superficial and fake, and I hate to have to care about what I look like. I get a pimple and freak. The whole business is all about selling beautiful girls' faces and bodies, so how can there be anything intelligent or nice about that except for the girl who makes money?" That part she does appreciate. "I'm earning a ridiculous amount of money just being beautiful. I am the way God made me, and they splatter some paint on my face, and I get $3,500 a day for it. But if someone says, 'You want to earn a lot of money real easy?' you're going to say no? Come on."

Paulina knows what's easy and what's not. Her parents were rabid anticommunists in Prost?jov and fled to Sweden when the Soviets invaded in 1968. Escaping by motorbike with nothing but the clothes they were wearing, they left their daughter, then only 3, with her grandparents. "I remember it well," Paulina says. "My parents couldn't come back, and I couldn't go to them, but I totally forgot about them. It was like they had gone far away." She blamed it all on her father's motorbike. "He always put me in front, and I'd say, 'Daddy, faster, faster,' and he'd say, 'You know I can't go faster. With your big ears, you'd sail off the bike.' So when they left, I figured out in my child's mind that he wanted to go faster and didn't want me along. I'd sit in bed at night and look at my ears."

Her parents soon launched a fierce three-year legal battle—including a hunger strike—to regain their daughter, and the effort got lots of publicity. "There were sad pictures of me everywhere, a fat kid with a stupid smile and a teddy bear," Paulina says. When the campaign failed, Paulina's mother, six months pregnant, flew into Czechoslovakia and tried snatching Paulina. Tipped off, authorities arrested and jailed her when she landed. Only when she was about to give birth was she released to house arrest. Three years later she was expelled from the country with her two children.

Paulina grew up fast. The day she arrived in Sweden, at 10, her father announced he was in love with another woman and took off. Her mother worked as a nurse and studied nights to be a gynecologist, leaving Paulina to take care of the household and her little brother. School life was no picnic, either. "From 10 to 151 was straight-out ugly," she says. "I was called 'chicken,' and every guy at school laughed at me. I had no tits, no ass, funny teeth, big ears, short hair, and I was stupid enough to wear glasses. I was a disaster." Nonetheless, when a girlfriend saw a modeling agency ad for new faces, she threw some makeup on Paulina, teased her hair and sent in pictures. Four weeks later, with her mother's blessing, Paulina moved to France to be an Elite model.

She promptly turned into a 15-year-old terror. "I'd go to nightclubs punked out like crazy, wearing torn jeans, leopard-sprayed hair and tons of makeup, and I'd dance on tables, pour drinks on people and jump in fountains," she says. "I had the worst reputation. I think every model has times when they get obnoxious and crazy. You all of a sudden realize you are young and beautiful and you have money, and you just kind of go nutty for awhile."

Paulina moved to New York two years ago and has been doing fashion covers ever since. "What makes Paulina incredible," says Mademoiselle beauty editor Felicia Milewicz, "is she can be elegant and dirty at the same time." A school dropout, she nonetheless has learned six languages, reads Dostoevsky and Dickens for fun, plays classical piano, paints and wants to write and illustrate children's books in" the future. But she's almost given up expecting anybody to believe such things. "People want you to be beautiful and shut up," she says resignedly. "When I paint or play music, they'd rather not know about that. I always hoar, 'Oh, she's really beautiful.' I'd die to hear, 'Oh, she's really smart.' I'm not as dumb as I look." Wrong. She doesn't even look dumb.

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