Isabella Rossellini: Age, Looks Used Against Women

After five decades in the limelight, Isabella Rossellini isn't done.

The daughter of Ingrid Bergman, the legendary Swedish actress, Rossellini turns 54 next month. More than 10 years after she was dropped as the face of Lancôme for being "too old," Rossellini remains firm in her convictions and has no shame about her appearance.

"I don't look 20. I mean it's obvious," Rossellini said. "You know, as long as you are thin, tall and young you can have your freedom. ... Otherwise, if you're ugly, forget it, you're old, forget it. That's the No. 1 discrimination for women."

A Weapon of Oppression

"I often think of how they told black people that their hair was not right and they'd straighten it. The humiliation of a group is done through their physical characteristics," she said. "I see this insistence on women, youth and weight and standards that are unattainable to be a weapon of oppression that we have to fight."

Rossellini admits she has felt the pressure on older women to undergo plastic surgery. But she has resisted the call to go under the knife.

"I haven't done it because I think it has become so -- it's like Chinese feet binding, you know?" she said. "Some morning, I wake up and say let's do it. But I think most of all, I think right now I'm not going to do it because it really is more to make women feel bad about themselves. They have to become an ideal that they're not."

After a long career as a model and actress, Rossellini remains wary of the pressures placed on women, even as her daughter, now a model, follows in her footsteps.

"I understand my daughter wanting to be a model and having a wardrobe, and we play a lot with clothes," Rossellini said. "But I hope she is not victimized by the weight."

An Exercise in Devotion

Rossellini's latest project is a 17-minute tribute to her father, Italian film director Roberto Rossellini, to celebrate the centennial of his birth. In "My Dad Is 100 Years Old," a surreal black-and-white film, Rossellini plays all the roles -- including her mother, father and legendary directors like Hitchcock and Fellini -- with the exception of the main character: a human belly that fills the entire screen.

"My father was quite fat. He had a big belly. And all throughout his life, people would say, 'You have to lose weight, Roberto, you have to lose weight,'" Rossellini said. "My dad would always say, 'Oh, I have the belly because I want so much to be pregnant. I wish I had had you babies.' He was a very maternal father."

Though loving, the Rossellini family suffered for its art. Bergman was censured by the U.S. Senate after having a child out of wedlock and was kept out of the United States; the family's furniture was confiscated when Rossellini's father fell in to debt.

"Artists pay a very high price to stay faithful to their art, and to follow their independent mind," she said.

Though "My Dad Is 100 Years Old" was produced by the Documentary Channel, Rossellini says it is not a documentary.

"I really tried not to make a documentary or a film that was about the memoir of them, but it is the way it is in my brain," she said. "It is the way I absorb it, and the conflict of being a daughter that preserves their works but also a daughter who loves them and wants to hang on to their memory. And that's what the film is about."

In the film's final moment, Rossellini embraces the giant belly, which fills the entire screen, and says, "I don't know if you're a genius or not, Dad, but I love you."

"At the end," she says, "Love is the only thing I know for sure."

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