For today’s Feminist Fashion Blogger‘s post I thought I would talk about my fascination of models.
I love anything to do with models. I will watch any old reality TV show if it has models in it, I used to be majorly addicted to America’s/Britain’s/Germany’s Next Top Model so much! I dislike the manipulative editing that makes it seem as if everyone is constantly bitching or fighting or crying, but I will watch it anyway. What I like best is the bits when they are working, particularly the photoshoots.
Lately, I’ve been watching Channel 4’s The Model Agency. It’s more about the agents than the models, and the majority of it isn’t very interesting, watching office politics in a place run by a boss straight out of the management-techniques-to-avoid textbook. But I like watching it because of the glimpses into the model’s lives.
Unfortunately, the things I have found out about professional modelling are not so encouraging. Here’s just a few things I remember off the top of my head:
- Clients demand models with 31 inch hips. Which is basically not physically possible. Which is what one of the model booker was explaining, when she made an interesting Freudian slip. After explaining that even her slimmest editorial girls with not an ounce of fat on them have 36 inch hips she said ‘You can’t shave bits off their bones. You wouldn’t even want to ask’. You heard it here first – bone shaving, the next big thing in cosmetic survery!
- Models don’t get paid for Vogue covers. Editorial models basically work for not that much at all in the hope of getting their face recognised hope so that eventually they will pick up one of the big advertising contracts. But obviously there aren’t that many of them and 60% of them seem to be taken by Kate Moss anyway.
- ‘Money girls’ eat, ‘showgirls’ don’t. One model explained that she mainly did catalogue work rather than high fashion editorial stuff, so that she ‘could eat’.
- Boys need to eat, girls don’t. Male model is having a major freakout over his stomach not being rippled enough and explains that he’s not eaten any carbs in ages. Agent goes ‘That’s not healthy. You have to eat, you’re a boy.’
- Fainting is not an excuse. Model flies over from New York on overnight flight arriving 5am, goes straight into working day with 5 fittings and 4 shows. Has nothing to eat all day. Faints. Model agency boss lady goes ‘I don’t understand why she’s so tired. This is only her first day out of timezone.’ Then the next day everyone makes a massive song and dance about the fact that they are getting her a sandwich. Because that is really pushing the boat out in terms of looking after the people you represent.
What all of this really brought home to me is how profoundly unglamorous the life of a professional model is. It’s basically all indeterminate amounts of waiting, short bursts of frenzied activity, minimal sleep and minimal food. Being alone or shoved in with random strangers. Sexual abuse being common. Agents only looking out for you if it threatens business. And so many of these girls (and boys) are aged 15-16, an age where most people already lack confidence anyway, without being isolated, starved and judged by powerful strangers.
There’s no denying that modelling pays well, and I’m sure there are models out there who are able to get exactly what they want, and are happy with everything about their job, but it seems that overall, the models are pretty low down the fashion industry food chain. It’s a shame that something like Erin O’Connor’s Model Sanctuary is even needed, but it is.
I wish modelling was just treated as a job with pros and cons like any other, but I just find it so weird that it’s this thing that so many young girls aspire to to the extent that they will completely screw their life chances in other areas such as education to pursue it. I can understand why it appears glitzy, since models are the public face of the fashion industry, the most visible jobs there are in it, and the ones that don’t need any formal qualifications, but surely everyone *knows* that it wouldn’t be much fun in practice, that the chances of success are slim (no pun intended!) and that even if you do ‘make it’, it’s only going to last a few years anyway?
On the flipside of that, I’ve written a bit in the past about using ‘real’, non-model models, (I won’t go into that here now) and researching those posts, I was struck by how much of the vitriol that bloggers were dishing out when writing about size zero and diversity in fashion was aimed at the models themselves, who surely are just as much victims of the fashion industry’s twisted standards of beauty as the ‘normal’ women who are made to feel inadequate by them.
It seems models are always talked about as heroes or villains, hardly ever as people.
So why then am I so interested in all things modelling? I’m not even into high fashion that much, and my fascination definitely goes beyond the clothes.
The best I can explain it is that I love is the transformation: in ANTM, on the film camera’s you see a studio or an outside location with millions of people wandering about, clothes strewn everywhere and the model looking nervous and awkward, the photographer spouting incomprehensible directions or bland encouragements. It’s all pretty mundane and not so nice. But then you see the photo coming out at the end, and it’s like magic. A whole aspirational world is created. I *know* that that model is the same awkward and nervous teenager I saw on film, but here she is looking a strong and beautiful woman.
Another thing that struck me about the Model Agency programme was that none of the editorial models actually looked conventionally pretty. They mainly looked fragile and knackered. Many look androgynous and angular. If I had passed any of them in the street, I would never have thought ‘oh, she/he’s stunning’. I probably wouldn’t even have noticed most of them. But when I look at the pictures of them, I get it. They do look stunning.
And somehow I take heart from the fact that gawky teenager with thin short hair can end up as internationally renowned symbol of beauty. Somehow despite the fashion industry and it’s obsession with unattainable thinness, I think it opens the doors for the possibility of a more diverse definition of beauty. It recognises that beauty is a matter of stand point, of expectations, a creation, not a natural status.
It seems I am an optimist at heart after all!
What do you think? Anyone share my obsession with models?
Hhhhhm, this post was meant to be a bit of a lighthearted take on the Model Agency, and then I went off and wrote an essay again. I just can’t do short and fluffy! Plus, this hasn’t turned out that directly feminist either! Tant pis!
Which does bring me to a question I have for everyone: Are there any vaguely fashion/beauty/style related questions you would want me or the FFB lot to cover from a feminist perspective? or even just any topics? Grateful for ANY ideas!
For a roundup of this week’s posts on a range of topics, visit the Feminist Fashion Bloggers blog, where you can also find out more about FFB. Anyone keen to get involved can also join the FFB google group.
Photos via here.