When someone learns you are a model their response is rarely proportionate. It’s either undue adulation (“You’re a model? Wow, that’s so impressive”) or unwarranted belittlement (“You’re a model? Gosh, you must be stupid”). Or in my case, justifiable skepticism (“You’re a model?”). Why can’t anyone ever just say something blasé like, “oh, that’s nice.”
Let’s look at the first reaction: admiration. Being a model is not really the kind of thing that merits congratulations. It’s a job, not an achievement. All it means is that you were born with a face that large corporations find useful in selling their toothpaste, cell phones, and car insurance. You really didn’t have much to do with it. It’s not like a musical talent developed after years of practice that one might have a sense of accomplishment in. If anyone deserves a pat on the back, it’s your parents for endowing you with the right genes.
When people ask me what I do for a living, I often say “I’m in advertising,” not just to be cute (get it? I’m in advertising), but because that’s really what it’s all about. As much as Entertainment Tonight would have you believe otherwise, models are in the advertising business, not show business. You’re here to sell fleece pullovers, not date rock stars.
Now let’s tackle the other knee-jerk reaction models face: derision. Fashions come and go, but it’s always fashionable to disparage models.
Myth 1: Models are over-rated. Au contraire: praise models! Without them, magazines would be filled with regular people. In case you’ve forgotten just how heinous that can be, scope out the folks in line at the DMV and recalibrate yourself. Average Americans are clad in hideous outfits a Somalian refugee would be ashamed to wear; exposing acres of pale, doughy flesh; sporting calamitous haircuts apparently performed by blind barbers with the hiccups. Models are doing their part to keep America beautiful.
Myth 2: Models are vain. Not the ones I know. They view their looks the way a construction worker might regard his hammer. It’s a tool, something to use on the job, not something to become narcissistic over.
In my experience it’s the people who aren’t in the glamour business who are more obsessed with their appearance. Models get ogled daily; regular folks can go months without any affirmation of their attractiveness. Who do you think is going to end up more insecure about, and thus dwell on, their looks? Somewhere around the 200th time a stranger tells you you’re gorgeous, you decide to believe it and move on to other, more important, issues.
Myth 3: Models are dumb. Here’s the unfair reality: The notion that beautiful people are invariably stupid is a myth that ugly people perpetuate to console themselves. That stance won’t win me any friends among the yokels at the county fair, but this is Tear Sheet and chances are you’re already a model or on your way to becoming one, so I figure you can handle it. Sure there’s the occasional model that’s a few lipsticks short of a make-up case to fuel the stereotype, but for the most part, the models I’ve met are smarter than average.
Prime example: what do Cindy Crawford and I have in common–other than neither of us can act our way out of a Prada bag? (Not a cheap shot—I saw Fair Game.) We both were valedictorians. I know–big deal, but I’ve met lots of models that excelled in academics, went to top colleges and grad school. The attitude is you’ve got your whole life to use your brains; use your looks while you’ve got them.
Julie Burchill attacked the “model as bimbo” perception in the London Guardian last year, observing, “You see loads of pictures in Vogue of models being made up backstage at the collections reading quite obscure books—books I wouldn’t be able to finish.”
What’s more, models become master students of Life. Few occupations afford such a raw, unvarnished view of human psychology, behavior, and motivation. Having even a modicum of success in this business while dodging the attendant reptiles and scam artists requires the finesse of a diplomat.
If “racism” is prejudice based on race, then looks-based prejudice might be termed “lookism.” Lookism’s cause: the green-eyed monster. As British historian Edward Gibbon said, “Beauty is an outward gift, which is seldom despised, except by those to whom it has been refused.”
“We should do our utmost to encourage the Beautiful, for the Useful encourages itself.”
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
“Never lose an opportunity to see anything beautiful.”
– C. Kingsley
This essay originally appeared in somewhat different form in TearSheet and Supermodels Unlimited.