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What are the requirements for becoming a top-ranked fashion model or supermodel?
Forbes.com posted an article, by Kiri Blakeley, on how to be a supermodel a few months ago. It has some shortcomings that need to be addressed.
Here are the ten steps toward supermodeldom, according to forbes.com:
- Be at least five foot nine, weighing 110 to 120 Ibs. This would give you a body-mass index of about 16 to 18. "Models starve themselves, and we tell them to," says Richard Habberley, a top agent with Elite, which reps Victoria's Secret hottie Alessandra Ambrosio and Maybelline face Jessica White.
- Be Photogenic. Send sample photos to a local or national modeling agency. Don't bother spending money on professional photos. Agents can spot your potential from one Polaroid. It also helps if you have whatever look is "in" at the time. This season, it is pale, otherworldly-looking girls who have one "flaw"--a large nose, a gap in her front teeth. Remember, next season, the in look could be completely out.
- Get Signed. Move to a big city like New York and have a big agency, like IMG Models or Elite Model Management, behind you.
- Be Quiet. Models don't say much of anything during their casting sessions and runway shows. "They have to be a beautiful blank slate," says model rep Ivan Bart.
- Don't Party. Don't Be a Diva. Models who are late to a 9 a.m. hair and makeup session or come with bags under their eyes will quickly develop a bad reputation. "These are long days," says Edward Razek, who chooses which models get Victoria's Secret contracts. "Attitude is important. We are not interested in divas." Hear that, Naomi Campbell?
- Befriend Powerful People. Getting noticed by an editor like Anna Wintour or a photographer like Steven Meisel can mean the difference between being an anonymous runway stalker or a famous supermodel.
- Date Celebrities. Gisele Bundchen dated Leonardo DiCaprio and is now hooked up with quarterback Tom Brady. Kate Moss has an on-off (currently off) relationship with drug-addled Brit rocker Pete Doherty. If you're the face of Estée Lauder, choose your celebrity boyfriend wisely. The brand has a "morals clause" in its contract.
- Expand Your Brand. Gisele Bundchen licenses her name to a footwear company and may be starting a lingerie line at H&M. Kate Moss has a line of clothing at retailer TopShop. Heidi Klum designs a line of jewelry through Mouawad.
- Now You Can Talk. Tyra Banks has two TV shows (The Tyra Banks Show and America's Next Top Model); Heidi Klum has one (Project Runway). Gisele Bundchen has had roles in movies like Taxi and The Devil Wears Prada. Alessandra Ambrosio had role in HBO's Entourage.
- Don't Gain Weight. Ever. Heidi Klum was lauded by the press for appearing runway-ready a mere eight weeks after giving birth to her second child. Shortly afterward, she renegotiated her deal with Victoria's Secret. Tyra Banks, who doesn't even model anymore, was excoriated for some paparazzi photos showing she'd gotten a bit wide in the hips.
Heather Blessington added additional requirements:
- Take your clothes off.
- Sleep with your modeling agent and/or booker.
- Be serious arm candy.
- Wear teeny tiny skirts to castings.
- Get a boob job.
- Sell your soul.
There is a conflict between getting breast implants, which Heather added, and being very thin, which is strongly emphasized by Kiri Blakeley, but a number of supermodels do have breast implants. How does one explain the conflict? Whereas supermodels do not exist anymore, the term is still used to refer to fashion models who have a strong presence on both the runway and in commercial modeling/the general media. So how can a woman have a strong presence in two types of modeling that, on average, have different requirements? This is where both forbes.com and Heather Blessington come up short. The explanation will prevent wasted time on the part of some girls who think they have what it takes to be a top model as well as encourage some clueless girls with the right potential to see a modeling agency.
The ideal high-fashion model is a tall, skinny and masculinized girl in her mid-teens. The closer she approximates the looks of boys in their early adolescence, the better, and if she does an excellent job at this, then some of her shortcomings will be overlooked. For instance, Kate Moss in her mid-teens bore such an uncanny resemblance to a typical boy in his early adolescence that her shortness was ignored by the fashion people.
After a few years of being heavily booked by top fashion designers, the girl has made her mark on the runway. She has also been growing up and starts filling out slightly in her breasts and developing wider hips. In other words, her looks start leaning toward androgyny whereas when she started it was like those of boys in their early adolescence. At this stage she may get some opportunities to model lingerie. Whereas she will become less pleasing to some fashion designers enamored with adolescent boys, she will become more pleasing to fashion designers into androgynous looks or the appearance of male-to-female transsexuals. She starts making a name as a lingerie model. This allows her the freedom to afford to somewhat deviate from the requirements of high-fashion modeling, as in gaining some weight, which would make her more suitable for lingerie/swimsuit modeling, but she has also gotten older, and, in her early twenties, she is starting to get too old for high-fashion modeling, and hence it is not ill advised for her to trade in looks more suitable for lingerie/swimsuit modeling with looks better suited to high-fashion modeling. At this stage she may get breast implants to improve her appeal as a lingerie/swimsuit model. When she is well-known, fashion designers have less of a problem using her on the runway because her fame compensates for her age and weight.
So this, in a nutshell, is the path to becoming a supermodel. There are some gaps in the account, but they will be filled by behaviors such as sleeping around with fashion industry personnel and/or running into luck, as in coming across and befriending powerful people or dating celebrities.
An illustrative example will help.
Fig 1. Alessandra Ambrosio.
The first two rows in Fig. 1 show candids of Alessandra Ambrosio in her twenties, much past her high-fashion modeling prime. One can imagine how she looked like in her teens, when she was discovered by the fashion industry. The last row shows professional photos of Alessandra Ambrosio. Note the wonders careful posing can achieve. Many pictures of Alessandra show enlarged breasts that either result from padded bras, digital editing or breast implants. Alessandra is a big-name Victoria’s Secret lingerie model. One has to wonder why Victoria’s Secret goes through the trouble of picking masculinized women and make them suitable for lingerie modeling via careful posing, digital editing and sometimes breast implants when there are feminine and attractive women aplenty to choose from for a company with its resources? The answer is Ed Razek or something he represents.
Fig 2. Edward Razek with Gisele Bundchen. Forbes.com rated Razek as one of the five most important people in modeling.
Ed Razek has been hand-picking Victoria’s Secret models for 15 years. One can make a reasonable guess about his sexual orientation since he would never use a woman like the one shown in Fig. 3.
Fig 3. Amy from Spunky angels. By the standards of high-fashion modeling, Amy is old and obese. Though she isn’t old for lingerie modeling, she would be regarded as fat and lacking oomph [for people of some sexual orientations]. Note that Amy is an amateur glamour model and her pictures are amateur photos. If professionals can do wonders for Alessandra Ambrosio, how much easier will it be for them to make Amy look better?
Der Wanderer posted the following:
Let me introduce to you one of Ambrosius “handlers” (and his “friend”) :
Alessandra Ambrosio/Elite at her 24th birthday bash alongside Elite’s Richard Habberley and friend at Suede.
Who’s the “handler” and who’s the “friend”, I couldn’t say.
But you get the point.
If I recall correctly, masculinized supermodel Stephanie Seymour reported that big designer Giorgio Armani had sex with her when she was 16; Seymour started modeling at 14. With time, Armani gravitated from bisexuality to more exclusive homosexuality. So when Heather Blessington mentions the requirement of sleeping around with fashion industry personnel, one can imagine what kind of men these often are.
Kiri Blakeley had this to say about Victoria’s Secret models:
At Victoria's Secret, which has made superstars out of dozens of models, including Gisele Bundchen, Adriana Lima, Heidi Klum, Tyra Banks and Alessandra Ambrosio, executives don't have to rely on personal preference to pick their next faces. They can measure a girl's potential in cold hard cash.
“Some girls sell incredibly well,” says Chief Marketing Officer Edward Razek. Computers track each photograph in every catalog. Not surprisingly, girls who move merchandise end up moving up the corporate ladder to supermodeldom.
This is misleading. Blakeley makes it sound as if the purchasing behavior of consumers determines who gets to be a top model. The girls moving merchandize are the ones who appeal to the personal preferences of the majority of big names in the fashion business, and this majority is of an atypical sexual orientation.
The forbes.com article featured a photo series on a day in the life of an aspiring supermodel, featuring 17-year-old Edythe Hughes, and said that time will tell whether she makes it big.
Fig 4. Edythe Hughes.
What success can Edythe Hughes expect? She is insufficiently masculine to make it big as a high-fashion model. In 2007, “she strutted the runways in New York for Vera Wang, Rebecca Taylor and Jill Stuart” and was being advanced $150 per week by her agency for expenses related to modeling. Not good since the big designers with atypical sexual orientations didn’t sign her up. She did better the year before when she was signed up by Calvin Klein as an “exclusive model” and made $9,500 for one show (net earnings about $5,000), but she was younger and had a less feminine physique then. In the event that Edythe Hughes fills out and becomes more suitable for lingerie/swimsuit modeling, the fact that she never made it big as a high-fashion model would make it highly unlikely that she becomes a supermodel.
Blakeley’s article had some comments at odds with each other:
So how does a pretty teen girl go from nobody to supermodel?
“It’s the girl who never thought she could who gets discovered. The prettiest girl in school doesn’t always make the best model,” says Ivan Bart, a top agent with IMG Models, which reps Bundchen, Heidi Klum and Kate Moss.
Ivan Bart’s comment is closer to reality than Blakeley’s before it. Bart’s description should be regarded as an euphemism. The reality is that high-fashion models typically have a history of being widely regarded as unattractive or even ugly by their peers and being teased for their looks before signing up as models. This is because most people’s idea of an attractive girl isn’t one who looks like a boy in his early adolescence.
So the take home message for teenage girls reading this should be much clearer than the picture from Kiri Blakeley’s article or the commentary by Heather Blessington. Girls who look like [skinny] adolescent boys should see a fashion modeling agency ASAP. There is no time to waste, and it is not a problem if they are, say, 5-foot-7. Remember, outstanding features by the standards of the fashion industry, the yardstick of which is the degree to which one resembles a boy in his early adolescence, renders one less likely to be rejected for shortcomings on some typical requirements. Another example of tolerance for non-standard features provided that they are accompanied by features regarded as desirable by industry personnel is that tall, slender teenage girls who are not so masculine have a chance at fashion modeling if they have fine facial features, pale skin and blonde or red hair.
A thin 15-year-old girl who looks like an adolescent boy may only have 2- to 3-years before she fills out or starts looking androgynous and thereby becomes less appealing for initial consideration to many of the big designers. So again, there is no time to lose. Age 20 will typically be too late to start fashion modeling. She could be making big money during this time, and if she makes it big, then her high status could allow her to get away with slight non-compliance with weight requirements, making weight control with advancing age easier compared to less well-known models.
I have run into feminists blasting the fashion world for undermining the self-/body-esteem of women, but looking at the contrast between the women shown in Fig. 1 and Fig. 3, one question must be asked, namely, how many feminists realize that the fashion world is great for the self-esteem of masculinized women? The wonders that the fashion world does for slender and masculinized women is a reason why I have been expressing a wish for alternative fashion industries rather than replacing the current one, and at least one mainstream beauty pageant focusing on feminine beauty rather than making them all do so.