The world of female models is a mysterious one. To be in or of this world, you must meet certain perimeters of weight, bone structure and height (5 feet 10.5 inches is considered the perfect number). You have to look the right way for the right time and right campaign and fit the sample size. And you must, above all else, photograph well. This list describes an already small percentage of 1 percent of the population, and to boot, models “age out” at 25.
So we take this reduced fraction of 1 percent, compress the time frame and then add extreme amounts of low or no pay, constant scrutiny, red-eye travel and vice-filled environments. Most models will fall into drug addiction, eating disorders and a lifelong sense of self-loathing. And yet the fashion industry is overrun with these young, impressionable, genetically predisposed women who, like the rest of us, idealize the extraterrestrial beauty found in glossy magazines and flashing digital images.
Let’s face it — women who want to be rocket scientists or concert violinists generally do not spend their time trying to pursue a modeling career. It is an evolutionary tradition among humans that physical gifts are exercised first before developing less concrete characteristics, like intellect, personality and humor. The same principle rings true in sports, where athletes are judged solely on their performance and aptitude. And while this perspective may seem harsh or cruel, people naturally want to utilize their innate abilities and talents. We are, in some way, following the path of least resistance.
The problem with this Darwinian approach in the modeling and sports industries, however, is that this philosophy is a ticking clock and a candle burning on both ends. If you are successful as a model, you become rich and famous, are invited to parties hosted by Karl Lagerfeld and become the face of a cosmetics company. And if not, you spend as many years as you can handle living in a tiny apartment with six other models, working in whiplashing fits and spurts and ritualizing the alternating cartons of cigarettes and teeth whitener. The harsh truth is that the perceived glamor of modeling and of fashion mainly happens on the cutting room floor, where average or mediocre digital images are transformed into ethereal, provocative, visually arresting editorials.
So why is modeling more popular than ever? First, the principle of supply and demand. As long as there are tall, sinewy post-adolescent girls with high cheekbones flooding the industry and willing to accept the status quo, there is no impetus to change. But before we mount our moral high horses, we must also remember that no one is forcing them to work for little to no pay or to compromise their living standards or to chase an incredibly improbable profession. We must consider this issue from all angles and without an emotional undercurrent.
But the broader picture at play is that modeling symbolizes some kind of perfection.
For women, perfection in beauty, especially, is a dream that is chased every morning, with every pedicure and every appointment with the dermatologist. We are always willing to believe that the world inside the fashion magazine is real, that heart-thumping runway shows parading willowy models with apathetic expressions wearing expensive, impossible clothing is the ultimate portrayal of youth, of sex appeal, of confidence. Our minds tell us this type of perfection is not attainable or real, and yet we still try. It is as if the existence of perfect beauty is only as important as our belief in it.
So to that, long live models and long live our dreams.