Sunday, August 12, 2012

Supermodels, Goth Models and a Touch of Insight

(China Machado 1950s Harper's Bazaar)

(China Machado 2012 Harper's Bazaar)

Forgive me this evening for getting out my soapbox, but as the “Etiquette” portion of this blog is more about understanding how to recognize the best in oneself (how can one present their best to the world if they won’t recognize it in their own mirror?), this piece was just screaming to be written. It was inspired, to say the least, both by a recent documentary and from personal experience.

Now that the painfully verbose caveat is out of the way, allow me to begin. Yesterday I was in my kitchen and heard a familiar voice carrying in from the television in the next room. It was Jerry Hall, supermodel icon and former wife of Mick Jagger.   I finished fixing my cup of coffee and went in to watch. It was like a walk down memory lane as the role models and icons of my era and those before mine sat on camera sharing their memories of an industry that treated many like cattle, made demigods of them, and in the cases of those who modeled in the 40s and 50s, broke ground on a widespread cultural level.  There are few things more moving than listening to China Machado tell a story of having met her inspiration, Josephine Baker, of telling Ms Baker “thank you” only to be told “Thank you” in return. For anyone who knows their history, they understand the underlying meaning and will feel the tears well up in their eyes just as they did on camera with Ms. Machado.

As I listened to the heroines of my day share their stories of self-evaluation, insecurity and the reality of an industry that does little if anything to help a woman feel beautiful while holding them up as the epitome of beauty, I had flashbacks to my own teen years when I was enrolled in modeling school to “build” my self-esteem.  It was a nice affirmation many years later to hear these women talk about how they found that self-esteem came from within, how many never thought themselves beautiful, although to the rest of us they were goddesses. The opinions vary on every topic from botox and plastic surgery (not popular with most) to aging gracefully and the importance of keeping one’s feet firmly on the ground.

I think back on the girls I attended classes with. We learned proper posture (almost nonexistent these days), sitting, standing, entering and exiting a car, ascending and descending stairways in obscenely high heels without looking down, how to walk the runway, and how to change clothes faster than Clark Kent in an automated phone booth. Among other things. We learned that the industry has insanely high standards for many reasons, and that most of us would have an easier time making it into catalogues than onto a runway, and it ALL had to do with size and proportion.  I was only mildly crushed to find out I was too short to be taken seriously on a runway, though one of my classmates was distraught almost to the point of institutionalization. I was “too curvy” for catalogue and my list of options continued to be pruned methodically from there. The kindest words I heard were “You have great eyes and cheekbones…beyond that…”  To me it was a relief. To the line of others in the room with me, it was devastation. I will never regret the experience. It taught me much about myself and gave me the tools to carry myself with confidence while still working on gaining some. It taught me self-reliance and the brilliance and wisdom of subtlety and humility.

Keep in mind that back then there were no sites like Model Mayhem, no webcams, and jobs were secured by paying a professional photographer to do composite headshots that included a short list of measurements and other personal information, then either working through an agency or watching the listings for calls for models then actually auditioning. Amazing, no? No emails, no texting, no free profile online full of demi-nudes and “lingerie” shots in Walmart underwear taken with a $30 webcam.  Don’t get me wrong, there are just as many up-and-coming photographers who are willing to work with up-and-coming model-hopefuls as both still need to build their portfolios and show what they are (or are not) capable of, and many photographers are honest individuals with real talent.  Do I put these people on the same level as Carol Alt and Calvin Klein? No. The world needs models AND make up artists AND photographers AND artists at all levels. This does not make a model with more than three published photos a “supermodel”.  Supermodels and world-class photographers started out as novices, too.

But at all levels, the same lessons, experiences and challenges exist. I would recommend this documentary to every aspiring model out there, even though I have to wonder how much weight the words of these legends would have with the 18-to-twentysomethings modeling today who may not even know their names. These are the women who overcame racism, survived drugs, a brutal industry and a fickle, sometimes scathing fan base to thrive as legends, role models, and examples of aging gracefully, beautifully… timelessly. These are women who personify Glamour.

So why did I go into all of this on a Victorian Gothic blog? Two reasons. Our Genre personifies for so many the epitome of Grace, Beauty, Glamour and Etiquette. There is the promise of a confidence and civility that many feel is lost in this day and age. I have said it countless times, and will continue to say it: Nothing is lost so long as someone remembers it once existed and they long to have it back. Our models showcase glamorous clothing and ethereal faces that make the observer gasp and admire. They have been through the mill like most others, questioning their size, their appearance, whether or not they were “too over the top” and a plethora of other questions about their marketability and worth. Many have had to deal with creepers, those pseudo-photographers who think “All goth chicks are freaks” and assume a model will strip and “spread ‘em” just because she’s Goth. I’ve known one or two of these photogs to come close to eating their cameras.

I have had the pleasure of hearing from many models and a number of artists over the years, more so the last year or so because of the blog and other projects, and every conversation has been insightful.  A few have been a bit perplexing, but then while I am very observant, I cannot, nor claim to see through the eyes of others. That said, I offer a few of the insights shared with me:

If you are being pressured to do a type of pose or shoot you are uncomfortable with, Don’t.  A reputable photographer will be up front about their project and will respect your boundaries. There will be other opportunities. If you are being told “this is it”, you are dealing with a manipulator. Once you put something out there that is not you, you cannot take it back.

Never let anyone tell you what you “should” be doing in terms of type of modeling. With that statement comes this: Get to know what is out there. Ask questions, do your research and find what is You. You will be offered lots of advice from “You’d be great at…” to “… type of modeling isn’t REAL modeling.”  We all have our preferences, but they should not dictate how others model.  The bottom line is to use your common sense and be true to yourself.  A bit of foresight is important. What will you be able to look at 10, 20 or 30 years down the road without cringing? Will it be a simple chuckle and cringe or a deal breaker?  I have yet to meet an aspiring model who went into a shoot or project thinking “I want to do something now that I’ll regret forever.” That is quite understandable. No one can live in fear and playing it so safe that even their guardian angels yawn. However, that image out there is you, no one else. Make it yours.

Ok, enough preaching from me. I am including a link to the HBO Documentary I spoke of earlier.  
About Face: Supermodels Then and Now

Now I am off to continue perusing the stack of fabulous Hallowe'en blogs, sites and pinboards. Much to share! Coming soon..

Keep it Spooky, with Style... of course.


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