Friday, 5 March 2010

Super Models of Bad Behaviour

by Mrs. Tami Thirlwell-Nicol
Models. The media is telling you that being one is everything and Tyra Banks is letting you know that you can be a model too. Yes, you transgendered Terry, and you too, legally blind Betty, easy on that catwalk there, girl. Holla! Move over Twiggy because Supersize Susan is hitting the runway as well. Missing a limb? Not a problem, if you can at least ‘smyze’ (that’s Tyra’s own word-- she’s trying to get into the Oxford English dictionary-- for ‘smiling with your eyes’). See? No one is left out. What a great inclusive world we live in. 

Prior to this current Modelmania ladies were simply hired to wear clothes in order to sell them. In the years leading up to the 1960s it was a basic concept and yet a glamorous occupation. Just ask Cary Grant, who wished he could have been one. It ranked right up there with being an airline stewardess. Models didn’t just model clothes; they modeled a lifestyle. The proof of popularity was evidenced in the availability of the outfits one could buy for one's Barbie doll. Mini Chanel suits and Pucci print dresses were abundant for Barbie’s life as a high fashion model, and while you may have been able to snag a nurse's outfit, finding a neurogeneticist's uniform for Skipper was near impossible.
Barbie in head-to-toe Chanel circa 1960
These pioneer women would model for print ads or slink around in fashion house showrooms. They showed up, did their job and went home. At some point things shifted and the demure model world lead to the birth of edgy (role) models like Andy Warhol’s tragic pet, Edie Sedgewick. Twiggy stood out as one of the first Supermodels in the swinging sixties – while the word ‘anorexia’ was just a glimmer in a psychiatrist’s eye. She set the standard for a new frame of body reference: literally a stick figure. Suddenly women wanted to look like they hadn’t developed physically beyond the age of ten. It was the start of western women starving themselves and claiming to their friends, “What? Dieting? No, I just have a really speedy metabolism.” “Me too.” “Me too.”

In the 1970s fashion loosened up as the post-hippie influence offered tent-like caftans, super-flared trousers and blousy shirts and peasant skirts. Yet there were also tight zip jumpsuits and micro-sized swimwear and the rampant use of cocaine aided many models in their strict adherence to a size 2. The Supermodel flourished. Her celebrity status produced the Supermodel Ego. No longer was Mick Jagger seen with run-of-the-mill runway models. Now it was standard procedure for rock stars to be paired with ladies easily known by their first name only: Jerry, Iman, Linda, and so on.
The 1980s leaned towards all-American pageant style girls like Christie Brinkley and Carole Alt. But just as a squeaky clean Cheryl Tiegs was hanging up her Cover Girl crown towards the end of the decade, a new crew was moving in. It was the late 1980s and with the heady combination of fame and loads of powdery drugs a new breed of Supermodel was born into the fashion world. This was the dawning of the age of the Naughty Supermodel. Gone was the sophisticated, demure, white-gloved gal of the 1950s, the quirky swinging Chelsea girl of the 1960s and the au natural mellow lady of the 1970s. KickAss Kate Moss and her shit-disturbing counterpart Naomi Cambpell kicked them to the curb by the 1990s. 

These amped-up models of bad behavior were clocked for all sorts of tantrums. They made most pop music divas look like Sunday school girls. Naomi Campbell, the female Mike Tyson, modeled air rage that soared to new heights.

Naomi Campbell draws her weapon

Meanwhile Moss, the human Hoover, had the unfortunate luck to be saddled with the moniker Cocaine Kate. But between rocking orange jumpsuits on the side of the highway and obtaining frequent flyer points at the local rehab, these two seemed to fare just fine. In fact, their careers seemed to flourish.

Still, I can’t help but feel sad for the generation that got short-changed with these self-obsessed girls as their role models. Where’s the cool factor? And what about the current breed of pop music stars that young ladies want to emulate-- well-adjusted types like Britney and her esteemed colleagues? When I was about twelve Suzi Quatro, rocker chick extraordinaire, was it! Skoolers, if you’ve never played air guitar in front of your bedroom mirror and lip-synced along to “48 Crash”, well, I just don’t know how you made 
it this far. 
Suzi Quatro rocks her famous leather jumpsuit.
At times her hair bordered on mullet country, but I let that slide. Joan Jett came in second. Here was another gal with a ‘don’t fuck with me’ sensibility who I found worthy as a role model. You can keep your Carole Kings and your Joni Mitchells. It was like choosing motor oil over alfalfa sprouts. You cannot run an engine with the latter.

Fortunately a few years later, Debbie Harry would become another role model for me which helped nurture my feminine side and reminded me that I was not, in fact, a member of the Ramones. Nor was I a member of the Runaways for that matter. She illustrated that a girl could still look tough and cool in a skirt and heels. It was all in the styling and attitude. Nancy Spungen? Not a good role model -- unless you are Courtney Love. And Courtney Love? Not a good role model – unless you are Britney Spears. You get the idea. Call me old-fashioned but how did the skank factor get turned up to eleven? It’s Pop Stars and Models Gone Wild these days. Where’s the freshness? This shit is past its expiration date. Can we get a little lady-like behavior over here please? Reminder: cell phones are for talking to people not for hurling at people. And put some underwear on for God’s sake! Yeesh.

Meanwhile I don’t recall ever looking up to a fashion model for life skills but Tyra has appointed herself to that position, doling out free advice for young women on everything from how to walk and talk to how to psychoanalyze your best friend. And then call her out.

You can’t see it but I’m ‘smyzing’ right now. Actually no, I’m smyking – it’s my own hybrid of smirking with my eyes. I do a lot of smyking these days. I’m hoping it delays the deepening of the parentheses around the mouth, deep crinkly laugh lines around the eyes, and increases the appearance of fine cynicism by 73% in four to six weeks. And the smyke or even the smyze actually makes one appear worldly and wise, like you have your wits about you, a must-have expression for any Supermodel. After all, it’s a fierce jungle out there.


  1. Blogs are so informative where we get lots of information on any topic. Nice job keep it up!!

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  2. Hi Tami, love the Smyking! And Tyra, what a woman, my favorite part of Top Model was always the part where she gets deep and offers amazing psycho-insights to the girls personalities. So glad she got her own talk show, though I've missed it all, except the episode with Naomi. That was sure a winner!
    Enjoyable articles from you, and the drawings are great too. There's gonnna be a great gig at the Princeton on April 17th, the Stoolies are playing..Eddie Arnold ( the Dutchman) on vocals, Terry on drums, etc. They are very irreverent, and so, still relevant. Similar to yourself! Be great to see you there. It's a fun little bar, I play there every Tues. Keep up the cool writing. Rosebud