When I was in college I had a conversation with a guy once that went like this:
Him: “It’s so strange, XXX (a mutual friend) knows who all the fashion models are. She knows their names, and where they’re from and how much they weigh and what magazine covers they have been on.”
Me: “So, what’s the strange part?”
I’m paraphrasing, but that was the gist of the conversation. To this guy, it was inconceivable that women, especially college women with intellectual aspirations could be so interested in something so seemingly superficial as fashion models.
But we were. And not just the two of us. A lot of the women I went to college with were very invested in the world of supermodels. Cindy, Claudia, Linda, Naomi. Before the internet put information at our fingertips 24×7 I gobbled articles about these women every time I could afford to buy a magazine.
When I think about the focus of my interest, it wasn’t the clothes. It was, to some extent their bodies – as templates for our own aspirations. But, at base, I think it was about power. I didn’t so much want to look like Cindy Crawford, as I wanted to live like Cindy Crawford.
I came of age in an era where women had little economic power and little voice. I remember how in the late 80s or early 90s, in small-town Indiana, my divorced mother had a hard time getting credit, but would sometimes be granted it, grudgingly, because “well, I suppose you do have a job.” She had a master’s degree too, by the way.
As for my own experience, I was one of the only female supervisors at the Chicago UPS back in the 80s. When we had events that involved food being served, it was a given that I would do the cleaning up afterwards. And if I protested, I was sharply rebuked and told to be a team player.
I had grand plans for a grand life, but on some level I knew that I was going to have to seize some kind of economic power before I was going to be able to have that life. And I didn’t know how to do that in a world that valued looks and the ability to please above all other female attributes.
The supermodels had cracked the code. Their looks didn’t just get them a pat on the head from some old fuddy-duddy in a cramped small-town bank office. They seemed less interested in pleasing than in taking their pleasure where they wanted it.
Their looks, literally, got them the world. They went everywhere, they made insane amounts of money. Linda Evangelista famously said, “we don’t wake up for less than $10,000.” Cindy Crawford has remained one of the most successful humans on the planet after parlaying her modeling wealth and influence into a variety of businesses.
In a world where it was hard to be listened to and hard to be taken seriously, and as a result, hard to get a toehold in the economy, modelling looked like a ticket to the most amazing ride on earth. Unfortunately for most of us, it was also a ride that was available to only a very few, but can we be blamed for dreaming?