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Friday, March 04, 2011

The Model Agency: modelling gets the superficial treatment it deserves

I do like The Model Agency on Channel 4 because it's looking at people who spend their lives looking. In most areas of life you're expected to apologise for being interested in surfaces. In the world of models it's the only thing anyone's interested in, a focus it shares with TV. Nobody can have a conversation without breaking off to congratulate somebody on their hair or ask whether they're wearing any make-up. Girls are described as "fat", "beautiful" or "too thin" on the basis of a one-inch variation in hip measurement. After a single meeting they can be instantly divided into "show girls" or "money girls". Show girls do catwalks and editorial and have to seem appealing to designers who are predominantly gay men. The ideal candidate here would be a 12 year-old boy with the face of a girl from a renaissance painting. Money girls (wouldn't that be a great name for a band?) on the other hand do catalogue and basic advertising work. They have to appeal to clients who are looking to sell something. Money girls smile. Show girls don't.

If you're in the modelling business you're dealing in new flesh of which there is a limitless supply. The ones who come in the door with their parents and their book of pictures taken by a friend are rarely the ones you want. They're pretty but they don't have that other-worldly, venusian look that real models have. Luckily they're usually not tall enough either which gives the model agent an easy get-out and avoids them having to say "you're not good looking enough". It's often the case that the chosen ones have never thought about it. I was particularly struck by the American booker who discovered one 14-year-old while out shopping in Kingston. He was first attracted by her thin ankles which he glimpsed under a table. His gaze travelled up her long legs to find a perfectly slim shape and, eventually, the face of Helen of Troy. He asked if she'd ever thought about modelling. She said no. I think I believe her.