Is everybody who could be a supermodel actually a supermodel?
June 29, 2008 2:42 AM   Subscribe

Are there a lot of people who are recognizably as beautiful as supermodels who are not supermodels? Or do the present mechanisms of celebrity reliably account for a majority of people who meet the criteria to be supermodels?

And how would one go about trying answer a question like this, aside from the expedient method of popping into AskMe?
posted by cgc373 to Grab Bag (31 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
First of all, you've got a problem with your "as beautiful as supermodels". It's not the case that there is one thing called beauty and that supermodels have the most of it. To me they look boring and anorexic with faces that lack all character. I see more beautiful women every day. But beauty is relative. And even if it weren't relative, there are still many different ways to be beautiful, and the monolithic supermodel look is just one of them.

You should ask, "are there a lot of people who look like supermodels who are not supermodels?". That is an answerable question.
posted by creasy boy at 3:16 AM on June 29, 2008

"Beautiful" is not the main criteria for becoming a supermodel, so I am afraid that your question is flawed.
posted by Meatbomb at 3:16 AM on June 29, 2008

Of course there are, because beauty is not the only requirement of being a model. For starters you have to be exceptionally thin, tall, have an ability to walk correctly, and want to be a model in the first place. You also need to be more than "beautiful," you need to have a look, a uniqueness. Then you need to be able to manage your weight and deal with what is a punishing lifestyle, all at a very young age. Many very beautiful people meet none of these other requirements. More still would probably never want to be a model, or even of they did would not have the good fortune to be recruited into the industry. Becoming a model is a pretty difficult thing to do, and being strikingly beautiful, tall and graceful is just the very beginning.
posted by fire&wings at 3:18 AM on June 29, 2008

I don't have an answer, but some points to consider:
"The camera adds 10 pounds" is actually true because of the way we perceive sizes in 2-dimensional images rather than 3-dimensional real life. There are some people who are very gorgeous in real life but who would be too heavy to be supermodels.

The AMA says that female models should have body proportions of around 34-24-34 and be at least 5'8" tall - once you exclude everyone with more than a 24" waist or shorter than 5'8", you're excluding a lot of gorgeous women. And I'm not being an "everyone is beautiful in their own way" fluffy bunny here - even a size 4 or size 6 is too heavy to be a supermodel.

There's also the issue of style. Whether you have the right "look" for this season's fashions plays a big part in becoming a supermodel, and that has very little to do with any criteria for beauty.

Most people who are not getting paid to do so will not go through the intensity of a supermodel's hair/makeup/skincare regimens. I believe I could be a computer programmer except that I haven't studied enough math and computer science; likewise, there are probably lots of people who could be as beautiful as supermodels but don't put enough effort into beauty regimens.

Modeling is super stressful, and I'd bet that some people who could be supermodels choose not to be for that reason. Or some other reason.
posted by Jeanne at 3:19 AM on June 29, 2008

Not only all that, but there are plenty of models who are not "super". The whole super thing is a bunch of crap invented to make models into celebrities.

But I would think it would be obvious that there are plenty of stunningly beautiful women (and men!) in the world that aren't models. Why, some of them are actresses and actors! I even know one that's a brain surgeon! Really! She married my partner's cousin. And she was the first woman I ever saw that I would happily have cast in the role of Galadriel or Arwen (I speak as a Tolkien fan since the early 70's).
posted by Goofyy at 3:27 AM on June 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Even assuming that there were an objective thing as "all traits necessary to be a supermodel," market failure would make it impossible to get all persons with the combination of those traits to be discovered. Persons born in out of the way places would not be discovered, as would those in convents and monestaries.

Has there ever been a nun or monk supermodel?
posted by Ironmouth at 3:41 AM on June 29, 2008

You should ask, "are there a lot of people who look like supermodels who are not supermodels?".

More or less, that is what I mean to be asking, creasy boy. I was worried that the word "beautiful" or the idea of beauty might interfere with the question as I intend it. Supermodels are identifiably similar in many respects, and as Jeanne notes with the reference to the AMA guidelines, some of those respects are strict indeed. I'm not asking about people's "inner beauty" or attractiveness generally, or whether models are indeed attractive or anything like that. I'm asking about "people who could be supermodels" according to the strict requirements of that profession, and whether all or most of those people are scooped up by the people whose jobs involve scoping them out and scooping them up.
posted by cgc373 at 4:30 AM on June 29, 2008

The majority of people in the modeling profession, like people in most professions, choose that profession. It doesn't choose them. Girls start out in beauty pageants or maybe their parents start them out as advertising models when they are children and the rest kind of takes care of itself. "Supermodels" sometimes are the best of the models. Most of the time they fit certain characteristics that are in vogue at the time.
posted by JJ86 at 4:42 AM on June 29, 2008

All or most? No. Crucially I doubt there are enough positions to fill, and for that reason agencies are not frantically combing the globe for talent. The term "supermodel" is a bit dated now, but there is an upper echelon of models and when you say supermodel I presume you are talking about high earning girls modelling high fashion in Paris, New York, Rio etc for the likes of Dior, Balenciaga et al. Models will come and go but beautiful people who have the potential to be "supermodels" vastly, vastly outnumber the number of models required at any one time, I'd guess. There will always be pretty girls on toothpaste packets but if we are talking about true "supermodels" then there are only going to be a select group at any one time. The selection process is part of fashion, and the idea of signing up every stunning person on planet earth, while totally ridiculous, would also not appeal to anyone in the fashion industry.

And how could model scouts possibly scout every potential model? How could anyone in any field possibly contact or employ every person in the world who had the potential to do a certain job? It is a complete impossibility. I think you are perhaps viewing these models as some sort of elite race, with just a handful of them walking the earth in various countries. It's not like that, there are thousands and thousands of people who have what it takes to have a good career in modelling. Whether they make it to the very top depends on the same variables you would experience in any profession - hard work, connections, timing, good fortune. Not just their face.

Here is the blog of a casting director if you want to learn a little about the process of spotting, casting and developing models.
posted by fire&wings at 4:59 AM on June 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

I would be willing to bet that there are far, far more women who meet the subjective requirements and are not supermodels, than women who are actually supermodels. I can't back this up with a study or anything, but consider:

- Lots of people who could be models of any kind don't pursue it: they might think it's stupid, shallow, unrealistic, uninteresting, too much travel, too much work, too much time, too much maintenance, etc. Some people simply don't have the self-confidence to even think they could model when they could. For all these kinds of people, it wouldn't matter if someone tried to "scoop" them up. (You seem to be coming from a point of view that everyone would want to be a model if it were offered to them. Forgive me if you do not mean that, but either way "not wanting to be a model" accounts for a lot.)

- Lots of people who do pursue it still fail, for many reasons.

- Lots of people who meet even the narrowest physical requirements still aren't good enough at modeling, because there are actual skills involved. It's more than simply finding someone who fits all the physical criteria and snapping pictures of them. People fail because they cannot conjure "fierce" expressions, or they do not move well, or they can't work under pressure or stress, etc.

- Lots of people do not frequent whatever places that would get them accidentally discovered or whatever.

And so on. People who look like supermodels are a minority, but they aren't so much a minority that most of them do modeling, much less qualify as "supermodels."
posted by Nattie at 5:02 AM on June 29, 2008

Too true about "not wanting to be a model"; and that's a big part of my question, Nattle. Are there a lot of people (and I see people saying "vastly, vastly" and "far, far" so maybe so) who possess whatever attributes agencies and fashion industry people desire, who aren't part of that industry? That's really what I want to know. A demographic breakdown would be wonderful, if it existed, but I doubt I'll be so lucky as to find such a thing.
posted by cgc373 at 5:13 AM on June 29, 2008

Just curious, cgc373. Why do you ask the question?
posted by leotrotsky at 5:34 AM on June 29, 2008

Plain old demographic curiosity, leotrotsky.
posted by cgc373 at 5:36 AM on June 29, 2008

Anecdotally, I have at least one gorgeous 6'-something, 120 lbs. friend who is approached at least monthly on the street to model and doesn't. This is in New York, so I'll go out on a limb to say:

a) Yes, model-like people are often "discovered" on the street by agents and given to opportunity to audition;

b) Some choose not to model anyway.
posted by whitewall at 6:12 AM on June 29, 2008

When I worked in TV, we discovered something in the editing room. Watching catwalk models and E Entertainment clips frame by frame we realised that they always looked good. No matter the angle, or what they were doing (talking, laughing), they consistently had the facial poise, the posture, the manner.

I am sure a lot of that is due to training and practice. In fact we all know very good looking people who manage to look like a dork in photos despite doing their best when posing for the camera.

The second anecdote I have from those TV years is that I got to 'meet' (read: be at the same party as) models, actors and celebrities in general. I found out that some people look much better photographed than in real life, particularly ultra-skinny female magazine models.

Apart from that, there are very good looking people that do other things with their life. There is a doctor at my clinic that could be in any of the covers of the magazines in the waiting room. Learning how to walk and learning how to smile and look good from all angles is a learnable skill, and she has the body and face. She has just decided to apply her talents elsewhere.
posted by kandinski at 6:26 AM on June 29, 2008

If you're interested the distinction between "model" and "supermodel," you should look at a series of articles on Jezebel written by a pseudonymous model. She talks about how most models live in squalid conditions, make next to, or less than nothing, and have extremely short careers. From her descriptions, it sounds like the move from model to supermodel is based less on looks and more on an indefinable mix of fickle fashionable aesthetic and luck - this post seems to answer your question most directly.
posted by bibliowench at 7:28 AM on June 29, 2008

Imagine this question for any other profession. "Are there a lot of people who are obviously as smart as doctors, but are not doctors? Or do the current mechanisms of the medical world reliably account for the majority of people who could have MDs?" And when you say "Yes, but there's more to being a doctor than just being brainy," I'll say "Precisely."
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:00 AM on June 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

It's impossible to know. Supermodels don't just exist on the street. They are created by dozens of stylists and technicians who are expert at enhancing the positives and hiding the flaws--none of whom can perfectly predict which models will take hold or not. And supermodels live a diet and routine that no sane person would submit to voluntarily. So really, you could not recognize that someone is as beautiful as a supermodel without submitting them to all kinds of prodding and testing, and you can't do this for everyone.
posted by troybob at 9:00 AM on June 29, 2008

Here's another factor to consider.

You're comparing posed, precisely lit, coiffed, tailored, air brushed beauty to "going to the grocery store" beauty. Are there women in your town who could look supermodel perfect if they were given the training and assistance of supermodels? Of course.

Also, it depends what beauty means to you. There are plenty of people that don't find the supermodel body type/face to be all that appealing and prefer the shorter, curvier models who are on the covers of car magazines. Some people find neither of those attractive.

So yeah, not everyone who wins the genetic lottery gets to be a supermodel. Just as not everyone who could be a ballerina, pro soccer player, or virtuoso pianist makes it to those occupations.
posted by 26.2 at 9:23 AM on June 29, 2008

Bear in mind also that if an agency has too many girls with the same "look", they will turn down others. This happened quite a bit when my ex worked for a modeling agency... one time I went in and sat while they did a "cattle call", waiting for him to be let go for the day... it went:

1. Have the girl come in and sit in a room. She gets a polaroid taken of her face, and then one of her standing up (full body shot).

2. Have the photo editor/main booker sit at an angle so she can see the girl, but the girl can't see her. This person would either nod or shake her head at the polaroid photographer to indicate "yes" to speak with her or "no" don't bother.

3. Because I was sitting in the room with the booker, I asked what the criteria was... she would whisper, "legs are too thick", "too short", "too hippy", "we already have 15 girls that look just like this one..."

I know it sounds weird, but imagine if you had 20 girls come in that look like Karolina Kurkova. You wouldn't rep ALL of them, would you? Just the ones you knew you could book work for, as well as had the best personalities. So there are a lot of girls who travel agency to agency, trying to get repped. Some even move to different cities; it just depends on how determined they are.

I saw many gorgeous girls drop out of the agency very quickly, who were genuinely supermodel-beautiful. Most of them dropped because they got pregnant, boyfriend didn't want her to model any more, eating disorders, school, or quit because they were barely making enough money to get by (imagine quitting modeling to become a bartender. It happens!).

What surprised me the most was how alien most of the girls looked in real life. Not attractive at all, borderline ugly, even. But they photographed well.

Many actors and actresses start off modeling young, like Alexis Bledel, but turn to acting because they don't grow enough to remain modeling after age 14 or 15 (she was with Page Parkes in Dallas and she was too short to get bookings beyond the JC Penney catalog).
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 10:05 AM on June 29, 2008

A few people touched on this, but particularly given the "look" that's popular for models now, when you see someone on the street who has the physical qualifications to be a model, in my experience, they don't appear beautiful so my as striking or a bit strange. Many or most working models these days are not the curvy, stunning, Linda Evangelista-type a lot of people associate with the term supermodel. Now, they tend toward the very tall, very thin, very symmetrical and angular. In real life, without the hair and makeup and lights and whole team of people who come together to create the construct of "model," woman like this tend to seem gawky, underfed, or tomboy-ish. How thin they are can be distressing under real world conditions. And even their faces may look striking, but rarely stunning, since having an interesting face is more important than having a pretty face.
posted by mostlymartha at 10:07 AM on June 29, 2008 [2 favorites]

On preview, yep, seconding Unicorn on the cob. A lot of them look alien and borderline ugly. What the camera loves is not necessarily what humans love.
posted by mostlymartha at 10:09 AM on June 29, 2008

Are there a lot of people (and I see people saying "vastly, vastly" and "far, far" so maybe so) who possess whatever attributes agencies and fashion industry people desire, who aren't part of that industry?

Probably, because in addition to being tall and skinny, the most sought-after models aren't the prettiest girls, they're girls with the most to work with photogenically. The face needs to be memorable; the photographer then takes beautiful photos.
posted by desuetude at 10:09 AM on June 29, 2008

I guess Masha Tyelna would illustrate the point about the alien and strange looks which are desirable at the moment. There will always be room for the Gisele types but they are looking increasingly for the unique and otherworldly girls, at alarmingly young ages. Masha Tyelna has been a huge success story because of her one in a million looks.
posted by fire&wings at 10:27 AM on June 29, 2008

In addition to all the other factors mentioned, many models start their careers well before they reach 18. ThereĀ“s usually a lot of parental involvement and support, or at the bare minimum, consent and permission.
posted by yohko at 10:37 AM on June 29, 2008

Many women who would otherwise qualify on physical grounds for being a model may see no need to develop the intense, unhealthy eating disorders necessary to maintain a model's skinny frame.

Further, much of what we consider a model's "beauty" comes from the army of stylists, with their oodles of attendant cash, who collaborate to create her (or his) look. Plenty of people who would fantastic if they had the Vogue army working them over.

I'd like to chime in again with the fact that models are people who photograph strikingly, but they are very rarely all that attractive in person. They're all over the place in LES/SoHo/etc., and they are more memorable than actually "attractive." Emaciated people with knobby knees gross me out.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:05 AM on June 29, 2008

The second anecdote I have from those TV years is that I got to 'meet' (read: be at the same party as) models, actors and celebrities in general. I found out that some people look much better photographed than in real life, particularly ultra-skinny female magazine models.

I know a "magazine model," and you'd pass her on the street without a second glance. She's attractive, but not in any way different in person than half the people you meet are, other than being skinnier than most.

The camera, however, absolutely loves her. I'm not sure how, unless you can recognize that photogenic quality (and I guess professionals might be able to "see" just like a camera), you'd run into her and say "wow, you should be a model."
posted by maxwelton at 1:07 PM on June 29, 2008

Last time I was in Lithuania, it seemed half the population was tall, willowy, and gorgeous. At 5'10", I felt like a troll.

I modeled for awhile in my late teens. It was dull and degrading. I went into the library sciences instead, and haven't looked back!
posted by medeine at 6:49 PM on June 29, 2008

Masha Tyelna has been a huge success story because of her one in a million looks.
Wow, weird (just off "syndrome" weird), and IMO, very attractive.

Firstly, it's a pure probabilistic question. P(A) > P(A AND B). P(looks like a model) > P(looks like a model AND is a model). Secondly, modelling is generally a part-time, or second, job, because for most models, there isn't enough work to get by.

Going into more detail about P(A) > P(A AND B): women with the stereotypical model build and fine facial structure with high cheekbones who are not supermodels are far more common than those who are, because as others have pointed out, being a "supermodel" is a seriously demanding career that not every model wants to do, or finds sustainable and personally rewarding. Short of being a supermodel, if a woman wishes to be successful at modelling, ie get regular work paying well, she has to develop a good relationship with a good agent, have a reputation for reliability and cooperativeness, and a quite thick skin for rejection especially on the basis of her looks, which is something that no-one takes well, and women take worse than men, on the average. Models will often be asked by their agents to attend casting calls (nicknamed "cattle calls", for good reason) at inconvenient times, short notice, and often in inconvenient places. They will arrive, there will be dozens of girls there. Almost every single one of them will look around at the others and think "they are so much better looking than I am". That will then be reinforced for all but two or three of the girls, who will be told "you're not what we're looking for" at the kindest. Often they'll be told why: "your arms are too long", "your nose is too big", etc etc, which, just like "you're beautiful", is a subjective judgment that almost everyone has the bad habit of phrasing objectively.

There are good books, articles, and blogs written by models, which explain (often very entertainingly) how it all works out. In terms of potential personality damage, it's a risky career. A woman has to be lucky, have a personality inclined to it, a strong sense of self-worth, and be emotionally supported by friends and family to be a successful and happy model; and a lot of women with that combination of traits are entirely happy and successful doing other things than modelling anyway.

Speaking anecdotally, as a person who is somewhat interested in the question myself: my personal preference in dating runs exactly to the "model" type - skinny to very skinny, preferably muscular (the ecto/mesomorphic build), high cheekbones, "striking" if not necessarily "pretty" faces. Very few of the women I've dated, or even been interested in dating, have actually been models as such - I don't really mix in the acting/entertainment/photography social circles; but, given the amount of attention I've given this over the years, I'm willing to attest to the fact that despite regarding my preferences as narrow, and despite most of my male friends not being anywhere near as interested in "the model type" as I am; "the model type" are fairly common. That they don't date me as much as I would like--and I will guess that the same goes for you :)--isn't due to them being uncommon. If I may offer some unsolicited and perhaps inapplicable advice, how many women of your type there are, is irrelevant. You only need to find that one for whom the sense of attraction is mutual.

As to how one might expediently go about answering this question "objectively" (at least inasmuch as it can be): (1) decide your criteria; (2) sit somewhere at the end or beginning of the day, where you can watch a lot of random people go past without drawing attention to yourself, eg bus or train station, or shopping mall; (3) watch, and keep a rough count of how many women, apparently aged 15-ish to 30-ish, walk past; and of those, count how many meet your criteria as decided at #1. My guess: as many as 20%.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 2:46 AM on June 30, 2008

Some really good answers here. Thanks to everybody.
posted by cgc373 at 8:51 AM on June 30, 2008

Many are also trophy wives.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:55 PM on June 30, 2008

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