As a teenager who came of age at the end of 1994, my pop-culture world was filled with Nirvana, Hole, Riot Grrrrls, Bikini Kill, My So-Called Life, Reality Bites and Sonic Youth. And oh, yes–Kate Moss. It’s not that I worshiped all of these rock stars and celebrities. Some I liked, some I didn’t, some I paid no attention to. Most of them were too mainstream for me to obsess over, at least openly. My world was made up of feminism, art and literature. The people around me concurred, almost across the board. I attended a very progressive alternative school. We talked politics and social justice. Clothing may be admired but would not be disdained. Bullying was limited; an awkward student was far more likely to simply be ignored. Intelligence was valued almost as highly as creativity.
However, I have never been immune to the influence of the media. At that time, body imagine and eating disorders were a hot topic. Who was more symbolic of the issue than Kate Moss? In retrospect, it seems the world revolved around her.
I had previously known girls who admired Cindy Crawford, but I had never understood why someone would even know a model’s name. I was a toddler in the late 70s and early 80s when nothing was coming between Brooke Shields and her Calvins. Christy Brinkley? Pshaw! These women have no power over me. But is there anyone with more influence over a teenager than someone a few years her senior? Kate Moss was four years older than I. Even as I scrawled “Feed Me!” across her forehead, she had found a permanent place in my heart and mind. I protested about the unhealthy standard set by the modeling industry, but in my most secret heart I worshiped her.
Ironically, it was the outraged journalists and Riot Grrrls who made me aware of her existence. Had they not become so concerned about the effect she was going to have on me, she may never have registered on my radar. I didn’t think about models. My lunch box toting, clunky-shoe wearing, babydoll dress loving self would never have dreamed of going out of her way to know the first thing about the modeling industry. But the dismay was everywhere, making me wonder “Who is this Kate Moss?” When I finally saw her, I was a bit baffled. She didn’t look like she was about to fall over and die of hunger to me, at least no more than any other model. She was thin, but I couldn’t see how this made her any different than any other woman who was famous for wearing clothes. I thought she looked the same.
I would, in short order, learn more about her. She was, in fact, physically different than other models. Shorter and probably in possession of a smaller build. She may have had an easier time maintaining her gaunt figure than they did–in my eyes, she’s always looked like she was born to be that skinny, while Cindy Crawford looks like if she dropped her guard for even a day or two she would gain 20 pounds. But it doesn’t make any difference. All that matters is that, when the general public sees her or any other model, we all know that they have set a standard that we will never, never meet. Is Kate Moss anorexic, or just lucky? Does it matter? She may not have to be anorexic to maintain that figure, but the odds are that you would.
Last night, as Nicole too the crown of America’s Next Top Model, she squealed “I’m a dork! And I’m America’s Next Top Model!” It’s true. A dork won. Not a faux-dork, but a truly awkward and misunderstood girl. Most of the other models were more than happy to aim their mean-girl tripe in her direction, which made her victory especially sweet. She was such a dork she didn’t even always recognize subtle cruelty when she saw it. But is this a victory for dorks everywhere? I think not. A woman who’s career consists of posing for pictures in magazines may be intelligent, quirky, or passionate. She may have overcome seemingly insurmountable odds. She may have Asperger’s Syndrome or dyslexia. But her pictures are far more likely to reach us than her story is. If you could tell by looking at her that she had a crippling speech impediment, she would not have been hired. The part of her that doesn’t meet with society’s approval is not on the cover of the magazine. We are looking at the part of her that is conventional; I will go so far as to say obedient. No matter how hard we protest, that it what we admire about her.