Why Do Models Look So Mean?

“Fierce!”

You hear it on Project Runway and America’s Next Top Model.

Apparently, that’s the “look” that designers and fashion models and photographers want to portray. Do they really think it will sell clothes?

Someone must think so. But why? Why would I take fashion advice from someone who looks surly and disagreeable and fierce? Whatever happened to models that smiled, like they were enjoying their clothes and knew they looked good in them?

Actually, I think the models in ads that appear in “women’s” magazines and online sites and TV ads may smile from time to time. It’s a question of who buys the product. If women are buying a product – say a pair of jeans – they’d like to think that they will be delighted by them. They will smile.

(Maybe the women in SI‘s swimsuit issue smile too, but I’m not going to do the research on that. It’s doubtful that many of the men who read it are thinking, “I think I’ll buy that for my significant other. That’ll make her happy.” What they’re selling isn’t bathing suits.)

But when it comes to high fashion – and Valentine’s day perfume ads – the women pout at the least, and more likely snarl and glare, directly at the camera.

I don’t get high fashion (or haute couture, if you want to be classy). I don’t mean just that I don’t buy or wear it (which, you may have guessed, I don’t). I don’t get the psychology of it.

Are the fashion shows and ads trying to appeal to the “male gaze”? Obviously, they are, with the boobs and butts prominently displayed. But what about the faces? I understand that men are supposed to fantasize about having sex with these women. But don’t most men prefer a partner who looks happy about the encounter? Apparently, ad execs and fashion show coordinators believe that men prefer what they think is a sultry gaze, but more often looks like a man-eater who’s been dieting for a month.

Again, man-on-the-street men aren’t the target audience for high fashion. Seemingly, neither are non-independently-wealthy women. Who does that leave? Androgynous buyers for high-end department stores? Art directors of expensive, glossy magazines that cater to the glamour set? Other fashion designers?

In other words, people to whom the clothes may be important, but the women wearing them aren’t. The models are walking clothes hangers, so who cares whether they’re happy? And the fashion purveyors have convinced themselves that fierce is fashionable, as long as you’re not really trying to sell a product.

Of course, the smiling, laughing, dancing model isn’t all that accurate either. “Women laughing alone with salad” is the stereotype. But it appears in other forms – women dancing over how good their probiotics make them feel, frolicking playfully at the thought of new lipsticks and blow dryers, or singing about their favorite brand of cottage cheese. I roll my eyes at them until I’m afraid I’ll get stuck staring at the inside of my skull. Other times, I just assume they’re all on amphetamines.

Male models, now. No smiles there either, but the word for them is “aloof.” Half the time they don’t even look at the camera. If this is supposed to be attractive to the female gaze, again I don’t get it or must not have it.

The stereotype here is that women want cool, unapproachable men whom they can arouse and then domesticate. Think Mr. Spock, for example. Only with better abs.

Again, I’d prefer a partner who seems to enjoy being with me.

But maybe that’s just me.

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