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"The Girl Who Cries All The Time," America's Next Top Model, Cycle Eight.

"The last thing she needs is fake bitches playing up to her like that."

So says Renée as the whiny Brittany consoles a mourning Jael. She calls a lot of people that, actually. Reality television loves that stuff. Laps up all that drama and cruelty.

I will admit that I like the artistry of fashion. I will read Vogue for the photography and the theatre reviews. The only "good" part about America's Next Top Model, as far as I'm concerned, is the photo shoots. They do have really interesting concepts. But that's as far as it goes.

In this episode, the girls get makeovers. [Insert massive amounts of squealing here.] At least four of the girls had weaves put in, completely changing their hair. Some had it chopped off. One girl in particular, Jael, sat a painful eight hours as a weave went into her short hair only to find that the people in charge had changed their minds. They took out the weave and cropped her hair. Tyra and Jay mocked the way their girls have cried through the changes. Later, in the midst of a storm of cattiness and one girl’s personal tragedy, the episode's photo shoot begins. The girls are told to pose nude in a candy-shop set. They are then “evaluated? one at a time, before the group and the panel of judges, and one girl is eliminated from the show.

America’s Next Top Model currently airs on CW, a fledgling network of Warner Bros. Warner Bros has long been the biggest wig of media conglomerates, and they like us to remember it: The music behind their logo sequence is “As Time Goes By,? the theme from Casablanca. I believe that, at first, ?ANTM? had trouble finding a network, but no longer. Older seasons air on VH1 alongside their parade of celebrities, wannabes, and conventionally beautiful teenagers. (Am I the only one who really, really misses the days of Pop-Up Video?) Since CoverGirl is one of their major sponsors, their commercials get a lot of airtime, as do diet-pills, new movies, and random pizza companies (?). It is intended, of course, for the mainstream youth audience, but really to women, and to any obsessive human aesthete.

Our celebrity-drenched culture loves making the little guy big. As long as the little guy is thin and pretty with a good pout. The spitefulness of some girls directly contrasts with the open-hearted faith of others. Maybe it’s how they really are, maybe it’s editing, but they’re presented as a racially appropriate mixture of the bitch and the mother, the Madonna and the Whore. (Why shouldn’t Jezebel get the same punctuational credit as Mary? People use the latter word more often, anyway, except for those that really liked True Blue. Or Like A Virgin, hahaha.) As stated in “Commentary and Criticism,? the girls are objectified by “the camera, [which] cannot take our eyes from their breasts and their beauty.? As models, they are constantly scrutinized and criticized. As I watched, I found myself picking out which ones I liked better as people (Jael= the bomb) and which ones I thought were “prettier.? I’m ashamed to admit it, but I did. Of course they are all gorgeous, from bodacious Diana to sharp-faced Jolene. But since they were judged so frequently for their looks, it was hard to not to do the same.

I think the thing that I admire about fashion modeling is the way the body can be moved artistically in a single frame, and the understatement of conveyance. As an actor, that both perplexes and fascinates me. But the actual art of modeling, which seems to be what ANTM contenders have the most trouble with, takes a backseat to appearance. The first comments out of the judges mouths when reviewing a photo are along the lines of “Oh, beautiful?—“This is hot?—“Honey, you look wack.? Then they get around to an actual coaching, which can be to relax the jaw and extend the neck, or it can be to suck in your stomach so you don’t look fat.

There are two plus-size models on America’s Next Top Model; I believe this may be the first time even one has gotten this far. There’s always a fuss about how they “wear their weight,? and how they have to work harder than the other girls, and how they don’t have enough confidence or comfort in their bodies. I’m sorry? Of course they don’t! They’re labeled from the beginning as the fat girls, no matter how they fight it. Don’t get me wrong, I love that they’re doing so well and I love that normal -looking people are getting this kind of attention. But does it come as any surprise that they are confident in their faces, in their personalities, but not in their bodies? Furthermore, looking at Diana and Whitney during the nude shoot (which I can almost defend, on the basis of art), they don’t look a bit different from the women I see on the street, except for their exceptional, glowing-from-within beauty. Not everyone has that—the within part, I mean. I don’t, not always, and I know it comes from having faith in yourself and feeling it, telling conventions to go to Nebraska. (Nebraska=hell. I’m mean.)

I can’t say that America’s Next Top Model truly fosters that belief, I really can’t. I could say that it’s trying, in small, subtle ways, casting here and keeping there. I could say that it’s flawed from the start because modeling is a flawed industry. Or I could simply say that the whole issue of beauty is completely messed-up, and we need to tear out all the pages of that particular set of magazines and start over.


i also miss pop up video!

did you see the scary "dead models" episode? there's a great post about it on feministing.com.