Can Television Anoint the Next Supermodel?

I always promise myself I won’t get sucked in to ‘America’s Next Top Model’ when a new cycle is beginning. I say I won’t watch ‘Canada’s Next Top Model’, ‘Make me a Supermodel’, ‘True Beauty’ or any other modeling contests. And yet I find myself glued to the television, hopelessly addicted to all of the above, every single time.

How can I resist – Beautiful people, designer clothes, death-defying photo shoots, drama – modeling contests are the ultimate escape. I sigh with envy as girls settle in for their three-hour makeup and hair sessions, reflecting on my own daily routine of yanking my hair into a ponytail and swiping on some lip balm. I picture myself twenty pounds lighter and twenty years younger. I imagine myself hanging from a crane in an evening gown while a photographer yells up at me that I am fabulous. These fantasies are surprisingly easy to get lost in while sitting on the couch in sweatpants eating chocolate and watching modeling contests on television.

The funny thing about a modeling contest like ‘America’s Next Top Model’ is that the winner, well, isn’t America’s next top model. I read a lot of fashion magazines and watch FT and I have never seen any of these girls anywhere ever again after the show’s closing credits. And yet season after season the hopefuls pose, squeal and fight to the death to gain a title that in reality is pretty meaningless. Such is the lure of the model lifestyle. They all want to jet-set around the world, marry a rock star and get interviewed on Oprah. Every eliminated contestant confesses in floods of tears that her dream is over, even though they still look the same as they did before the show started (aside from a generally heinous make-over). I suppose even the most beautiful among us need the validation of the click of a camera – or Tyra Banks.

I’m not judging. Our society values beauty over just about everything, and rewards the most beautiful with money, fame, and adulation. We love to look up to beautiful people. They represent health, wealth, happiness and success. Their shining faces sell us products and services that we hope will improve our own lives. We’re all in on it, no one is being duped. I know the shampoo I buy isn’t going to make my hair look like the Rapunzel-esque hair in the ad, but I still feel I have to give it a shot.

We understand that the perfection is an illusion, and that seems to explain why television modeling contests are so endlessly popular. We as viewers get to be a part of the angst behind the beauty, and see the self-doubt behind the confidence. It’s the glimpse behind the curtain that reminds us that even the most genetically blessed are human with issues and insecurities. And ironically, that makes models all the more beautiful to us.

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