The Thinking 

And, Athletic Vamps Too

July 31, 2012


DIANA M. writes:

I know I recently wrote that I was boycotting the Olympics, but I weakened and watched the women’s gymnastics night before last. I gave in to temptation. They were covering the preliminary round for the all-around competition.

I confess, and I’m sorry, because (a) I was a hypocrite and (b) what I saw affords additional reasons to boycott the Olympics.

They’ve tarted up the American female gymnasts, who are all adolescents on the verge of womanhood. Wearing heavy cosmetics has been going on for a while and is most pronounced among the Russians. However – the television producers bumped it up more than a notch with sexy “glam” shots of the U.S. girls, singly and in a group, vamping it up for the camera.

The style was the latter-day Project Runway — hip thrusts, pouting, squinting meanly into the camera.  I think is ridiculous enough on actual models. But it looks truly absurd on short, muscular 17-year-old girls. They were supposed to look sexy – they looked like jail bait. A shame in any case, but more so that these girls appear to be sweet kids in real life.

Incidentally, I’m not sure when the mean vamp became ‘the look’ for high fashion models but Dorian Leigh, the first great print model, didn’t do that. She was somewhat remote and not the girl next door, but she didn’t look downright hostile.

Dorian Leigh

—– Comments —-

Diana writes (on Aug.1):

To be fair to our US gymnastics girls, I wish them all the best and I am glad they won the team gold. I saw them on television this morning and they kept referring to each other as “girls” not “women.”  They were adorable.

I think the photo you put in of Jordyn Wieber shows seriousness, not contrived vampiness. (Vampishness?) I can’t locate a picture of what I was referring to. In between the coverage (which was tape delayed), there were “editorial” shots of them, in which they were obviously encouraged to play up to the camera a la Project Runway, with pouty lips and thrusting hips. That’s what I disliked. Not them!

Laura writes:

I agree. The photo is not a good example.

Hannon writes:

I wanted to express my appreciation to your commenter Diana M., who cogently pointed out the difference in countenance between what is seen in the posted photo of Dorian Leigh and what passes for desirable these days in terms of facial expressions. I suspect “the look” sells as much as any other aspect of a model’s image but today the sullen, contemptuous and even hostile visages we are commonly subjected to has become simply revolting. I believe I wrote to you about this before and used Jessica Alba as a consistent example of this trend. Her extraordinary beauty is marred by that “you disgust me” sneer she always wears, even when she is with her children.

Aside from what appears to be cold aloofness, it is also a matter of what is not showing. The photo of Ms. Leigh conveys thought and intelligence and a true command of one’s self rather than deficiencies hidden by exaggerated moodiness. She invites the approach of a confident man with similar qualities, rather than a man who either subjugates a defiant-looking woman or subjects himself to her dominance.

I’m probably reading too much into the appearance of one photo (it’s Lawrence Auster’s fault) but it does seem to communicate a higher functioning that has largely been lost in today’s world of glamour modeling.

Diana responds:

Thanks to Hannon. I thought I was the only one who is disgusted by the “You Disgust Me” look.

Hannon’s descriptions of this look were better than mine. And no, Hannon is not reading too much into one picture. Just look on the internet, and compare any number of high fashion photographs of the great models of the past, to those of today, and you’ll immediately be struck by the difference.

Models have always been cool and unattainable, but they weren’t, as Hannon said, “sullen, contemptuous and hostile.” In this case, I think the huge dividing line was the 1980s, not the 1960s. And is it a coincidence that in the 1980s, the fashion industry became invaded by cocaine and heroin? It’s true that the industry was never very wholesome, and a girl was best advised to make her money and get out, but in the 1980s it became debauched.

Alissa writes:

Regarding Olympic gymnastics, the New York Times argues that the sport has changed. Why has the joy, grace and beauty faded? Hmmmm.

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