January 20, 2015

The decline of supermodels: Why no Millennials?

The supermodel phenomenon tracks the outgoing, rising-crime phase of the cocooning-and-crime cycle. It took off during the '60s and culminated in the early '90s, then falling steadily into oblivion by the mid-2010s. It was also dormant during the cocooning, falling-crime era of the Midcentury.

I don't think it has to do with the outgoing phase being more sexually charged. The Midcentury and Millennial eras have their sex and style symbols, they're just from an existing celebrity "brand" with instant recognition. Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Jackie Kennedy, Katy Perry, Victoria Beckham, Kate Middleton.

The model comes to us as a more mysterious figure, without a pre-established credibility as a celebrity or someone worth paying attention to. She seems to exist purely within the realm of persona-creation, not even having an identifiable role for us to link her with (such-and-such character from a hit movie, a performer of such-and-such hit song, etc.). And she arrives connected to no apparent social circle, from which we could learn something about her -- what other actors she tends to work with, what other singers she performs with, who her family is, and so on.

The model is fundamentally a pop cultural stranger. This suggests that the rise in popularity of models from the '60s through the early '90s was more about the greater social risk-taking of the time, searching out the mysterious, and trusting that unfamiliar people weren't always going to be your undoing. Once the cocooning mood began to set in, folks became more socially risk-averse, came to view the mysterious as "sketchy" or "shady," and only trusted what was instantly familiar. The shadowy model had to get lost from the magazine cover to make room for the hit singer, the hit actress, and the reality TV star.

This rise and fall of the model has been noted over the past 5 to 10 years, although not so much what the causes of the rise and fall were. But there's an interesting layer underneath this change over periods, which is the differences across generations.

During the first wave, supermodels were Boomers, with a handful of late Silents who were probably chosen because the bulk of the Boomers were too young to be modeling during the '60s. Like all Boomers, they were libertines -- carefree, do what feels good, lacking in self-awareness. See Christie Brinkley playing a mysterious carefree supermodel who tempts Clark Griswold in Vacation.

By the mid-'80s and toward the peak of the phenomenon in the early '90s, the supermodels were drawn from Gen X. Naturally the "model look" became more aware of the viewer, and a bit more guarded of their true personality, playing up more of whatever their persona was. Christy Turlington embodied the generation's balance between guarded and revealing, withdrawn and interactive, introspective and curious about the spectator.

That was over two decades ago -- who are the supermodels today? According to former supermodels Claudia Schiffer and Naomi Campbell, the only one around by the late 2000s was Gisele Bundchen. She and Alessandra Ambrosio are about the only supermodel types I see in the news anymore. There may be models du jour among the fashion cognoscenti, but I'm talking about those who you'd recognize because their career and everyday lives are covered in the mass media.

Bundchen and Ambrosio were both born at the very end of the Gen X cohort, in the early '80s, and by now are 34 and 33 years old, having worked in the modeling world for well over a decade. Today's supermodels were born only 10 years later than their predecessors of over 20 years ago, evidently not having been displaced by younger rivals. It's not as though all birth years are going to eventually get represented as time moves forward. That assumes that they're equally capable of the job of supermodel.

But what if there's no there there? Millennials are a generation without personality, suited to constantly staring down at a glowing screen to block out their social awkwardness. They can speak lines of dialog and approximate the right body language, so they can find work as actors. But in a way, becoming a star model is more difficult because there is no dialog, plot, or character traits provided in a script to guide their performance. They have to tantalize and mesmerize the audience with only a shadowy yet distinct persona. That subtlety of intuition is way beyond the abilities of Millennials.

Apart from subtlety and intuition, you also need a basic curiosity about the viewer and willingness to interact with them, a little give and a little take. This hardly requires you to be a born salesman, but it's still too extraverted for the socially awkward Millennials.

I do see constant references in the news and at Blind Gossip to a 1992-born model named Cara Delevingne, but she's no supermodel (or anti-supermodel). She hasn't created a persona, instead falling back on the default Millennial mood of a bratty toddler on the verge of throwing a temper tantrum. A quick check shows that her family is very well connected in the publishing industry, so her 15 minutes of fame owe to nothing more than nepotism. She doesn't look very cute either -- more like a pre-pubescent Kurt Cobain who grew his hair long.

An earlier post looked at who the subjects of reality TV shows have been, and for better or worse it has consistently been X-ers (and a minority of late Boomers), ever since the beginning of the genre in the early '90s. With their mixture of introspective and extraverted tendencies, they have been a natural focus from their college days on the original Real World up through their married, middle-age years on the Real Housewives series.

Millennials, on the other hand, don't have much personality to reveal, don't have many experiences to share, and are in any case too creeped out by other people to connect with an audience even if they did have something to offer.

In a way, models and reality TV stars are alike -- they do not come from an established brand (aside from the "celebreality" subjects), and they offer a stylized view of their true personalities. The difference is that the model is mysterious and reserved, while the reality star is obvious and TMI. Still, it's no surprise why both domains show such a profound generational split, to the point that audiences find the middle-aged more interesting than the young.


  1. I can name a couple. Giselle Bundchen (an ex of Leo DeCaprio), Carmen Kass, and Bridget Hall.

  2. Those other two are late X-ers as well (born late '70s).

  3. I understand this generation jargon only applies to America. Doesn't it? Giselle Bundchen and other supermodels are not American.

  4. "During the first wave, supermodels were Boomers, with a handful of late Silents who were probably chosen because the bulk of the Boomers were too young to be modeling during the '60s. Like all Boomers, they were libertines -- carefree, do what feels good, lacking in self-awareness."

    Do you think having enough of a certain heritage/ancestry in your blood can make up for the disadvantages of growing up in a dull time period? Is a Nordic or Slavic Boomer going to be more engaging than a Celtic or Mediterranean Millennial?

    I know Sailer's mentioned some book (or study?) that dealt with ancestry and accomplishment in America. If memory serves the scandie's (at least the Swedes) did pretty well. It would also be interesting to study ancestry and success as an entertainer. How many big time actors, models, singers etc. have been named Jensen or Lofgren? Tiger's Ex Elle Nordegren (? about spelling) turned out to be quite a handful, not that I blame her. Funny, now Tiger's been with Minnesota born Lindsey Vonn for a while. Maybe getting pushed and pulled around by a Nordic ice queen is one of his kinks....

    My very Minnesotan dad also has this sort of thing a bit, I'm afraid. At least I've got my mom's southern sourced Brit blood.

    Perhaps there's a bit of an affinity for drama ice queens and blacks. On the other hand, no nonsense pastoralists ain't got the perverse psychosis to want to deal with shameless, chaotic blacks or selfish, manipulative, and passive aggressive Nords/Anglo Farmers/Slavs.

    There's also the fact that being around weenie men makes women have no respect for the men of their race so they end up tasting the forbidden fruit. Might as well go black, don't have anything worth taking pride in or honoring anyway.

  5. I would also question lumping in a Brazilian (even a blonde one) into a generational classification that mainly pertains to Western Europe and the English speaking countries.

  6. Brazil had a similar period of rising crime, although I believe it lasted longer (into the early-mid 2000s, if memory serves, vs. the early-mid '90s in the West). They also had a rise in fertility in the '40s and '50s (not as sharply as in the West, though), and a baby bust during the '60s and after.

    It's these background factors that cause generations to develop one way or the other, not which country they take place in. So I'd still put Bundchen and Ambrosio in Brazil's version of Gen X, distinct from their version of Millennials.

  7. " to a 1992-born model named Cara Delevingne, but she's no supermodel"

    "She doesn't look very cute either -- more like a pre-pubescent Kurt Cobain who grew his hair long."

    These late Millennials look so weak, meek, child-like that it's kind of tough to really fall for them. Acting/looking like a grown-up...ummm, AWKWARD!

    Total turn off.

    We're gonna need the fragile reality of life to be violently shoved in our faces in order to get these post '88ers to drop the prissy, aloof, "don't go there" histrionics. When we get to the stage of needing to have each other's backs then we're gonna have to "go there" whether they like it or not.

    Who knew that flatlining crime rates could be so toxic to a person's sense of community, of honorable maturity, of having a realistic grasp of life rather than a naive and callous disregard for what we all go through and what we deserve.

    From our comfortable cocoons it's tempting to mock the big hair decade but you know, people were a helluva lot more unpretentious, helpful, and engaging back then. Makes you wonder what people are smoking when they talk about how "advanced" we've become. If one of those dolts got bludgeoned by a tire iron (or knew someone who did) they might change their tune.

  8. Helicopter parenting may have delayed the Millennials' physical as well as emotional maturation. A good fraction of college-aged Millennials have the proportions of the average 8th grader from 20 years ago. Taller of course, but looking too underdeveloped in their secondary sex traits -- not just having skinny legs and tube-like waist-hip ratios, but almost infantile faces.

    Cara Delevingne, Selena Gomez, Miley Cyrus, Sarah Hyland, Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen, etc. They look like slightly blown-up 8th graders, and exude zero sexuality. The exceptions like Iggy Azalea really stick out, as it were.

    Come to think of it, we're now over 20 years into a booty-centric culture, ever since "Baby Got Back" in 1992. Yet Millennial girls, or at least the visible ones, don't seem to be a part of this trend. As with supermodels, the icons of junk in the trunk are all X-ers. Salt N' Pepa back in the '80s with "Push It," Jennifer Lopez, Fergie, Shakira, Beyonce, Kim Kardashian, Nicki Minaj (she's way older than I would've guessed, born in '82), Amber Rose, and so on.

    What to make of that? Seems like another case of Gen X developing more fully than the toddler-ish Millennials.

    Again, I'm not saying you can't find any Millennials who look voluptuous, just that it's way less common.

  9. "Helicopter parenting may have delayed the Millennials' physical as well as emotional maturation. A good fraction of college-aged Millennials have the proportions of the average 8th grader from 20 years ago. Taller of course, but looking too underdeveloped in their secondary sex traits -- not just having skinny legs and tube-like waist-hip ratios, but almost infantile faces."

    Soft environments produce soft people. Football/Hockey players are about the only Millennials who look remotely rugged. Which makes sense; intense physical activity + camaraderie + competition + high expectations from coaches (w/punishment for failing) = relative strength. Non athlete Millennials may obviously deal with a lot of high expectations (don't make it to the Ivy League than you're a loser) but it's not the sort of thing involving a great deal of physical/visceral challenge so they end up being very wimpy.

    Meanwhile, back in the 80's/early 90's even the relatively dorky people still experienced many activities beyond staring at screens so that even nerds from back then looked more imposing/mature.

    Part of it also is the level of "heavy" stuff that is going down. When a lot of violent/tragic things are happening being twee is no longer gonna cut it.

    I was looking thru my yearbooks a few months ago and I noticed that the senior class of 2001 still look fairly mature and serious. The younger grades not so much but even the 10th graders from back then looked more sober than 21 year olds do now. I think that just hearing about the gangs, beatings, robberies, etc. in the late 80's/early 90's had an effect. Having those things happen to you (or someone you know) would be even more effective. I knew some people who went thru some bad stuff and I remember some nasty stuff happening in my neighborhood.

    Eventually we're gonna change, it's just a question of when.

  10. In college, there was a sudden widespread awareness that the class of '06, when they showed up as freshmen, were radically different from not only the older classes still on campus, but from those we had known who'd graduated in the '90s.

    It was something everyone noticed and asked each other about, like "Am I crazy, or...?" "This may sound totally crazy, but have you noticed..."

    The main thing we picked up on was that they were no longer aiming to be cool, however defined. Preppy cool, Bohemian cool, urban thug cool -- they didn't seem to be picking an ideal and trying to achieve coolness. They were instead single-mindedly focused on grade-grubbing, doing some kind of pre-professional track, and making a shitload of money when they graduated.

    The other major thing that was commented on was how pushy and self-centered they behaved, and how the dining halls and libraries now felt like they'd been invaded by schoolchildren.

    We didn't know it at the time, but we'd just gotten our first real exposure to the Millennials. These students were born in '84-'85. I doubt ours was the only place to experience this collective sense of "There goes the neighborhood" with the arrival of the class of '06. But it really was a widespread running joke during the '02-'03 school year.

  11. IMO the model Taylor Marie Hill is the most attractive millenial: http://instagram.com/taylor_hill

    1. Damn, no edit button. But this video's better: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=5FHhBVWwE5E

  12. She's definitely a cutie, but in her pictures she looks like a child playing dress-up, and looks slightly uncomfortable making eye contact with the viewer (although at least she settles for a mousy or blank-faced response to the awkwardness, rather than a full-on kabuki mask a la Cara Delevingne or Miley Cyrus).

    Granted she's only 17-18, but Christy Turlington looked more mature and socially savvy in her pictures from '87, and so does Kate Moss from '92. Her lookalike Brooke Shields was only 15 in The Blue Lagoon, and came off more mature.

    I wonder if the lack of personality among Millennials feeds into itself when they're forming their self-image.

    A girl like Taylor Hill realizes at some level that guys are only looking at her as a sex object, and girls looking to her as someone whose body face and hair they want. In other words, her peers (or anyone older or younger too) are only interested in her superficial qualities.

    You might think that would encourage her to cultivate more of a persona, in order to not feel inadequate in the eyes of others. But my experience is that they tend to get demoralized and withdraw further, worsening their delayed development of personality and identity, which only arise from within a social dynamic.

    They then adopt more of a cosplay persona to at least have something to hang their identity on. Lana Del Rey is like that, assuming a vintage / Bohemian costume. Taylor Swift is now trying to assume an indie-cred persona, still feeling unsatisfied despite megastar success because she's never really grown up socially. Miley Cyrus and Kristen Stewart are the same way. They're playing dress-up to fill in for a developed personality.

    It's a shame about Taylor Hill, she seems basically sympathetic rather than bratty like most in her generation. But she also seems painfully awkward, too naive for her age, and difficult to connect with, in line with the Millennial pattern.

    1. Lana del Rey is 29. Is that young enough to be millenial?

      And Hill's boyfriend is also 29. Lucky guy.

  13. She does have wonderfully furry eyebrows. If she manages to bring those back in style, we can overlook her discomfort in front of the camera.

  14. 1985 births are definitely Millennial. Maybe not the purest distillation of the generation, just like 1965 births aren't the purest X-ers.

  15. "And Hill's boyfriend is also 29. Lucky guy."

    I just checked into this and wouldn't be so sure that's her boyfriend, but rather her "boyfriend."

    They are both represented by the same modeling agency (White Cross Management), and have done at least one shoot together (similar to an actor and actress under the same management appearing in the same movie). It is probably a PR ploy to make them into a "power couple," as all celebs are required to be in these days. It'll create synergy!

    (Well, it does, witness the faux-mance between those two Twilight kids, which the naive teenagers totally fell for.)

    ...And then there's the greater than 50% chance that this guy is a closeted homo, and she is serving as his beard, in order to prop up his macho / hetero cred in the male modeling world, where the average guy would probably assume you are gay and not want to imitate you.

    The "boyfriend" Michael Shank has a severe case of gay whoosh hair, called an "undercut." It's so common among queers, and so absent among normal guys, that it is typically a dead giveaway. Maybe he was just assigned that haircut in order to appeal to the gay audience, but in this candid selfie with his "girlfriend" he's really giving the gay whoosh 'do all he's got (not what a normal guy would do):


    Here's one from the shoot they did together:


    Possibly the least heterosexual picture of a couple embracing that I've ever seen. Not just zero chemistry, but negative chemistry -- an embrace so awkward and painful that it makes the viewer consciously wonder whether the guy is grossed out by this babe-alicious model.

    What is it that gives off such an awkward impression? His back, shoulders, and upper arms seem to be not just giving somewhat due to her leaning into him, but pulling back as far as the joints will allow, because ewww boobies about to pollute my immaculately waxed pecs.

    He's also staring straight down at her with his eyebrows raised, which is a look of shock. It's almost an expression of fear, but that would require his mouth to be somewhat open -- which he can't since he's kissing her.

    That kind of surprised intensity in his stare is like a little boy who's just seen something taboo for the first time -- what for a normal boy would be seeing his first bush or something. For this so-called adult, it's the mere fact of kissing a girl's lips rather than a guy's.

    Many of his portraits show him with a stereotypically gay facial expression. When they try to "be sexy," they bow their head submissively, raise their eyebrows in surprise, and narrow their eyelids to suggest "sultry" thoughts. Or something. I don't quite understand the motivation, but it's like a 6 year-old boy hamming it up to "act sexy."


    Closeted homo Taylor Lautner looks like that in portraits. Jeremy Renner has some like that too. I can't remember all the other examples, but when I started discovering from Blind Gossip who all the closet cases were, this was a typical look in their "sexy portrait" pictures, more so among the younger ones.

    The good news, then, is that your dream girl is still available. The bad news is she only dates gay eunuchs who will synergistically enhance her brand recognition and further her career goals.

  16. The flagrant in your face marketing/success of so many of these homos is making modern media intolerable. It would probably be bad no matter what given that we're in a cocooning period but the gay nonsense really pushes it over the edge.

    And today's no libido women pine for omega males. Hence the stigma toward long haired guys since the mid 90's. The overmanaging of dorky haircuts (even among straights to a lesser extent) is really a sign of how dull and weak people are.

  17. Kate Upton, born in 1992. And this bunch:


    I think you're just unaware of the current batch due to getting older.

  18. Read what was written instead of lame attempts at "gotcha!"

    Miranda Kerr, Bundchen, Ambrosio, etc. who were named in that article you linked to are born in the early '80s, just like I said.

    Kate Upton is not a supermodel. She's more of a cheesecake / pin-up model, primarily or only geared toward male audiences.

    The supermodel tries to appeal to both male and female audiences -- men want her, women want to be wanted like her. Men may not find her the hottest babe out there, but are still drawn in by her sex appeal. And it's not purely for her measurements, but some vaguer and more holistic feminine charm or charisma. That's what the women are after -- being wanted not just because they resemble a sex-bot of pornographic fantasy, but for their power to spellbind men.


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