June 19, 2021

Death knell of the model phenomenon, as Victoria's Secret ends the Angels

I've been writing about this topic off and on over the past 10 years, but the cultural phenomenon of models has been on the wane at least since the 2000s, perhaps going back to the '90s. The cover girl (or whatever she is in a newer medium than magazines) has steadily become an existing pop culture celebrity, typically an actress or a singer.

It's Cameron Diaz, or Demi Lovato, or Kim Kardashian — as long as it's someone the audience already knows, and already has a solid idea of what their persona or branding is. No mystery allowed. No allure. It can't be someone whose personal details, dating history, bla bla bla, is either secret or just not very interesting.

They must be a fully known quantity, otherwise the audience cannot cosplay as them, or form a parasocial attachment to them. Those goals are too hard to reach when the person you're trying to latch onto is a more shadowy figure. During the outgoing and rising-crime times of the 1960s through the early '90s, people tolerated and even preferred some ambiguity, shadow, and secrecy — all meant to pique your curiosity, and draw you over to them, to investigate.

In the cocooning and falling-crime times since then, a mysterious stranger is a threat, liable to produce anxiety rather than pro-social curiosity in the audience. So, mysterious strangers are out, fully fleshed-out characters are in.

Although they have been an endangered species for the past few decades, models have now become all but extinct, and not just because our first and only model First Lady is no longer in the White House. Victoria's Secret recently announced the end of their Angels program of supermodels. They had been one of the few holdouts for showcasing models rather than actresses, singers, and other non-fashion celebs. Certainly they were the most visible, influential, and enduring of the holdouts.

Really their only competition over the past 20-30 years in the model-spotlighting game was the American Apparel ad campaigns of the late 2000s. But already by the late 2010s, the former hipster audience for American Apparel was more interested in seeing known figures from the media/entertainment sector, such as podcasters, walk the runway and appear in fashion shoots (the Red Scare girls did both).

As an aside, that's why I find Aimee Terese more inspiring as a muse than others from online media / entertainment. She's reluctant to share personal details, she deliberately holds back, and sticks to one type of performer (podcaster and shitposter). It's more like what a model's job used to entail back in the '80s and '90s, creating some mystery, allure, and inviting our curiosity (but not our parasocial obsession about her backstory, character arc, etc.).

She likes being able to provoke and tantalize the audience just a bit, while still being able to slink back into the comfort of her own unrecorded and unbroadcast personal life. This lack of total definition of her persona allows her fans to imagine various forms that they could mold her into (e.g., as the giant neon ad girl from Blade Runner 2049).

By the same token, it allows her sad loser haters to project onto more of a narrative blank slate, conjuring up a spectre to haunt themselves with. It's no different from when detractors of models used to denigrate hot famous girls for whatever they imagined their personal faults were, since models were not fully known quantities and could not instantly and forever defend themselves. But normal people in an audience tend to give attack victims the benefit of the doubt, and dismiss the haters. In this anti-fragile manner, the crazy haters grow the fan-base of their target.

At any rate, with a lag of a few years, the mainstream is now catching up to the avant-garde, and VS will replace models with politically themed pop culture stars. As usual, the mainstream corporate approach is going far more over-the-top than the avant-garde in its wokeness (racial diversity, body size positivity, etc.), since inclusive representation is an ideology meant to distract from the deteriorating standard of living for most people who are not elite.

That's why most of the anti-woke left figures of the past five years have hailed from a peripheral or Bohemian niche of the cultural ecosystem, while woketards are working hand-in-glove with Wall Street banks and the CIA.

At the same time, this ideological spin is also a rationalization for VS. They were bound to kill off their models at some point or another, as the phenomenon has been fading for decades. What particular excuse they needed to do so, would have depended on the exact cultural circumstances. And since wokeness has been amped up over the past 5-10 years, they're running with that as their excuse.

If they had chosen last year to end it, they would've blamed it on coronavirus like every other elite actor. But now that that's winding down, it's back to wokeness. Whatever the excuse, it's good-bye to mysterious cultural figures for good.


  1. Trying to remember the last model I was aware of -- Yamila Diaz-Rahi, an early 2000s model from Argentina (3/4 Spanish, 1/4 Lebanese... some aspects of your tastes never change).

    Can't remember how I found her, though she did appear in Sports Illustrated's website, and one of the lad mags. Models were not just inspirational figures for women, at least some of them were to get guys horned up as well. I recall Brazilian models Adriana Lima and Ana Beatriz Barros being in lad mags back then. As in the general picture, Gen X was the last gen to be famous models, regardless of their age.

    I was looking for someone to place in the background of my computer screen at a repetitive summer job, located in a SMALL basement-level room with no windows. I needed something -- someone -- to cheer me up, keep my company, and validate me. One hot chick, coming up.

    It's just like the pin-up models of older days, or the posters / magazine tear-outs placed on a teenage guy's room. Not strictly for horny stimulation (that was what your own imagination was for, or porn in recent decades). The model was a motivation to keep at your goals, in order to one day win a trophy gf or wife like her.

    Already by the '90s, the posters of scantily clad babes in Spencer's at the mall began including celebs from non-model backgrounds. I remember my little brother having a gigantic poster of Mariah Carey, from one of her late '90s album covers. Showing skin, looking flirtatious, but nothing pornographic.

    I think the ground-zero for that was the Janet Jackson Rolling Stone cover from 1993 (right as cocooning is starting), where she's topless and an unseen dude behind her is reaching around to cup her booba. Shot in B+W, clearly meant to look like an "artsy fashion shoot," not how singers had been presented before. Later blown up into a poster to buy at Spencer's as well, or maybe you just ripped off the cover of the mag itself and pinned that up.

    It was not simply "I like her music, and also she's hot -- two reasons to put up her poster". That had always been there, more so for teen girls putting up posters of hot rock dudes. This was shifting things more toward the singer as a replacement of the model, and her music was secondary or irrelevant. I mean, it's Mariah Carey -- I guess her songs are OK, but look how hot she is, what else is there to understand about why I'm putting her poster up on the wall?

    But unlike the model, who could excite your imagination more because she was more of an unknown quantity, the non-model celeb was more of a cosplay wish fulfillment scenario. You already knew so much about her, it left less room for curiosity and filling in details of the story by yourself.

    Back to that depressing basement computer room, there was also a stretch where I put up pictures of Penelope Cruz on the screen. Just following the trend of actresses replacing models, although in the early 2000s I was still 50/50 models / celebs.

    I knew *of* models after that, like the ones who appeared on the early seasons of Project Runway. But they were not big models who everyone knew, who were in major campaigns, and who guys pinned up on their wall -- or computer screen background, at any rate.

    Then by the 2010s, it was completely over. Emily Ratajkowski as "the hot chick from the Blurred Lines video," I guess, but again that's not an enduring presence in the media / entertainment world. Not like appearing in multiple places, not meant to be a mysterious alluring figure you imagine things about -- more quasi-pornographic (especially in the unedited video).

  2. It was Patrick Demarchelier who shot the Janet Jackson Rolling Stone cover! That really proves the point, using the top name in fashion / model photography at the time (or really, ever since), instead of someone known for tour documentaries, photojournalism, advertising, or pornography.

    That truly was the beginning of the end for models, unless someone can find an earlier instance of such a high-profile image of a non-fashion celeb being shot by a prestigious photographer from the fashion industry.

  3. Trump guys 2016: We have to shut down Muslim immigration / Build the wall

    Trump guys 2020: tfw no MENA baddie / thicc Latina gf

    NB: Still excludes men. It's strictly a Baddies With Phatties program.

    Regarding these remarks from Aimee:



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