This Year's Model: Fashion, Media, and the Making of Glamour

This Year's Model: Fashion, Media, and the Making of Glamour

This Year's Model: Fashion, Media, and the Making of Glamour

This Year's Model: Fashion, Media, and the Making of Glamour


Over the last four decades, the fashion modeling industry has become a lightning rod for debates about Western beauty ideals, the sexual objectification of women, and consumer desire. Yet, fashion models still captivate, embodying all that is cool, glam, hip, and desirable. They are a fixture in tabloids, magazines, fashion blogs, and television. Why exactly are models so appealing? And how do these women succeed in so soundly holding our attention?

In This Year's Model, Elizabeth Wissinger weaves together in-depth interviews and research at model castings, photo shoots, and runway shows to offer a glimpse into the life of the model throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. Once an ad hoc occupation, the "model life" now involves a great deal of physical and virtual management of the body, or what Wissinger terms "glamour labor." Wissinger argues that glamour labor--the specialized modeling work of self-styling, crafting a 'look,' and building an image--has been amplified by the rise of digital media, as new technologies make tinkering with the body's form and image easy. Models can now present self-fashioning, self-surveillance, and self-branding as essential behaviors for anyone who is truly in the know and 'in fashion.' Countless regular people make it their mission to achieve this ideal, not realizing that technology is key to creating the unattainable standard of beauty the model upholds--and as Wissinger argues, this has been the case for decades, before Photoshop even existed. Both a vividly illustrated historical survey and an incisive critique of fashion media, This Year's Model demonstrates the lasting cultural influence of this unique form of embodied labor.


“You should be a model.” During my teenaged suburban youth, living on the outskirts of New York City, I heard it often enough to strongly consider it. Modeling represented a short-circuit escape from the stifling hell of adolescence into instant womanhood and an indisputable confirmation of one’s beauty legitimacy, and worth. I sincerely believed models had few self-doubts and were readily accepted by other people and that they were supremely self-confident and had high self-esteem, qualities I knew I sorely lacked.

I felt the first pull toward modeling when I was twelve. My junior high choral group’s photo had appeared in the town newspaper, and a local photographer called my home to ask if I wanted to be a model. Would I! I could barely contain my excitement as I answered his questions. in my naiveté, I thought I had been discovered, that my chance for escape was at hand. Sensing something was up, my mother intervened, and through careful questioning of her own discovered that he wanted to shoot lingerie on little girls. I protested but eventually agreed that maybe this wasn’t the break I’d been looking for.

Once awakened to the dream of modeling, I had to live with it. I carried it into high school; it seemed that every girl over 5’7" was hung up on the same idea. My friend Diane was not model pretty. She was blond and slim, however, and her height matched the magic number, so she felt the pull of modeling even more than I (at 5’6”, I was beginning to wonder if I would ever be tall enough). We talked about it sometimes during freshman biology lab, when things were slow. We dissected frogs and discussed sending photos to agencies in nearby New York City. We drew amoebas and wondered whether we had it, whatever “it” was that won an agency contract. We diagramed ecosystems and dreamed of a different life.

Diane and I were acutely aware of one problem, however: our weight. We were both normal girls by medical standards, but everybody knew normal-weight girls are too fat to be models! When our dream came . . .

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