Friday, April 23, 2010

America's Next Top Model

America's Next Top Model (hereafter ANTM) is one of my favorite TV shows. This might be surprising, considering that I have never shown any interest in fashion, conventional female attractiveness, hair and makeup, or anything you'd normally associate with modeling.

I started watching because I am basically a sucker for reality shows in which someone is dismissed at the end of each episode (I will watch almost any show of that type) and because there are a lot of ANTM episodes out there to see. I think there have been 14 seasons of the show by now, and every weekend, Oxygen broadcasts an entire season back to back, which I have my DVR record, so that basically whenever I want to just space out in front of the TV, it's likely to be ANTM that I'm watching. I think I've seen 6 or so seasons in their entirety at this point.

The setup is the same each season. Out of thousands of women who send in videotapes or are recruited in malls and the like, Tyra Banks (the supermodel who produces and hosts the show and is like a "mother hen" to the contestants) chooses 35 or so to show up. During the first episode, this gets narrowed down to about 13, and these finalists move into a fabulous house. Each week, there is a "teach" (where they learn more about runway walking, acting, posing, dancing, makeup, or some other relevant skill), a challenge (where whatever was taught is tested, with some prize for the winner), a photo shoot (or sometimes commercial shoot), and a judging, in which one woman is sent home. The finale each season has them choosing between the last three girls to see who will become "America's Next Top Model." (The prizes for winning the show include a modeling contract with Cover Girl, representation by a modeling agency, and a cover and spread inside a magazine, usually Seventeen.)

The contestants are generally all (or almost all) within the physical parameters of models - that is, tall, and thin, except that usually one or two are plus-size models (which is a specific range of size as well). Some are conventionally very pretty and others are more odd-looking. The odd-looking ones can generally skate by a bit longer in the competition by virtue of their odd looks; conventionally pretty women need to shape up quickly or they will be kicked off for being too commercial or relying on their looks.

All of this doesn't exactly sound appealing to me, but the actual show is very interesting to watch. They are always striving to make the women more edgy, less commercial, more editorial, and basically more strange. (On one episode, Tyra helped the women develop a "signature pose." One of the women - Marjorie, shown at left in a different pose - wanted to do "the hunchback of Notre Dame" as her pose, and Tyra loved it, and helped her mold it into something awesome.) The women who look strange, like Marjorie, tend to be my favorites. I usually have a favorite every season - someone I could look at for hours - and my favorite usually makes it pretty far, but so far has never won.

One thing that interests me is watching and cataloging, over time, what traits are needed to succeed on the show. The most important one I've seen is that you have to be simultaneously completely aware of your body (how it looks, how it's catching the light, what positions you personally look good in) and completely un-self-conscious (willing to try anything, look foolish, be over the top). You need to be confident but also open and willing to learn and listen to advice. Being either arrogant or insecure will not work.

I'll never be a model, but this is an attitude I want to work on having more of for grad school especially - the willingness to try things, and work hard at them, without any guarantee of success, but also without apology or insecurity. And, of course, I want the ability to receive and profit from advice from people who know more than I do.

In my own experience, humility is the key to hitting both points. Humility makes you not too afraid about failing, because you don't see your awesome glorious self as being put on the line. You're just there doing your best and learning as you go along, and you basically don't view everything as being about you and your image. I mean, I don't know any of this for sure, since I don't really have the quality that I'm talking about, but it seems to me that if I could cultivate it, it would help.


Sally said...

I didn't foresee a post about a reality television show ending with comments about humility. :)

I wonder if for these women it's humility that lets them try outrageous things without putting their selves on the line, a lack of strong identity (hence, no self to put on the line), or just the fact that becoming a model is all about crafting an image so it's okay to mess with that image until it's right.

Tam said...

Yes, it's probably not humility, exactly, that the best ones on ANTM have. But some of them do seem blocked from trying things because they are unwilling to appear foolish or to contradict a particular image of themselves (as, e.g., pretty). Being playful or open with your self-concept is related to humility, at least for me. This is as opposed to, for instance, seeing "good at math" or "smart" as a central part of my self-image and thus being unwilling to try something math- or smartness-related that I might fail at.

As for modeling, in a sense models are, of course, a canvas. But the kind of model that ANTM is trying to train you to be is also recognizable in her own right and so maintains a distinctive identity, while still being flexible and having a wide range of looks. I do find that interesting.