Strange and unusual tales from a multi-dimensional point of view.
The year was 1998, I was a newly emancipated teenager, having left my parents to attend my first year of college. For years I had played the good girl, I didn’t do drugs or drink, I didn’t lie, I was an honor roll student, I followed most of the rules, and I only found a minimal amount of trouble to get into in my small, mid-western, home town. The interactions I had had with men up to that point had been emotionally confusing, socially baffling, and, where sex was involved, often awkward or uncomfortable. Why did guys treat their relations with me so casually? At the time, I assumed these experiences were reflections of my own shortcomings as a woman, but in most cases, at least when the guys were my own age, I think they were just as confused as I was. The older men who thought that they were entitled to getting easy sex for taking a teen-aged girl out for a fancy dinner were just creeps.
Even growing up in a household of women, no one told me that some men actually are strange, unsettling beings who don’t always recognize females as equals to be honored and respected. My mother tried to warn me, I think. But her, “Men only want one thing…” line was foiled by her wild stories about meeting scandinavian dukes with her fashion-model sister in Studio 54 (which sounded like fun to me). And her credibility was blown by the fact that she hadn’t followed her own advice: she had 4 kids by the time she was 26. Me and my sisters all vowed not to fall pray to the family curse of getting pregnant at age 19 and none of us did. That much mom can say she successfully achieved.
Growing up, no one told me that I was a perfect and powerful being or that any guy who didn’t recognize me as such was an idiot or a jerk and should not be fooled with on any level. Most likely, I just didn’t hear the people who did try to tell me that. The competitive social programming playing out between women in society, between mothers and daughters, even between sisters or best friends, was so strong in my social upbringing from examples in the media to examples in my own matriarchal family, that my own insecurities always got the best of me. We were conditioned to compete and compare ourselves to each other, rather than to honor and admire each other as individual, beautiful women. The voice in my head telling me I wasn’t good enough was always the one I heard the loudest. I assumed that there was something wrong with me if a guy didn’t care about my feelings or honor my sensitivity. In response, I attacked men back with all I had: I played them, dumped them, slighting them, and treated guys as disposable as I felt. Revenge was bittersweet at best, highly damaging to my own psyche at worst.
In an effort to get over my pre-programmed insecurities, I had spent my high-school years studying and copying glamourous movie stars, obsessing over my favorite female rock icons, and pouring over every fashion magazine I could get my hands on to study the fine art of female beauty, charm, and “empowerment”. If competition was the program, my plan was to train to win the game and I was willing to use beauty steroids to get there. I fantasized about being beautiful, sexy, desirable, wild, exciting, exotic, impressive… just like the women I saw in my favorite media imagery. I believed that the patchwork of female iconic images which I had melded together to make my own image defined me as unique. By the time I was 18, I felt I was ready to take on the big city. What happened next was a big hot mess.
I arrived in NYC and was quickly picked up on the street by multiple modeling “talent” agents for my wild style. I was being recognized as a “star” by gay men everywhere (Note to self girls: if the queens think you are fabulous and want to take you along for the ride, you are about to be paraded around as man-bait and shortly thereafter dumped in a potentially very-seedy situation).
On my first casting call, a 1970’s themed shoot for W magazine, I did my best impression of Debbie Harry (for those of you too young to get the reference, think a 1980’s Lady Gaga). I was hired for the shoot.
At the shoot, they put me in a stretch hobble-pencil skirt meant for a girl 2 sizes smaller and stilettos with nail heads for spikes. I was already crippled by my costume but that was just the beginning. The other models were skinny 14-15 yr old girls who smoked while their chaperone-mothers stood by watching, and a small hand full of 19 year old beef-cake, chippendale-looking guys who were equally humiliated by their costumes (the guys were greased up, dusted with gold powder, and put in gold speedos). The shoot manager dumped a carton of cigarettes and 8 opened bottles of cheap champaign on the center coffee table of the set and we were told to use them as our props but we were also encouraged to partake to get into the mood of the shoot’s “disco-dance-party” theme. I didn’t smoke, but I was willing to try the champaign. It was sweet and went down easy. I remembered a scene that looking something like this before I blacked out. That was the first and last time I ever blacked out.
My second and last casting call led me into a room full of girls who looked like different versions of myself: same general hair style and coloring, some were taller, some were skinnier, some had brown eyes, etc. I was being compared to 50 other girls who looked just like me and it was a competition for the best looking version of me. It was like an episode out of the Twilight Zone and my ego could not take it. That was the end of my modeling career. I walked out before I was called in for judgement.
After that, I stuck to the behind the scenes of fashion and have heard more similar stories of what other young girls have been put through in their efforts to become a fashion “star”. One associate of mine, a women who had actually won first place on Project Runway, lived to tell a tale of the contestants on the show being intentionally strung out before filming to increase the drama: they were starved for 12 hours and penned up in a small back room before the grand finally of the show was filmed. She said the prize money lasted one season, but the emotional and psychological scars still remain.
A stylist friend of mine described going on shoots at resorts in Costa Rica (far away from parental chaperones) were the entire cast and crew were forced to play drinking and sexual games together in the evenings after a day of shooting. If they didn’t want to join in they were shamed and chastised, and they were made to feel that their potential future jobs were threatened. She said she’d have to check in all the hotel rooms of the crew in the morning to find the models. They were passed around by the crew and would never land in the same bed twice, nor did they ever get hired again anyway. Another story she told me of was about the casting directors at a particular major teen brand sleeping with any models they wanted: sexual favors for the possibility of being hired.
And some photographers are notoriously famous and highly sought after by some of the biggest magazines in the media for their practice of sexually humiliating and embarrassing their models in front of the camera during the shoot to get the exact effect on camera that they want. This man is known to shoot with his pants off. Girls are considered lucky to be shot by him because his raunchy photos have been known to make a girl an instant “star”.
So when I see the vacant stare on a Victoria’s Secret Angel’s face I see anything but a girl who is upheld as holy.
I see a mass produced trick in the reality game created to make young women think they are empowered while grooming them to be sexual pleasure toys for men. (And P.S. those bra’s are made of carcinogenic fibers and their extreme push-up underwires have been linked to causing breast cancer in multiple studies). Use, abuse, and disposal of women. What is the value of looking good at that cost?
These are the images modern girls and young women are given by the media to admire and emulate. These women have been abused, humiliated, drugged, and psychologically conditioned to look and act a certain way in front of cameras which we are told as a society is “sexy” and “powerful”.
It’s a trick, a lie, a con.
The truth is that every woman standing strong in her own power is beautiful, especially when she is smiling from her heart, expressing herself out of love, and not responding to, feeding, or allowing the insecure voices in her mental pre-programed conditioning to drive her desires and actions. Those insecure voices are not us, they are the media programs playing over and over through our brains like a recorder, in an effort to control our energy, our power, our bodies, our wallets, and our souls.
In retrospect, I believe I chose to have those uncomfortable experiences in high school and college so that I could fully understand what has been happening behind the curtain of the fashion media, so that I could dismantle those programs for other women who don’t need to go through the experiences that I went through.
There is a common misconception by women wanting to be fashion stars that if you stick with it long enough, and once you get numb to the conditioning then you will come out on the other side wealthy, successful, and powerful. And that may be true if one actually gets to the other side. But power can be measured in many different ways. At what point does a model realize they’re spending their life supporting the social conditioning of another generation of young girls and how do they avoid getting sucked into that program themselves, let alone help to change the program from the inside?
There is a hand-full of models who are financially successful and who don’t quite fit the programming mold. They look at modeling as an exercise in zen mastership of a sort: keeping centered in their hearts while at work, eating pure-organic food, refusing to drink or do drugs, working out, and who work to keep their heads as clear as possible so that they can do their jobs and not be effected by the conditioning. They take care of, respect, and honor themselves, and so, in turn they are treated this way in their professional lives. You don’t see them in photos where they are put in compromising positions that often and sometimes they even have an expression of depth in their eyes. There’s intelligence and a centeredness beneath the surface when they radiate it.
There are also women in the business for whom fashion was never about being pretty, who celebrated their own weirdness. Fashion was merely a vehicle for their own creative force. Oddballs in fashion have always stood far outside of the female programming, standing in their own power, and have often stood as examples for other women to choose to turn to fashion to express their own creative power.
Vogue Fashion Editor, Diana Vreeland was famous for breathing life into an uptight society and was credited for shifting women’s behavior in society into a game of extreme creativity and freedom of expression. Diana Vreeland as a child was told by her own mother, “It’s too bad that you have such a beautiful sister and that you are so extremely ugly and so terribly jealous of her. This, of course, is why you are so impossible to deal with.” So her personal credo in life became: “Don’t just be your ordinary dull self. Why don’t you be ingenious and make yourself into something else?” Her power and love of creativity allowed her to see potential in every person she met and when she looked at them, people would simply blossom into a full expression of themselves before her. She activated.
Fashion Editor, Isabella Blow, never considered a beauty, was especially famous for her outlandish and often comical head gear which was generally too large to fit inside of anyone’s box. She inspired through her joy.
Designer Elsa Schiaparelli was told almost everyday by her mother that she was ugly compare to her sister, but her uncle, one of the most renowned astronomers told her that the moles on her face look like star clusters- at that moment she started celebrating her uniqueness. She was known to roll with abstract expressionist artists, such as Salvadore Dali, and turned fashion into a bizarre surreal adventure in a time when wearing tailored suits and uniformity ruled fashion in society. Choosing to wear a shoe as a hat or cover a dress in giant lobsters was funny enough to do just for the fun of it. In the middle of a World War, humor was her medicine for society.
And most recently, a geeky, inquisitive, and thoughtful teen blogger, Tavi Gevinson who documented her thrift-store dress ups at age 13 became an overnight star in the fashion world. In person, she’s quiet, shy, nerdy, small, and mousey. Now at age 16, she has founded her own site, Rookie, to empower teens to refuse to be blind and stupid in their clothing choices. Refusal of programing? She’s canceling it out, addressing it directly, and not apologizing for being right in a world that’s been wrong.
Note, all the women above who challenged the female fashion programming had one common advantage: they’re all ugly ducklings who became rare birds of their own creation. We don’t have to listen to the insecurity inspiring, female-control programs, all we have to do is listen to and create from our hearts and in a moment we appear as fully self-empowered women, ready to transform our world into anything we choose to create.