This is a piece I wrote this morning which was intended in my head for the Guardian's Comment is Free section - but having written it I now realise is far too frivolous for them!
America’s Next Top Short Model?
America’s Next Top Model is one of the guiltiest of pleasures. A hugely popular tv programme on which girls compete for a flash-in-the-pan modelling contract and a spread in a minor teen magazine, and which revolves around the gargantuan ego of ex-minor model herself Tyra Banks, this reality format veers towards the absurd. Never more so than in the present series being aired in the UK – which features contestants all under 5 ft 6, the bare minimum height for catwalk modelling (and Kate Moss’ height).
The fashion industry’s demands for a certain kind of physical “perfection” have come under fire of late, in terms of its “size zero” culture. We have, over the years, occasionally seen plus-sized models on the catwalk (mostly when a designer’s ideas have dried out and he needs to distract attention from the clothes being worn to the bodies wearing them: yes, Mark Fast of the hideous knitted dresses, I’m talking about you). But the one thing that all models have in common regardless of body shape – be it voluptuous, athletic, heroin-chic, or cosmetically enhanced curves – is their above-average height. You’ll never see a lass of 5ft on the catwalk. There is space to be “plus-size” now in the fashion world (i.e. a UK size 8) but you’ve got to be Amazonian with it. The one thing you can’t be is short.
This is demonstrated by the fact that ANTM has had to switch from its longstanding partner agency, internationally renowned Select Models, to offer a contract instead with another agency beloved of all the high-end glossies. Wilhelmina. Um. You say you haven’t heard of them? Neither has the rest of the world. But Wilhelmina’s books are open to models of all heights and body shapes. Yay! Whether those “models” actually get any work, is not mentioned.
Which is why the current series of ANTM seems particularly cruel. Of course, it’s the central irony of the show that after 15 successful series in US and a staggeringly global franchise (New Zealand’s Next Top Model, anyone?) this programme has failed to produce a single supermodel. You do, on occasion, get to see faces that seem kinda familiar on adverts in Superdrug. But this disconnect between the programme’s stated aims and its actual achievements (the inflation of Tyra Banks’ ego to megalomaniacal proportions is the only one I can think of) has never been as ludicrously apparent as it is in the present series. (Short) girls are being taught to strut their stuff for a catwalk they’ll never get a leg-up onto. Not even for Walmart.