FIT AND FABULOUS WOMEN:
SUPERMODELS OF THE 21ST CENTURY
By Bill Dobbins
We live in a time in which models are far more celebrated and famous than in the past. In the early days of the 20th century top fashion and photographic models were not household names. They did not make huge amounts of money. The first time the public became aware of individual models to any great degree was the 1960s. Women like Jean Shrimpton and Twiggy became celebrities and started making a much more money. But it wasn’t until the 1980s that the term “supermodel” came into general use to describe a group of top models who became major cultural icons and millionaires.
Notable “supermodels” of the time included Iman, Cybill Shepherd, Patti Hansen, Penelope Tree, Grace Jones, Lauren Hutton, Janice Dickinson, Rene Russo, Claudia Shiffer, Kate Moss, Gia Carangi, Jerry Hall, Wilhelmina Cooper, Christie Brinkley – as as we move toward the 1990s the super famous supermodels Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, Cindy Crawford, Elle Macpherson and Linda Evangelista – who was quoted as saying, “We don’t wake up for less than $10,000 a day.”
“We don’t wake up for less than $10,000 a day.”
However, while there are certain still supermodels – like the women in Victoria’s Secret ads or the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition – advertisers and magazines are increasingly turning to featuring major movie stars or music performers instead of models, since these women bring with them a huge and loyal fan base the models generally don’t have.
Until fairly recently, successful models had beauty and excellent bodies but they weren’t “freaks.” An average women could look at them and not feel she was viewing some kind of alien, however beautiful. But in recent decades supermodels became extremely tall (Kate Moss, an exception, is an only 5’7″), with long torsos, arms and legs. Some appear to have tiny heads perched on the tops of impossibly elongated bodies. It is easier for women to identify with an actress like Angelina Jolie or Scarlett Johansson, however gorgeous, because their proportions are not so extreme and exaggerated.
But our culture has changed radically since the 1990s in a number of ways. And one of those is our awareness and emphasis on fitness as an aspect of beauty. Even though we live in the middle of an epidemic of obesity, there is an increasing segment of the public that are highly aware of the need for and benefits of exercise and diet, there are more and more gyms out there servicing the needs of increasing numbers of men and women. Women, in fact, make up the largest proportion of new gym members. They have discovered they can have better bodies at age 40 than they did at 25. That developing “hardbodies,” even to some degree, makes them look sexier and more feminine. They have realized that what was once though of as inevitable aging is to a large degree simply the results of deterioration from misuse and poor lifestyle habits. Female movies stars in their 40s and beyond are continuing to play romantic leads with the help of personal trainers and nutritionists. Women athletes are to be able to compete successfully with increasing age by spending quality time in the gym pumping iron.
But there has been another cultural development that most people are not aware – the evolution of fit and fabulous women who have developed out of the revolution that is bodybuilding for women. These women train and diet the way bodybuilders do, only they have different genetics and work toward different goals. They compete in events like fitness, figure, physique and fit bikini – as well as body fitness outside the US. Unlike elite female bodybuilders, who represent the Grand Opera of physical development, their bodies are what most women admire and would aspire to have. And men find them extremely attractive.
A major difference between these women and more traditional supermodels is that, whatever their genetic gifts, they have worked hard to create the bodies they are celebrated for. They use basic bodybuilding exercise and diet principles to build, shape and define their muscle and reduce body fat. They show great discipline not only in training and diet but in adopting lifestyle habits that allow them to maximize their results. So although beauty is their ultimate goal, their efforts are also very healthy. It is very rare that vanity and health come together in a package like this. Looking good, in this case, is also very good for you. The character Fernando, on Saturday Night Live (Billy Crystal), said “It is better to look good than to feel good.” The fit and fabulous lifestyle allows you to combine both.
Any woman can join a gym, learn to do resistance exercise, study the principles of the bodybuilding diet and improve her body. And whether she has great genetics for this kind of development or not, she will get results and they will continue over time if she keeps up her efforts. A woman can’t become 6′ tall with super-long proportions. But she can shape, define and sculpt her body to become more fit and fabulous than she might imagine.
This hardbody lifestyle has a number of other advantages. It helps women become more physically competent, confident and independent. It aids in avoiding lifestyle problems like poor diet, smoking and substance abuse. It establishes a more highly disciplined daily routine that allows you to get more done. And, as stated above, it means that your body can continue to get better as you age to a degree not even considered in the past.
Out culture needs to be aware of these new supermodels and to use them to help set goals and standards. But in spite of their being so many thousands of fit and fabulous women around the world, the mainstream is not very aware of them. Why? In part because the federations that sanction the competitions do not publicize them. Neither the IFBB nor the NPC has full time, professional pubic relations representatives. You rarely see champion competitors, identified as such, on major TV shows. Also, it should be remembered that, until female bodybuilding came along in the late 1970s, there had never been instances of women in history celebrated for developing their muscles for aesthetic purposes. Pumping Iron author Charles Gaines called them “a new archetype.” It is easy to forget what a revolution this whole development actually is.
Brenda Kelly: Still a fitness model at age 50.
So magazines – mainstream and those in the fitness world – will probably continue to overlook these women, at least in the near future. Advertisers like Nike will continue to feature women athletes but ignore the thousands of fit and fabulous women now appearing all over the world. And, unfortunately, the women who compete successfully in contests and win championships will largely find there is little success beyond this unless they work very hard promoting and publicizing themselves with great photos, websites and energetic social networking.
Someday, the culture will look back on this period and the degree to which fit and fabulous women were ignored by so many and reflect, “What on earth were they thinking?” But as a famous scientist’s wife once said to him when his breakthrough research was ignored, “Well, it could hardly be a revolution if every one agreed with you at the beginning, would it?
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