“To let anyone who is not a heterosexual woman, gay man or eunuch have a position of power in modelling is totally irresponsible”
Heard the one about the sexist, racist, middle-aged French model agent? You’re right, it’s a trick question. Because perhaps the strangest thing about the Gerald Marie affair – unspeakable boss of Elite Models, exposed by MacIntyre Undercover as a lecher and a cad – is not that Elite attempted to reinstate him so quickly last week (two days after his agency accepted his resignation for his “shocking, unacceptable and highly inappropriate” behaviour) but that he was ever suspended in the first place. (Only the last-minute intervention of Elite’s American chairman, grand old John Casablancas, scuppered French Elite’s sneaky plan.)
As with the reviled It Girls and Fat Cats, and now poor Posh Spice, Marie has done nothing at all unusual or bad by the standards of his tribe. Young, upper-class women lead useless lives, shopping and lunching taking the place of the loving and working that Freud said it takes to make a fully-rounded human being; businessmen make vilely unfair profits from the sweat of the workers; young female entertainers purge themselves of every pinch of excess flesh, all the better to evade the ceaseless nagging and sneering of the Daily Mail. This is considered, most of the time, the perfectly desirable, naturally ordered way of things in Daily Mail Land. But once in a while, as a kind of human sacrifice to appease the gods of the Twitching Net Curtains, one of their number must be thrown to the wolves so that this most excellent state of affairs may continue.
Modelling is totally about sex. To let anyone who is not a heterosexual woman, a gay man or a eunuch have any position of power in it is as irresponsible as letting a child molester work in a creche. To be faced daily by scores of physically perfect women at the peak of their fertility asking you to inspect their breasts, hips and bottoms – well, really. How can you expect any straight man not to feel like a cross between a kid in a candy shop, a miser in a counting-house and a sultan in a harem?
The thoroughly “respectable” fashion and cosmetics industries frequently use models under the age of consent as the apex of female beauty. I remember a particularly repulsive American advertisement for perfume which, under a photograph of a ten-year-old girl, read: You’re A Wholesome Woman From The Very Beginning. In an industry that considers glossy hair, extreme slenderness and unlined skin the most important things a woman can offer the world, of course teenage girls will be the most desirable females. And desirable means physically, as well as fiscally, desirable.
Marie’s crime appears to have been that he is the only honest model broker in a world of cant and correctness. Personally, I was less offended by his comments than by the recent participation by supermodels in the Fashion Targets Breast Cancer appeal. Frankly, if I was a woman facing a single or double mastectomy, the last thing I would want to look at would be photographs of beautiful women with perfect breasts in tight T-shirts telling me how sympathetic they were to my breast cancer.
Modelling is about selling the bodies of women to the highest bidder. Model agents are, Marie pointed out, highly elevated pimps. Even his “racist” remarks are not easily condemned if you think for more than half a minute about them. In expressing a preference for the looks of white women over black women, he was doing nothing more than what the fashion and beauty business does as a matter of course; he was discriminating. Why it is okay to discriminate in the matter of tall over short, thin over fat, beautiful over plain, but not black over white, no one has yet properly explained to me. It is all very well for Naomi Campbell to throw a strop over how she only earns £5 million a year as opposed to the £10 million she’d be getting if she was white (Iman earned £2 million in her “worst” year of modelling) – but how can we talk of “fairness” when a woman born arbitrarily beautiful can earn in an hour staring into a small circle of ground glass what a nurse can earn in a year? Incredibly, that’s no exaggeration.
When it comes to beauty, you can’t pass laws about what people should like – “The heart wants what it wants,” as Woody Allen pointed out, the only smart thing he ever said. I wouldn’t sleep with a blond or ginger man, or a bald man, or a fat man, or a man over 29 – sue me!
The fashion and beauty business have nothing to do with real life and real women; a cross between a huge international brothel and Never-Never Land, they are utterly fantastic, and should be treated as such. To demand that they act “responsibly” by using a certain quota of black models, fat, old models or disabled models is to credit them with far more respect and influence than they deserve.
With splendid insouciance and bad taste, the cosmetics giant L’Oréal Paris has just seen fit to mark the millennium with a new range of make-up “which combines universal appeal”, as OK! magazine puts it. “L’Oréal has captured the essence of feminine beauty from all corners of the globe . . . four looks which allow each woman to achieve an individual look to fit her own personal style.” This accompanied by the make-up collections Indian Saffron, Western Blush, Asian Fever (dangerously close to “Yellow Peril” I’d have thought) and, wait for it, African Ochre. The choice of models is extraordinary – or rather would be, if modelling, fashion or beauty made sense. The light-skinned, half-black model Vanessa Williams is India, the French Laetitia Casta is the white West, while Milla Jovovich turns up as Asia.
Even stranger, at a time when the beauty industry is under fire as never before for ignoring black models, Jovovich turns up again as the main attraction, African Ochre, daubed all over in blue, red and black paint. This is, apparently, “A homage to the beauty of the women of this continent, including colours inspired by the unique landscape of Africa.” A razor-thin teenage Ukrainian girl, so white that she must glow in the dark, painted blue to represent the beauty of black women? It’s mad – but no madder than a young woman throwing over her education in order to go into a profession where she will have to display her body to millions of disgusting men and be finished by 30. In a mad world, surely only a mad reaction makes sense? RD Laing himself, I cannot help but feel, would be proud of poor Gerald Marie.