Why Don’t Models Smile?
25/09/2017 § Leave a comment
If you know even a little bit about fashion, people who profess confusion about it will ask you all sorts of questions. One of the more popular questions I get asked is why models don’t smile.
I’m writing this so next time I’m asked I can take the path of least resistance and just direct the questioner to my blog.
So, why don’t models smile?
They don’t have to. No one has to smile, and telling young women to do so is just another manifestation of patronizing misogyny. It is a selfish demand that tells women they must set their own feelings aside and present themselves only as the other person wants them to be. It renders women predictably passive and compliant, or, if they refuse the request, hostile bitches – either way, they lose their autonomy. The expectation that women should smile on demand is a controlling and ugly impulse. If you’re a woman reading this, think about how you felt last time someone said “smile love, it might never happen” to you, and then think about why you expect models to smile. And if you’re a man, think about why you need women to be unquestioningly and unequivocally friendly and acquiescent to the masculinist demand that they smile because you want them to.
Besides this, they’re not on holiday. They’re not posing for snapshots in front of the Eiffel Tower, or on the beach, or sitting in a restaurant observing the arrival of a particularly sickly dessert. Nor do they belong to the sort of profession that requires insincere sincerity to be at the heart of everything they do – they’re not sales people, or children’s TV presenters, or ballroom dancers. They’re models, and they have been employed to participate in the creation of a fashion image. That could be a static image, in a photograph, or it could be a moving image, in a fashion film or in a live event like a runway show or presentation, but whichever it is, expressing any emotion, unless specifically required to do so, is not a part of the job description. A fashion image is an aesthetic creation that, when it does speak to the emotions, does so in profoundly complex and sophisticated ways that extend well beyond feminine submission to the requirements of passive smiling-on-demand. Besides this, given that fashion is the only cultural form that defaults to the feminine (cf Baudelaire, Mallarmé and Uzanne, and a whole bunch of others) the fact that women don’t smile there makes fashion a little corner of resistance, which is probably a good thing.
And finally, know your portraiture. There is virtually no representation of women anywhere in the art world that has them grinning like a chimp because someone else thinks that’s what they should look like. From the Renaissance, with Bronzino’s painting of Eleanor di Toledo, Botticelli’s Venus, and the Arnolfini Portrait by van Eyck, through to Whistler’s Portrait of His Mother, Sargent’s Madam X, and Grant Wood’s American Gothic, there are zero smiles.
Man Ray’s photography does not have Kiki de Montparnasse smiling, and Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon look positively sullen. Indeed, the only famous smile in art, that of the Mona Lisa, is only famous because no one is quite sure whether she’s smiling at all. Fashion images are part of an aesthetic tradition in the west that attempts to interrogate human concerns through creative imagery. The idea of smiling for the camera is not a part of the equation and never has been.
So, with all of this in mind, if you are the sort of person that complains that models never smile, now you’ve read this, you don’t need to complain any more.