A copy of former MODE editor Michele Weston’s book entitled Learning Curves recently came into our possession. A proper review of the book is rather beyond the scope of this site, dealing as it does with matters of fashion, but for our purposes, the real interest in Learning Curves lies in the various “story” segments that are interspersed throughout the book. These segments are ostensibly told in the words of the models whose gorgeous images accompany Weston’s text. Naturally, the most fascinating statements are those of Kate Dillon and Barbara Brickner.
Mrs. Brickner in particular contributes a compelling description of her state of mind on the day that she created…that image. You know which one I mean. As incredible as her Elena Mirò calendar was, the most daring and revolutionary image that Barbara Brickner ever produced may still be her black-and-white, in-your-face, Venus-come-to-life, MODE swimwear shot (seen above).
To look at Barbara Brickner’s expression, you would think that she not only had the figure of a modern-day Goddess of Beauty, but the confidence of one as well. However, in one of the “Barbara’s Story” segments in Learning Curves, told in her own words, we discover otherwise:
I’ll never forget seeing my fifth-grade photographs, taken at the beginning of the school year. I had just started developing. Just a little, and at the same time just enough to start feeling awkward about my body. I remember looking at the other kids’ pictures and comparing myself to them. God, I thought as I looked down at my reflection, I don’t like the way I look.
Years later, on a sun-kissed beach in the Bahamas, I felt the same way as the day I saw those photos. I was with Michele that day and I was being photographed for a summer issue of MODE. The only thing I had to wear was a swimsuit and a smile. I turned to her as the photographer had finished setting up his equipment, and I said, “I just don’t deserve to be here.” Michele took me over to a full-length mirror and replied, “Barbara Brickner, you look at yourself. What makes you think you don’t deserve to be what all of us see in you?” I didn’t have an answer, for I could only see the reflection of a girl posing for her school picture. She continued: “You’re here because we see the beauty in you. Not just the curves, the beautiful body, or the beautiful face, but it’s what comes out of you.” I was awakened.
Perhaps there is something to the “inner beauty” idea after all. Even if Barbara Brickner looked like…well, like Barbara Brickner, if she were not able to free herself from her cultural conditioning, it would have been visible in the photos, in how she presented herself. But she overcame the guilt that had been ingrained in her from a young age, and was able to show the world just what true, timeless feminine beauty really looks like. She learned that she deserved it, and it showed.
“Just look at yourself.”
(Originally posted on the Judgment of Paris forum, July 30, 2002.)
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