|5th February 2011||#1|
Join Date: July 2005
Kim Alexis: Supermodel Starvation
Our recent post about plus-size modelling in the 1980s brought to mind another aspect of the fashion industry from that memorable decade, the phenomenon of the "supermodel."
We have encountered much commentary of late contending that the fashion world should return to the size standard of the '80s supermodel in lieu of its current anorexic ideal. While superficially appealing, this proposition is deeply flawed and potentially extremely harmful. Why? We'll get to that a little later in this post.
First, though, to exemplify the type, we will discuss the most attractive supermodel of them all. No, not the terribly overrated Cindy Crawford, and certainly not the outright unattractive Christy Turlington, nor even the once-pretty Claudia Schiffer, Cheryl Tiegs, or Christie Brinkley. Rather, if pressed to name the most beautiful of all of the industry's past straight-size supermodels, we must acknowledge the lovely Kim Alexis.
Please have some patience with us as we recap her career.
With over 500 covers to her credit, as well as countless editorial appearances in everything from Vogue to Sports Illustrated, Kim Alexis was the definitive blonde beauty of the 1980s.
Unlike today's ghastly minus-size skeletons, with their "ugly pretty" looks (an oxymoronic phrase that is simply a euphemism for homely), Kim was a genuinely attractive woman, although she was no less underweight than any other working model of the time.
Looking at Kim's images, one recognizes how the cultural trope of the "supermodel" as the epitome of female beauty originated, displacing, for a while, the decades-old status of the Hollywood ingénue as the embodiment of feminine attractiveness.
Not only were models like Kim Alexis able to fulfill the requirements of the high-fashion industry of the day, but they appealed to men as well. Looking at this paradisaical image from Sports Illustrated, one understands how heterosexual men once came to admire supermodels as much as contemporary fashionistas did. Her thighs, for example, exhibit at least a trace of substance, and she has a generally pleasing look about her visage.
Today's models, by contrast are man repellent. But no one could look at Kim Alexis and deny that she was beautiful. She was the straight-size industry's equivalent of someone like Shannon Marie, the "fairest of them all" in her genre, and if she had been a plus-size model, Kim would have ranked just below Shannon herself as the most gorgeous girl in the industry.
Looking at Kim's magazine covers, one realizes that not only were models once far more beautiful than they are today, but that the covers themselves were also more appealing. Unlike the
Some of her Vogue covers even have an Old World quality, as exemplified by the folkloric collar on this rustic blouse and the ladylike hairstyle. When was the last time that you saw a Vogue cover as attractive as this?
But it was undoubtedly in her many Cosmopolitan covers that Kim Alexis truly epitomized the look of young womanhood of the 1980s.
Consider her flowing blonde hair in this cover, her rapacious expression, and the glimpse of her décolletage, then reflect on the fact that there once was a time when even straight-size models exhibited a semblance of a bust.
Anyone who was alive in the 1980s will immediately recognize the look that Kim projects in these covers, a look that was also seen in the plutocratic television programming of the decade. The vixens on shows like Dynasty exuded a similar kind of sophisticated glamour (albeit not nearly as well).
The personae that Kim Alexis embodied for Cosmo are the girlfriends or wives of powerful men, high-class vixens who are pampered and spoiled and rich beyond imagining, who have posh tastes and limitless vanity.
And yet, for all their greedy allure, such women have a trace of softness and femininity just beneath their polished makeup, the look of Midwestern girls whose beauty has deservedly given them the world on a platter, taking them from their small-town roots to become the consorts of power-brokers and empire-builders.
The look of the '80s wasn't a childlike girlishness, nor was it a long-in-the-tooth "mature" womanhood (as is too often the case today). Rather, it was the look of the tigress, of a carnivorous, excitingly selfish vixenhood, a wildness and carnality that was nevertheless chic, not vulgar. (Incidentally, notice the tag line on this cover: "The Return of the Curve." If only it had been so!)
And yet, what is truly remarkable about the youthful, fair beauty that Kim Alexis once possessed is its versatility. Today's models, with their bizarre features, can only do one look: "edgy." But when supermodels were reasonably attractive, as some were in the '70s and '80s, they could create any persona at all, from the vixens that Kim personified for Cosmopolitan to the fresh-faced, wholesome brides that she incarnated in her bridal work. (Shannon Marie, another superlative beauty, also possessed this chameleon-like ability.)
Doesn't Kim perfectly exemplify one's innate conception of the sweet, innocent, loving wife on this cover? She looks adorable.
Kim could also transform herself from a twentysomething bride to a fresh-faced teenage girl for publications such as the youth-oriented Mademoiselle.
The following Mademoiselle covers illustrates another way in which the 1980s embraced beauty whereas contemporary culture revels in ugliness. Today, our media world is dominated by a repellent colour palette of orange and teal. This phenomenon is especially marked in modern film, but it pervades image-making in general and is a direct consequence of the advent of digital manipulation. By contrast, notice that the colour scheme of the 1980s was the exact opposite of orange and teal; it was a lively but pleasant mixture of blues and pinks and yellows, a palette that beautifully set off light skin tones, fair eyes, and blonde hair.
Even more attractive than Kim Alexis's many covers were her countless ads. Perfume ads have always constituted the most beautiful images that the fashion industry produces, and Kim's perfume campaigns are no exception, from the tousled opulence of the model's hair in the following advertisement, to the way in which the glamorous ad at the top of this post showcases the model's dazzlingly fair complexion via a "spun sugar" makeup scheme.
Yet it was in realm of cosmetics artistry that Kim Alexis likely created her most significant body of work, and one that we can freely reference, given that these images exhibit her lovely facial features rather than her non-plus figure.
The model's Nordic skin tone (her family being of Swedish descent) made her the perfect canvas for every sort of makeup look.
Prettiest of all, of course, are the pink colour schemes that Kim so often displayed, which perfectly complemented her fair eyes and golden hair.
Indeed, pink was the colour of the 1980s, as one sees in the lighting of the music videos of the time. The contemporary pinks and fuchsias and purples were meant to create a futuristic look, yet the results were still feminine.
Kim's fair complexion allowed cosmetics artists to showcase glamorous looks as well. Once again, the comparison with Shannon Marie is obvious, who appeared in countless makeup editorials in Mode because she had the perfect face and complexion for such work.
Kim's skin tone was amenable to every hue in the colour spectrum,
even going into counter-intuitive territory of golds and browns.
Ultimately, though, the model most often showcased her native pink themes. In this she recalls some of today's fair-featured plus-size models, such as Kelsey Olson or Katherine Roll, with their enchanting peaches-and-cream looks.
There is an intrinsic girlishness and femininity about fair complexions with just a hint of a flush at the cheeks, as this ad so effectively suggests in a host of different ways: in its colour scheme, its copy, its lacy wardrobe, and in the flirtatious glance from the model.
Even when Kim tackled more editorial looks, the overarching aesthetic was still one of beauty, unlike the ugly aesthetic that pervades editorial work today. Here, the hairstyle is futuristic, but the model's rosy complexion, red lips, sapphire eyes, and vulnerable expression maintain a femininity and an aesthetic appeal.
Kim's most artistic cosmetics-oriented image is undoubtedly the following fascinating picture from an Italian magazine, in which she embodies a kind of Ice Princess, a Winter Witch. The wild hairstyle and the model's petulant expression add a touch of devilry to the overall effect. The lacy outfit, on the other hand, has a 19th-century quality of opulence, as do the ornate earrings. One thinks of her as Lucy Westenra bitten by Count Dracula in Stoker's famous novel. Let no one claim that fair-featured "pretty pretty" models such as Kim cannot do editorial. In fact, they do finer editorial work than any of today's "ugly/edgy" models, because their beauty allows them to explore wild themes while maintaining a high level of aesthetic appeal.
Another way in which the supermodels of the past trumped the waifs of today was in having clear, radiant skin. These days, models with ruined or aged complexions are Photoshopped into plastic waxiness and still find work, no matter how artificial they appear. But prior to Photoshop, models actually had to maintain healthy, natural, youthful skin.
As these two raw images of the model sans makeup demonstrate, Kim possessed truly amazing skin, with nothing except a touch of exhaustion under the eyes detracting from absolute, natural perfection.
Kim Alexis's long, fair tresses were the stuff of legend. Perhaps her signature look was a regal and aristocratic hairstyle that had her golden locks cascading off to the side and flowing over one shoulder, as exemplified in this ad for a hair-care product.
When recapping the career of a fashion model, though, one must inevitably cover the images in which she actually promoted fashion. Never would we do this with a present-day minus-size anorexic, except to point our the horrors of the modern industry's skeletal standards. But with Kim Alexis, an '80s supermodel, it is reasonably possible to find images in which the model does not appear completely emaciated.
In another testament to the malleability of the fair-featured Nordic look, observe how regal and aristocratic Kim seems in this fur editorial, coolly elegant and sophisticated.
Bear in mind that she produced these mature images at the same time that she shot her teen-looking Mademoiselle covers and her girl-next-door bridal images.
This editorial conveys a sense of wealth and opulence. Even in this image, skinny as she was, one can see the belt attractively pressing into a hint of softness around her middle. This slight trace of flesh, as well as her patrician beauty, perfectly suits the theme of the layout.
A very different fashion editorial of the time shows her channelling another Kim, Kim Novak, the most gorgeous blonde of the late '50s and early '60s, whose crown of iconic beauty Mrs. Alexis inherited. The set of the face and the look in the eyes could have come directly from Vertigo or from Bell, Book, and Candle, Kim Novak's greatest films.
Even in images where the model's figure does appear painfully thin, the doll-like prettiness of her facial features mitigates the effect and lends the image beauty (as do the romantic frills of this very pretty dress).
For a touch of wholesome sensuality, here is an image of Kim sleeping under soft, downy covers, looking for all the world like an angel at rest.
And here is how the same angel might look in the morning, if one could sustain one's dream into the waking hours.
In short, when one considers the sum total of Kim Alexis's modelling work--her 500 covers, her fashion editorials in the industry's top magazines, her ads for perfume, cosmetics, hair products, etc.--one must acknowledge that she truly was "the face of the '80s." With her fair features, light eyes, and golden tresses, she was the American Beauty of her day, just as Lillian Russell (who possessed many of the same physical features) had been, a century earlier.
And since Kim was genuinely attractive in a way that appealed to both fashion-industry insiders and to heterosexual men, she gave these disparate groups a common ideal of beauty.
Alas, how times have changed. Current straight-size skeletons are attractive to no one except to the degenerate fashion establishment. The polarity between the standard of appearance for "women's magazines" and for "men's magazines" is so vastly different that each seems to target a different species. Cadaverously thin, corpse-like models dominate "high fashion," while ropy-muscled, radioactively tanned amazons with plastic busts populate "men's magazines," both ideals painfully unnatural and unattractive, both modern, both anti-feminine, both abhorrent to any traditionalists.
"All of this is fine and good," readers must be saying to themselves by now, "but what does it have to do with plus-size beauty?"
Did you miss the pertinent info? All right, we'll show you another one. See if you catch it now:
That's right. We have two more cards from Kim's supermodel days, and they show the same thing:
A size 8.
But it gets worse.
We had never heard of any of the girls on this cover. (After all, what did we care about fashion?) But the sight of such a gorgeous blonde goddess alongside the caption, "Starved herself for days" triggered something in us. The very concept seemed so unjust, as if a troll had captured this fair princess, imprisoned her, and deprived her of food and water, like a prisoner of war. It was incomprehensible that such an attractive woman could be deprived of anything. She should have had all her desires satisfied, all her wants met by a thousand eager suitors. Kings and princes should have been vying to feed her to her heart's content. That she should have been made to starve . . . it was unforgivable and intolerable. Whatever circumstance or conditions were causing such an affront to the natural order of things had to end. Now.
The contents of the People story, particularly the information about Kim Alexis, seemed even crueller than what the cover promised. Reading about the model's hunger was like reading about a fairy-tale heroine imprisoned in a tower. One felt the overwhelming urge to rush to her rescue.
Those tears pierced our heart. But there was worse to come:
The article went on, but we could hardly read it. The thought of such a goddesslike beauty in tears from food deprivation was simply too much to bear. To this day, we remember reading that magazine in the bookstore, besides ourselves with anger that any force in the world could exist to make this beauty cry and starve, overwhelmed with an impossible desire to comfort her and to dry her tears.
The jealous motivations of the wardrobe stylists that Kim described--like ugly stepsisters, consumed with envy, trying to put a blonde goddess in her place, shrewishly using weight as the only means by which they could falsely question her superlative beauty--also exposed something very revealing about human nature, something that Nietzsche's philosophy described so well: the impulse by everything that crawls on the ground to destroy anything that has height, to ruin anything great or beautiful.
And sure enough, while researching the model's career this week, we came upon the following image, which is identified as the model's very first published work. This is Kim Alexis prior to her starvation regimen. She clearly looks softer and fuller (and thus more attractive) than in subsequent years, with an appealing roundness in her facial features and even a trace of fleshiness at the neck. Today, appallingly, even faux-plus models look skinnier than this.
That anyone could have wanted to deprive this model of the soft, feminine appearance that she possessed in the above image is incomprehensible--but typical of degenerate fashion-industry thinking, then as now.
Now we come to the point with which we began this thread. The idea of encouraging the fashion industry to return to the "supermodel" standard of the past would be a hopelessly inadequate solution to the anorexia crisis that fashion has propagated.
And here is the truly crucial consideration.
The solution, then, is to reject the faux-plus size (i.e., the '80s supermodel size) as a standard size of plus-size models. It is simply not enough. Not nearly enough.
It is understandable why some people would want plus-size models to resemble the supermodels of the 1980s. By comparison with the ugly androgynes who dominate the straight-size industry, and indeed by comparison with more than a few current faux-plus models, the supers were far more gorgeous, seemingly offering a healthier standard than size-0 waifdom.
(No, despite the "plus" cover copy and the Judgment of Paris purple/green colour scheme, this is not a mock-up that we created, nor is it a bona fide plus-size issue from Conde Nast, but merely a Vogue edition, likely from Europe, that happened to use the word "plus" to indicate added content, not model size. But it does allow one to dream of what could have been . . .)
Last edited by HSG : 6th February 2011 at 16:50.
|5th February 2011||#2|
Join Date: March 2006
Location: Portland, OR
Re: Kim Alexis: Supermodel Starvation
Thank you for such an informative post. When I think about it, I do remember models in the 1970s and '80s as being bigger than the ones we see today. The waifs have ruled the fashion industry for so long that one forgets this fact.
I was outraged while reading about the abuse that Kim endured whenever she wanted (or rather, needed) to eat, and how she was treated by that jealous stylist because of not being a stick-straight waif! Only a bitter, plain Jane could hate such a beautiful-looking girl and seek to take her down a notch with such pettiness.
Many people who want the return of the so-called "supermodel size" are looking back towards those times with rose-colored glasses. This post reminds us that even back then, the situation was bad, and has only become uglier and more dangerous for young women trying to get into the industry. While size 8 may be better than size 4 or size 0, it is not ideal, and there are many women who have no wish to maintain such a small size or see it become the standard look that women are compelled to achieve, inside the fashion industry or outside of it.
The observation about the better skin complexion of models in past decades was very interesting. I have noticed this too. It would seem that in fashion today, anything goes: unattractive-looking girls and severely unhealthy models with obviously bad skin are allowed to work. After all, there's Photoshop. The only requirement is that they be ready to drop dead from starvation. I believe that the bad skin issue would clear up if they were allowed to gain significant weight. After all, extra weight helps to beautify the skin and keep it youthful looking, longer. They would probably enjoy longer careers.
|7th February 2011||#3|
Join Date: November 2008
Re: Kim Alexis: Supermodel Starvation
This discussion put me in mind of an article that I read a few months ago:
The relevant portions:
Even given that Australian sizes are one step bigger than U.S. sizes, that's still far curvier than what's accepted in "mainstream" fashion today. At that time there was no U.S. size 4 (let alone 2 or 0), and regular models were 8, 10, 12 - the size of today's faux-plus models (!).
It must have been nice, as well, to have an industry without spray tans or airbrushing. That ties in to the Kim Alexis ideal, with her fair features.
What the original post in this thread stated is very true: on the one hand, "mainstream" models were far more attractive two decades ago, when beauty was favoured over today's edgy/ugliness. But on the other hand, that's also when plus-size models were actually plus-size (size 16 or up) - and that's what the full-figured fashion industry needs to return to, to truly be size positive and to combat eating disorders instead of propagating them.
An '80s supermodel standard is not the solution. Only true and legitimate plus-size beauty (size 16, 18, 20...) is the answer.
|10th April 2011||#4|
Join Date: October 2010
Re: Kim Alexis: Supermodel Starvation
I was reading a story today about modelling in the Boston market. It's not a significant article, except for one pertinent excerpt that ties back to the Kim Alexis post.
The author of the article is a former Ford straight-size model. Her comments are very revealing:
Imagine that. Even models who were size 10 and 12 (!), let alone 6 and 8, were working as straight-size models. And that's how it should be, because models under a size 14 ARE straight-size.
It is literally true, then, that the thin girls who are being passed off as "plus-size models" today are the exact equivalent of what straight-size models were, just a couple of decades ago. The plus-size models of the time, on the other hand, were authentically full-figured: size 16s, 18s, 20s, and so forth. Those girls may not have scored prestigious campaigns or mainstream magazine covers, but at least they were doing commercial work. At least they were accepted at top agencies. At least they had a category for themselves. At least there were truly full-figured bodies somewhere in the fashion world.
But today, with straight-size models pushing plus-size models out of the plus-size category, the bigger girls are excluded from fashion altogether.
I do regret that sizes 8-12 are being excluded from straight-size fashion, which is where they belong. But that doesn't justify eradicating models size 16+ altogether.
The plus-size industry must start representing full-figured women again by including girls over a size 16. And of course, the straight-size industry needs to be reformed as well.
Sizes 8-12 were perfectly acceptable for straight-size advertising two decades ago, and they still are today. It's not as if the entire female population has suddenly turned into 0s and 2s. Quite the contrary.
And just as there are at least as many full-figured women size 18+ buying clothing today as there once were (many more, in fact), so do these women deserve to see fashions on models size 18+.
The fashion industry needs to start getting better about size, instead of constantly getting worse.
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