ANTM: Personality

I’m watching America’s Next Top Model reruns, and it’s curious how insistently the contestants are exhorted to “show your personality” and “be yourself.” These expressions obviously ask the women to do the exact opposite: to hide their own self and personality behind the mask of a fake persona. People don’t need to make efforts to manifest their real personalities because they already do that by default.

There is a lot more variation in the body types of the models than in the personality they are told to adopt. For some mysterious reason, “personality” has come to mean being exuberant, gregarious, effervescent, and over the top (i.e. like the way I am.) Everything else is dismissed not as a bad or inadequate personality but as no personality at all.

Here is the paradox, though. These women compete to be runway / photo models. And this is a profession where having an impassive, blank face is obviously more valuable than being super talkative and funny. So the contestants are pushed towards a behavior that will handicap them professionally. Everybody knows this but the socially acceptable definition of “personality” is stronger than any practical consideration.

P.S. By the way, here is a small exercise to determine if you have a healthy body image. Watch a couple of episodes of the show, look at the models’ bodies (female models if you are a woman; male models if you are a man). If as a result of the experience you think, “These models are beautiful. I’m beautiful”, and you feel no tension between these ideas, you have a healthy body image.

15 thoughts on “ANTM: Personality

  1. I’m afraid I’ll have to say I find shows like that one culturally toxic and not fit for viewing, at least by myself. The very idea that to become a fashion model (or similar) is one of the things most worth aspiring to, let alone to be one with an obviously fake and limited personality, seems to be sending the message that there is not much better things one can apire to which might just make a more positive and meaningful contribution to things. (I mean, what does a fashion model do? Essentially parade around showing what clothes look like on people of largely atypical body shape. Hardly much of a job…)

    Mind you, I have read and listened to things which are what I would describe as pretty toxic points of view (mostly websites, and on a brief stay in the US the occasional virulent talk show host) just for the entertainment value, so maybe I needn’t talk…

    But as far as daytime filler TV goes, I’d much rather we went back to this sort of thing:


    1. You seem to have some weird hangup against this job. It’s work, and all work has dignity.

      If it were so easy, every jackass would be doing it.


      1. I’m not against modelling as a profession, rather what I am against is these so-called reality shows which exaggerate the importance of certain roles that happen to look glamorous but that’s about it. Where are all the reality shows which are all about how to be something other than the next great model, pop singer or at most business tycoon?

        Though that said when (as I have heard lately an example of) some young woman being rejected by a modelling agency for basically not being skinny enough who was telling of how so many starve themselves to get the right sort of figure, you wonder.


        1. Top Chef, Chopped, the one about the hairdressers, LA Ink, the one about auto mechanics. There are actually tons of these shows about all kinds of professions. I’m a bit of a fan of this kind of thing. 🙂


    2. I don’t know, I’ve been watching the show for years, and haven’t felt the need to drop everything and try to become a model. Which is just as well, given that I’m a little too long in the tooth and fat in the ass for the profession. 🙂


    3. “BBC Four begins at 7:00 pm” …

      “DAVE the home of witty banter — Returns at 7am on Freeview channel 12” …

      “This programme is unavailable on Channel 5+1 — We apologise for any inconvenience” …

      The broadcasters don’t bother with “test cards” anymore — they assume that if you can see the picture at all, your set is in working order. 🙂


  2. I can’t imagine watching a model casting show since models (at work at present) are generally neither interesting nor particularly attractive (an interesting face draws attention to itself and the model’s job is to draw attention to the clothes).

    There was a cohort of superstar models that emerged in the late 80s (including Claudia Schiffer, Cindy Crawford and Naomi Campbell) but once they passed out of the spotlight nothing much was left.
    Interestingly Schiffer and Crawford were both a lot more buxom than the traditional model and Schiffer was criticized for her basic runway technique (apparently she walked all wrong) but she made her career at least partly through personality (the trademark “come and get it!” look she flashed the audience at the end of the runway).

    There’s an interesting post on the decline of the supermodel here


  3. Tricky territory: Is the point of all these reality elimination shows about rejection anxiety?

    I remember thinking very early on (early 00’s) that most people seemed to watch them in order to watch people get rejected.

    My (untrained sidewalk psychoanalyst) says people like watching other people get rejected but I’m not sure if they watch to relieve their own rejection anxiety “whew! not me (this time)!” or to desensitize themselves or to savor having the power to eliminate people “I showed him!” or something else.

    I’m way too non-confrontational to enjoy them most of the time (I’ve seen bits and piece here and there but not a whole episode of any of them for a long time).

    On the other hand, I could watch “Come Dine with Me” and other national variants for hours on end. So that’s kind of weird.


    1. I like the show because the photos are beautiful. Plus, it’s good to see young women who are trying to succeed professionally and not talking about guys at all. This is still a bit of a rarity.


  4. I’m fairly sure that “personality” in the meaning used here was originally showbusiness jargon (like “Sell it!”) that passed into general usage.

    For your American cultural studies some incarnations of “PERSONALITY!!!” would be Ethel Merman (longtime Broadway star who shouted as much as she sang and looked like she was trying to hug everyone in the audience).

    Here, she’s way past her prime but she’s still got it.

    Also Bette Midler, had a lot of the same mannerisms as well as looking like she’s in pure extacy while performing, pulling the audience in rather than rushing out to them.


    1. Yes, that’s exactly what they seem to be looking for when they evoke “personality.” Of course, a model who were to start acting like that around designers, agents and makeup artists would never get employed. These are people whom nobody expects to talk or opine. Their job is to be a blank canvass.

      The same goes for actors. The best actors are the emptiest, most vapid human beings. This inner vacuum allows the director to fill them up with whatever is needed at the time.


  5. “And this is a profession where having an impassive, blank face is obviously more valuable than being super talkative and funny.”

    I think it’s like acting. Lots of people can be photographsed with an impassive blank face, but not that many (even very beautiful people) can make that look compelling.

    We’re probably talking about very fine degrees of facial proportions and facial expressions that can be measured in millimeters (just as acting skill seems to be large a question of timing that goes down to the tenths of a second).

    That is, the “blank” face isn’t blank at all it’s in a carefully managed expression that very few people can actually pull off.

    One of the first fashion models to really nail “the look” (almost inventing it) was Gia Carangi who was a hellraiser and often a nightmare to work with.

    It might be that only those with wild sides can pull of the feat of looking blank and interesting at the same time….


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