I did something rather strange in Whole Foods a few weeks ago.
I was standing in line and noticed a girl in the line next to mine, who I thought was Kate King but couldn't be sure without staring. Then the woman standing with her -- I assume it was her mother -- picked up a copy of a magazine and flipped it over to King's Dolce & Gabbana fragrance ad. She tapped it and smiled, and the girl (who I now knew must be King) looked sort of sheepish.
We both got called up to cashiers at that moment, and after I checked out, I walked up to the two of them.
"Excuse me," I said. "I'm sorry to bother you, but you're Kate King right?"
She looked sort of taken aback, but said that she was. I told her that I was sorry to interrupt, but that I loved her Dolce & Gabbana ad (totally true) and that I thought she was gorgeous.
She seemed pleased that I had taken time out of my day to tell her that, but as I walked away I thought about what an odd thing it was to do. Unlike with, say, an actress or musician, it seems strange to say that you're a fan of a model's work. It's sort of like saying that you're a fan of their genetic makeup -- after all, their work is based almost solely on looks.
But truth be told, models are quite possibly my favorite part of the fashion biz. I'll buy a magazine because I like the model (not the actress!) on the cover, or tear out an ad to save because I like the campaign star. I think it's because there's still a little mystery surrounding models -- despite the fact that this industry is built, quite literally, on their backs, very few models get the opportunity to tell their story.
Of course, thanks to social media, that's starting to change. But for every Karlie Kloss who scores ad campaigns thanks to her social media following, or Josephine Skriver, who was tapped to represent the kids of LGBQT parents after sharing her own personal story, there are dozens of models who are still expected to be just pretty faces.
And then there's the fact that models unfairly bear the brunt of the criticism surrounding the industry's obsession with youth and weight. Despite the fact that these are young women, they are often told -- in a public way that would be crushing for any woman -- that they are too thin, that they suffer from eating disorders, that they look like aliens or insects.
Julia Nobis found herself the target of such harsh criticism just for appearing on the cover of T. Cenk Uygur, host of online program The Young Turks, spent one segment calling Nobis "disgusting" and "obviously anorexic," among other choice insults. Nobis's own father stepped in, chiding Uygur to "play the ball, not the man."
Now, there are a lot of strong arguments to be made against the dangerous and damaging standards of weight held by the industry. But models are not responsible for those standards -- if anything, they're the greatest victims of our collective weight obsession, often starting their careers as pre-teens without a hope of naturally maintaining their waif-like measurements beyond puberty.
That perhaps is why I love covering the modeling industry. Models are grossly under-protected and their interests underrepresented even though they are a cornerstone of every aspect of the fashion business, from runway to editorial and beyond. And while it may not be brain surgery or military work, for all the glamour it can still be a tough and grueling job at which very few succeed.
That's because modeling is about more than having a pretty face, though that's a huge part of it. Being a great model is a skill, like playing the guitar or knowing how to write, but it goes unappreciated. Look at the supermodels: What did they have that so many other models of their era didn't?
As anyone who has ever tried to take the perfect #selfie (or, hello, watched "America's Next Top Model") knows, it's not easy to take one great picture, let alone several in a row. Yet that's what is expected of a model -- not to stand, static, and wait for the picture to happen, but to help create the images. Some of the best editorials tell stories, making models something like silent film actresses. They have to be interesting on the page, which is much harder than it sounds (again, have you ever tried it?).
Runways, too, aren't the cakewalk that people make them out to be. The grueling pace of the runway season has been well documented: The long nights at fittings, the early morning call times, and the frantic travel pace mean that most models quit doing runway when they no longer need the exposure.
But runways are where careers are made: A model chosen to open a show or be an exclusive can set the tone for the collection, earning her a campaign and instant star status. Those coveted spots are hard to get, again because just walking a runway and standing out on a runway are two different things. Truly accomplished models are dynamic on the catwalk-- think Karlie Kloss or Jourdan Dunn.
And, ultimately, the reason I love talking about models and following careers is that each woman is so different and has a story to tell. You wouldn't necessarily hire Joan Smalls for the same job as Cara Delevingne, because they're both incredibly different, not just in looks but in personality and modeling style. And a girl who admires Smalls wouldn't necessarily be a "Delevingner."
I think models are so often seen as this homogenous group, the background noise in the discussions about fashion and the industry, when that's not at all the case. So any chance I have to help share their stories and champion their causes, I want to take.
And maybe, occasionally, compliment them in line at Whole Foods.