Top Model bullying and the right kind of fierce

I’ve watched a lot of Top Model in my time but I think I’m over it now. The bullying leaves a very sour taste in my mouth. It makes me angry. And I’m not talking about bullying among the contestants, I’m talking about the roller-coaster narrative of alternating praise and abuse – lifting a contestant up only to smash them back down again.

Because if in the first week she exceeds all expectations, then (within three weeks at most) she will invariably fall from grace for some minor infraction – failing to extend her foot adequately for example, or not relaxing her face into the perfect-shaped mouth.

One week she is hailed the best thing since sliced bread, and the next she inadvertently catches a snake instead of a ladder, takes a gut-turning slide in the game of Top Model and becomes a terrible and disgusting disappointment for very little reason at all.

Yes, a show needs conflict, character arcs to flame interest, but this pattern of praise closely followed by disdain has very little to do with the actual performance of the contestants. The ‘best shots’ (photo evidence representing the girls’ highest achievement) are chosen based on the week’s predetermined outcasts and favorites, that girl A is either a supermodel in the making, or a total disgrace to the human race – so utterly disappointing compared to last week she even, “seems like a different girl…”

And the photographer’s skill is never in question – the person actually responsible for capturing the ‘best shot’. The girl is always in the wrong. It is her fault entirely if her chin looks too big, or if she failed to angle her head correctly or minimise her perceived bodily imperfections. And she must aspire to ‘editorial’ heights, not to the lowly, ‘commercial’ status within her profession. She mustn’t be too slutty, too bendy or busty, smiley or bouncy, and so, each week she awaits the judges with a tighter face. Waits to be accused of more crimes – a too short neck or an inelegant leg perhaps. And if she dares to talk back she is harangued – for being too sassy and having an attitude, or for not being sassy enough and having no attitude.

She learns to shut up. To agree with the judges’ proclamations no matter how demeaning. She learns to disguise the defiance and growing contempt behind her eyes, because if she wants to win in this no-win situation she has to suck it up, toughen up. Be fierce girl but not too fierce.

Top Model. I’m over it.

 

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