The Miss Universe pageant tonight celebrates a paragon of perfection from physique to poise and presentation. I’m sure the contestants will talk about their hard work to get to where they are, but the fact is that such achievement is still largely a lottery. And one plagued with as many pressures and frustrations as any one.

In her Sunday Times piece titled ‘Model Student’, Ashley Meers describes this luck of the draw, not just in the genetic lottery, but in the fickle business of beauty itself…

  • “There had always been a glut of prospective models, but now there was even more supply. ‘The fall of the Berlin Wall had opened up eastern Europe in the 1990s, then the internet and digital photography meant you have greater communication and greater travel. Now you have scouts who can go anywhere, any remote village; little agencies popping up everywhere, always looking.’ This has led to plummeting pay. ‘For girls coming from poor countries where there aren’t a lot of good opportunities, even low rates are more than they could get in their villages.’ What she wanted to know was what makes a look: why does one tall, skinny, beautiful girl succeed, while others are ‘scooped up, tried out, and spat out in rapid succession?’… For those hoping to be let in on the secret, Mears has no good news. ‘Beauty is neither in the model nor in the eye of the beholder,’ she says. ‘It’s a lottery.’…She found that success is less about looks, more about marketing and timing, and a team of people creating a ‘buzz’ akin to the emperor’s new clothes. ‘Everyone is trying to anticipate what everyone else will like,’ says Mears. ‘Once they have anointed a new face, clients scramble to nab her for shoots and shows, proclaiming that they, too, see that special something.’ Like actors and musicians, models work in a winner-takes-all market, in which a few reap rewards disproportionate to their talent, and everyone else scrapes by.”

And even when you seem to win one ticket in that particular genetic lottery, it’s not all a bed of rose petal strewn runways. In fact, the same torments of adequacy and security plague models every day as much as anyone. Ironically, they are most tormented about the qualities about themselves that make them so exceptional…

  • Saying that you want to be a model when you grow up is akin to saying that you want to win the Powerball when you grow up. It’s out of your control, and it’s awesome, and it’s not a career path… And I hope what you’re seeing is that these pictures are not pictures of me. They are constructions, and they are constructions by a group of professionals, by hairstylists and makeup artists and photographers and stylists and all of their assistants and pre-production and post-production, and they build this. That’s not me… ‘What is it like to be a model?’ And I think the answer that they’re looking for is, ‘If you are a little bit skinnier and you have shinier hair, you will be so happy and fabulous.’…[T]he thing that we never say on camera, that I have never said on camera, is, ‘I am insecure.’ And I’m insecure because I have to think about what I look like every day. And if you ever are wondering, ‘If I have thinner thighs and shinier hair, will I be happier?’ you just need to meet a group of models, because they have the thinnest thighs and the shiniest hair and the coolest clothes, and they’re the most physically insecure women probably on the planet.”

Miss Universe showcases some truly exceptional women. But their lesson is not that perfection is achievable. Rather that even the most “perfect” in our universe suffer the same failures of confidence, control and aspiration.

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