Alternative Esthetics: Why 'Alternative' Doesn't Mean 'No Rules'

by St Marc
January 24, 2007

Many aspiring alternative models feel somewhat betrayed that despite having a pretty face, bodymods, and a love of alternative lifestyle and fashion, they don't get accepted to Wicked Talent or get a lot of bookings for alternative modeling work because they don't fit other standards - for instance height, weight, or personal conduct requirements.

There's a very good reason for this. It's because while we all love people who are sincere in their beliefs and enthusiastic about their approaches to life, this is still a business and business has an object: to make money. I have clients - actual clients who sell actual alternative stuff for actual cash money and pay actual models to model said actual stuff in exchange for said actual cash money - who have very strict standards for what they will and will not accept in their models. I am far from alone. If you look at the ads for alternative fashion, including designer fashion, you will see models who by and large are similar to the models in pretty much all other commercial print advertising, except that they have oddly colored hair and more bodymods.

Why?

Because fashion is fantasy.

People want to identify with models who are beautiful and elegant or cool and sexy or in some other way larger than life. Even if they are anarchist punks, they want them to look like attractive, cool anarchist punks. People who are so seriously opposed or indifferent to the basic concepts of beauty and attractiveness as to not care if models are attractive even by subjective subcultural standards are not consumers. Their lifestyle choices are as valid as anybody's and, in many cases, are more sustainable than the throwaway, seasonal approach to fashion that many others take. No question. But the purpose of advertising is to sell stuff, and those people don't buy stuff. Or at least, they don't buy it based on conventional advertising. There is therefore no point in trying to reach them by using models who are not aspirational.

It is a fundamental truth of marketing that you achieve the maxiumum effect on potential consumers by giving them something to aspire to. It is just not as effective to show them a model who looks just like them, only with the product, as it is to show them a model who they would like to look like with the product. Yes, it's deceptive. It implies an untruth - that if you only bought the product, you would be as attractive or as cool or have as interesting a life as the model portrayed. But that is how advertising works. If it worked better the other way, by now, somebody would have noticed and they would do it that way.

Similarly, if you want to do artistic photography, then you use the model who suits the vision. If that's a three hundred pound model with a walleye, two teeth, and at least three different skin diseases, you go for it. But if you are trying to make art that has commercial potential - not that art has to, or should, necessarily, have commercial potential, but as a wise man once said, "Ideals don't take the place of meals" - then you again have to use models who are esthetically appealing to a diverse enough audience that the commercial potential is realized.

Not all art is about beauty and not all beauty is mainstream beauty. But people who aren't exceptionally beautiful are a lot easier to find than people who are exceptionally beautiful. Again, if it were the other way around, there'd be resources to help clients and artists find ordinary people and the beautiful ones would be out pounding the pavement. It's pretty easy to find ordinary-looking people, or even people who are ordinary-looking given the extraordinary-looking-lifestyle they participate in. My clients, or me as an artist, don't need special resources to do that, and there's not enough demand for it to require special models in the field or provide a significant number of bookings for that sort of model. Extremes are what is rare: Wicked Talent would probably be able to get more bookings for the aforementioned three hundred pound gargoyle than it could for the average cute Goth girl who's somewhat overweight and just over five feet tall. At least the gargoyle has an uncommon look! Similarly, if you're more typical in one area (say, height) then you have to make up for it in some other area (say, striking features) or you - and this is very blunt, but it's the truth - just don't have anything to offer the client. There are enough models who do have those extraordinary proerties that you just haven't got a chance against them.

As for me personally, I love models. All models. There are art models and lifestyle models and editorial models and fashion models. They're all wonderful. But if I have an assignment, I have to have a model who fits it. If I have a vision, I want the closest model to it I can find. That's just how it works. It's nothing personal. As a person of completely ordinary appearance myself, I can empathize with people who want to try to exceed their physical lot. But the world is not as we want it to be: it is what it is. You don't have to like it - and if you want to fight, fight. But don't blame the rest of us for trying to get the work done that we're paid to do or trying to achieve our own artistic goals.


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