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December 16, 2004

Young Models

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

I've just spent 15 minutes -- OK, 20 minutes -- looking at photos of models at One Model Place, the Ebay-ish models-and-photographers site that our Guest Poster "J" referred to her in her recent posting. And I noticed something funny about perception. (Mine, at least.) As you peer at photo after photo (and thus girl after girl), you get pickier and pickier. And when you're peering at glamor photos, what that pickiness seems to mean is that your eye zeroes in on younger and younger girls.

This happened to me quite without deliberation. I only realized that I'd zero'd in on young girls when I clicked on the portfolio of a model who was 26. By everyday standards, this woman is a young-adult beauty. But my sated eye's first impression was: she looks all used-up. (FWIW, I've got no kinky thing for young girls.)

Audaciously, I'm going to assume that my experience isn't unique. Which leaves me wondering if this tendency for the eye to thirst for early-pubescent youth when staring at glamor and fashion photographs of gals helps explain the fact that the gal-models the media put on display are often very young.

The usual explanation for this is, "Well, corporations are trying to make women feel inadequate so they'll buy products." Or, "It's because there are so many gay men in the style world, and this long/young/thin look is their passion." And probably both of these factors contribute. But maybe the preference for the very young and the very perfect is also a consequence of what happens to your perceptual system when you stare critically at photos of female models for too long.

But this small-t theory doesn't really explain anything about why we zero in on just-hit-puberty youth and flawlessness when we stare at certain kinds of photos, does it? I'm guessing, but it seems to me that reproductive fitness doesn't do the job as an explanation: looking at fashion and glamor photos, the eye seems to crave coltish, edge-of-puberty, David Hamiltonish creatures, not the ripe-to-bursting fertility goddesses guys dig when looking at erotica.

So what might explain the eye's taste in these matters? Does the eye/mind for some reason demand of certain kinds of photos that the females in them be dewy, fresh, and flawless? Is that the quality in humans that's the equivalent of the sparkle in diamonds and tinsel? We crave it ... because we just do?

Any thoughts?



posted by Michael at December 16, 2004


Well, this doesn't speak to fashion or commercially dewey youths per se, but I've been running into a behavioral/evolutionary theory called the "peak shift model" in all kinds of places lately (maybe it's like the serendipity of seeing loads of pregnant women all of a sudden when you're pregnant--I'm interested, so I'm noticing it).

Paraphrasing Colin Martindale from his unsettling book The Clockwork Muse, peak shift means the tendency of an organism to prefer rewarded behavior (such as responding to a stimulus) beyond the point at which it was rewarded. In birdie romance, for instance, a female bird that prefers to mate with males sporting bright feathers will show an even greater preference for males with "supernormally" bright feathers. As Martindale says, "The same considerations apply to human beings and their preferences. Preference--and thus selection--will gradually shift away from what one likes to a point beyond what one maximally liked previously."

He argues that this is one of the major forces driving artistic and stylistic change. I don't see any reason peak shift couldn't be considered in relation to female models, who are presented to the public in pretty much the same way as works of art--which is to say, as decoration or aesthetic objects, with lingering but fading traces of functionality...

Posted by: Rose Nunez on December 16, 2004 7:55 PM

Seems to take into account the "jaded eye" phenomenon too. You're looking for that initial rush over and over again, and that means you wind up right at the cusp of puberty. I wonder if it's the magnification thing too. You know how when you're staring in the mirror at your own face for too long? Not that a studly guy like me ever does this of course. But if I were to ... And you get so involved in the details, and then further details ... And you lose all track of the actual face. You've become completely absorbed in the quest for blackheads or wild eyebrow hairs or something. And then you pull back and it's like you've been slapped: Omigod, it's a face. You're pursuing certain aesthetic values rather than an overall humanity. The details take your entire brain over, and while you're not looking you zero in on things.

Funny thing is that I've seen female editors and designers at work. And they tend to zero in on the perfect 14 year old quite as much as the hetero and homo-guys do. That seems to be a harder one to explain, but there it is.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 16, 2004 8:02 PM

Funny thing is that I've seen female editors and designers at work. And they tend to zero in on the perfect 14 year old quite as much as the hetero and homo-guys do. That seems to be a harder one to explain, but there it is.

I wonder if it's almost as useful for females to be judges of reproductive fitness (or as we reg'ler folks say, have an eye for the ladies) as it is for males. Perhaps for keeping track of the intra-clan competition, or for assessing the childbearing potential of kinfolk.

Or maybe, like nipples, sizing up female sexiness is an attribute that's easier to keep in both sexes than to lose in one.

(Wheee! I like this--it's ever so much more fun to speculate wildly when you don't have an academic future at stake.)

Posted by: Rose Nunez on December 16, 2004 8:22 PM

Ain't it, though! Congrats on ditching grad school, btw. Now the real fun begins.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 16, 2004 8:26 PM

A dangerous subject, and I think Hamilton is an evil man.

Could it be a gender-based beauty without overt sexuality? I have noticed this appreciation of 14 yr olds, and can think of several actresses who may have reached a beauty peak at that age.

Malle's "Pretty Baby", and maybe all versions of Lolita, is precisely based on this theme. Naked Brooke Shields is recognizably female, and pretty asexual. Carradine wants to photograph/look at her more than screw her or talk to her.

I also there are possibly physical/hormonal aspects, "baby fat" being lost in the late teens early twenties.

We have at least three Elizabeth Taylors to ogle. The girl in "National Velvet" is pretty, but not outrageous. The young woman of "Father of the Bride" is unspeakable. But the woman of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" is the one I would saw off my right arm for.

Posted by: bob mcmanus on December 16, 2004 11:31 PM


speaking of sensory overload...

i've seen quite a few naked bodies in both real life and my web surfing days. i really did think i'd become desensitized in the way you describe.

so it's funny you posted about this, because just a few days ago i stumbled across the most...well, superlatives won't do her justice. You just have to see for yourself (not very worksafe, though no nudity...)

i couldn't believe it. i quite literally went into sensory overload for a second. it was like i'd been hit between the eyes with a two by four, and that ~never~ happens to me anymore. not in real life, not on the web, never.

anyway. just thought i'd toss in my $.02 and say that life still can amaze.

Posted by: thereisagod on December 17, 2004 7:12 AM

I think it's mostly because photography, unlike life, gives you the time to zero in on every flaw and blemish.

However, photoshop and good makeup considerably extened a glamour model's working life. And remember, we're all lying about our ages anyway.


Posted by: J on December 17, 2004 10:47 AM

Consider it bookmarked!

Posted by: onetwothree on December 17, 2004 7:51 PM


You might want to send that Hamilton link down the memory hole.

Posted by: onetwothree on December 17, 2004 8:05 PM

Bob -- I think you're onto something with the "Lolita" comparison. There's something very clear about these young girls; they're easy to objectify and gaze at, yet the gazing isn't without erotic elements. So there's a kind of built-in aestheticism (probably helps with the photo) and a builtin eroticism -- a nice tension between push and pull.

Thereisagod -- She's a looker, that's for sure. FWIW, what fascinates this old coot a bit more at this moment is the conjunction between photograph, looker, and creature in the photograph. There's something that ricochets around experientially when people (women as well as men) look at certain kinds of chic/fashion/glamour photos, and it seems to demand the duckling-like beauty of 14-15 year old girls. We gaze at both the photo and the girl in the photo; we inspect both of them too, and semi-simultaneously. Maybe that's some combo of being thrown into a kind of enchanted state and indulging ourselves by being picky (about both the photo and the flesh the photo presents ...)

J -- I think that's a big part of it too: the contemplative thing. What else are you going to do when you look at an aestheticized, much-worked-on photo but inspect it? The girl and the moment have been lifted out of time and set at a slight distance. It's almost like you want a white-marble (but with texture) thing to contemplate. Funny conjunction of subject and presentation, isn't it?

Onetwothree - That's a good idea, done, tks.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 17, 2004 10:19 PM

I just read this and checked in at One Model Place, and you must have come up with a different set of pics than I found! "Dewy, fresh and flawless" is not what I found. They also weren't 15---they all claim to be 19 to 25 and they look either like they are telling the truth, or they are older and skimming.

Sheesh...after all this rhapsodizing...they looked chicks who don't have traditional modelling contracts for a darn good reason! I think you see women on the street every day, of all ages, who are prettier than this bevy. But, to each his own and all!

Posted by: annette on December 18, 2004 11:49 AM

Re: Annette

Quite right. Though what else can you expect from a site that lets anyone who pays post their pictures. OMP has its stars, but the vast majortiy of both photogaphers and models are tragically deluded.

Free market. But who am I to complain. It sure helped me.

And just to make sure you don't make midgets like me feel bad- remember that, at 5'2, Salma Hayak wouldn't be able to get a traditional modelling contract either. Neither would Pam Anderson

Posted by: "J" on December 18, 2004 8:13 PM

Height has nothing to do with my comments. I actually have no idea how tall any of these women are. Or their photographers, for that matter.

Posted by: annette on December 19, 2004 3:04 AM

Did I say something about these models being especially beautiful, or these photos being any good? I thought I just said that when you're looking at glamour shot after glamour shot, it seems that your eye begins to zero in on younger rather than older girls.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 19, 2004 9:37 AM

No, I don't think Micheal did say that. I think others did. Someone used "dewy, fresh and flawless."

Posted by: annette on December 19, 2004 10:09 AM

Actually---YOU did use "dewy, fresh and flawless" in your own original posting!! You didn't say "not that these girls are..."

Posted by: annette on December 19, 2004 10:10 AM

Hello, my name is darius and I want to know if you guys are looking for any more models because I always wanted to become a models. So if you are please email and tell me how I can. And I'am located in Chicago. So I thank you for taking your time to read this.

Posted by: Darius on December 20, 2004 12:12 PM

Interesting post. You might find this site very interesting.

Posted by: OneManClan on January 3, 2005 10:05 PM

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