Tatiana is back! She's the anonymous model behind the tell-all fashion industry column "Modelslips," a feature I can't think about without getting distracted by the thought of the song "Molly's Lips," which has nothing to do with anything. Tatiana is feeling a little cranky these days. Sometimes it seems like every week is fashion week! And models? You know how she was just saying they aren't dumb? Yeah, she sorta takes that back a little. Herewith, a bit on how the model populace is responding to the candidacy of Barack Hussein Obama.
Because fashion centers itself around coastal, blue-state U.S. cities that are bywords for liberal freakiness, and world cities in nations known for "bloated" public sectors, socialized medicine, and overall left-wing leanings, you might be forgiven for thinking the politics of fashion could be summed up in a Kenneth Cole campaign slogan. Like about AIDS. And tolerance. And shutting down Guantanamo Bay; Lush made a soap about that, right?
The industry is, after all, full of gay men whose , and immigrants who might think fondly of the notion that fellow foreigners also be allowed to access America's wealth of job opportunities. And didn't all those designers stand up poor Laura Bush?
Yes, well, sure. But the models? Zey are another story.
Once I walked all around Paris with a charming Pole who introduced herself after a disastrous casting ("I fucken' het dis shiit," she said, shooting me one of those baleful, Eastern European looks), told me she wanted to be a war correspondent, and shared the story of her roommate, a 17-year-old Arkansan who had somehow cheated on her boyfriend of three years with the director of her agency after less than a week abroad. Both the men were named William; the Arkansan, said the Pole, "Spends a lot of time crying and saying shiit like 'I love Billy but I have dis conneeeekshun with Bill.'" I thought I had made a friend for life — likes to read, check; finds castings often exasperating,check; finds examples of hapless late-teenaged decision-making funny, check — until we walked through Paris's gay district and saw two men holding hands.
"Disgusting," sneered the Pole. "I think all the mens like dis should be shot."
Well then! I thought. You'll have something to bond over with the insurgents!
Maybe I've just been lectured on the unconscionable evils of abortion by one too many blue-eyed small-town Argentines, and met one too many 5'10" rural Lithuanian teenagers who sneer at the idea that homosexuals can raise children, but modeling has actually forced me to question the notion that travel always broaden horizons. I know, I know, I am the same person who just wrote about models being smart and worldly and accepting etc. etc. The fact is that I'm pretty sure Kate Moss, for all her horizon-broadening, is fairly provincial but that she is nothing compared to a kid I met at LA Fashion Week.
Sometimes a mind will see only what it wants, no matter how you change the details of scenery. And sometimes, nothing reminds you just what gears domestic U.S. politics turn on like a trip to one of those cosmopolitan fashion epicenters where your days are otherwise full of expert eye shadow blending and the interrogation of the hemline and people who use edgy as if it had some concrete, timeless value.
Models often come from small towns in out-of-the-way places to which globalization has not been kind; places where political conservatism — and the more traditional strains of religion — can seem like a shelter from the storm of modernity. I remember a mother-daughter pair I met in New York, fresh from a small town near Orlando, who told me that the reason "things" are "the way they are" today is due to the fact that people no longer get their values from church. Exiting a go-see recently in Milan, I overheard another model telling her mother that inside, at the casting table, there had been seated a drag queen (whom the daughter referred to as "a tranny.") The mother paused for a long time.
"So he was probably gay, huh," she said quietly, as she tucked her 15-year-old's stilettos into her purse.
But nothing prepared me for last fashion week, in Paris, when every one of my American room-mates in our scuzzy 16th Arrondissement models' apartment revealed herself to be a Republican.
Late one evening, conversation between a mother-daughter pair from a small New Mexico town and an 18-year-old from the South side of Chicago had turned towards politics.
"I'm voting for Obama," I said off-handedly, no doubt sounding very tired after a day of castings and a fitting.
"Who's that? The black guy?" asked the mother.
"I liked Romney. I thought he was so inspiring — a young man with all these new ideas," gushed the Chicagoan.
The mother turned to me. "You know the problem with Obama, don't you?" she continued, her eyes beginning to narrow. "He won't put his hand over his heart or say the Pledge of Allegiance. If he's gonna wanna be president of my country —"
"Oh my God! That's terrible!" broke in the Chicagoan.
"Uh," I said, "That's not —"
"— My son fought in Afghanistan for this nation," continued the mother. "There are all these people who hate our way of life, who want to kill us. And I'm sick of people telling me this isn't a Christian country: It was founded by Christians with Christian values, how more Christian could you get? And Obama's worried saying the Pledge would send the wrong message? I can't vote for anyone who would disrespect my country like that."
"Uh, that's not true," I said. "Barack Obama says the Pledge. He learned it as a child. You can see him saying it, plus singing the anthem or what have you, on YouTube."
"What do you mean, I saw the pictures! He's just standing there, his hands by his sides. He's not saying no Pledge. And you know what else worries me: his father's a Muslim!" The mother drew back her lips as she said it, as if trying to avoid the contaminating syllables. "The very people who are attacking this country. Like I'd vote for one."
The mother then launched into a story of her experience facing a cancer scare without health insurance. Biopsies, a spree of short hospital stays, and various tests had left her $30,000 in debt.
"Well, Obama's health care policy would make every American eligible for insurance kind of like members of Congress get, so you wouldn't have to be uninsured," I pointed out.
"But he wants to give free care to illegals!" the mother brayed.
Around this point, the Chicagoan began talking about "the thing that really bothers me" — affirmative action. Apropos of very little, the mother shared her experiences observing "people wearing big, gold chains, and expensive clothing, like name brands," picking out "the best cuts of meat, and fried chicken," at the supermarket, to be paid for on EBT.
I'm ashamed to say that rather than counting off the studies that show students admitted into tertiary programs because of affirmative action outperform the overall undergraduate pool, plus the studies that show white women (such as the Chicagoan, and myself) are the group affirmative action has most benefited, or than regaling everyone with my own somewhat embarrassing story of the time, back when I was earning $10.50 an hour before taxes in one of those coastal, blue-state cities where rent happens to run around $1000 a month, when I went to an anonymous government building and was found to be too wealthy for food stamps, and rather than explaining to the mother of a model that a picture can tell less than the truth, I left the living room and quietly went to bed.
The mother was still talking about "the black guy" as I fell asleep.