HOLLY WAINWRIGHT: Gen X women worshipped Linda, Naomi, Cindy and Christy. Here's what it did to us.

It doesn’t matter what you do or don’t eat for breakfast.

If you drop to the floor for burpees on the hour, and rise at dawn with sun salutations.

It won’t make a difference if you start your day glugging room-temperature, filtered water with a sprinkle of bee pollen. 

Or if you resurface your face with crushed rose-quartz, toasted by the light of a full moon

Or if you raided your superannuation for lipo, an eye lift, and copious lip filler.

None of it is even going to touch the sides. 

You are simply never going to look like Christy Turlington

Or Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell or Linda Evangelista

You’re just not. 

I find this fact freeing. 

And I have rarely felt more free than watching The Super Models documentary – featuring those four women – on Friday night, drinking my pink wine with ice, scooping my dip and luxuriating in the nostalgia of looking at extraordinarily beautiful women while not feeling shit about myself.

Watch: Body shapes aren't trends. Post continues below.

Video via Mamamia.

The supermodels were a late '80s, early '90s phenom. 

A group of women so ridiculously pleasing to look at, and so good at walking and having their pictures taken, they revolutionised an industry. 

Is it problematic that, between them, they put their delicate hands around an already high bar for beauty standards and shoved it sky-high? 

Well, yes.

It’s also problematic that they only came in one size (thin), that the only non-white member of the club, Naomi Campbell, was often not invited to the big jobs without pressure from her white colleagues, and that all of them were under 18 when they first started posing for adult male photographers.

But hey, can we not have nice things? 

Well, no. 

Because, also, maybe those supermodels were the beginning of the end. 

I can close my eyes and feel the weight and heft of the fashion magazines I used to buy just to stare at these women. I would to turn the pages and say their names out loud. Why I did that, I’ll never really know, other than that I was young, and living in the grey drizzle of a northern English city, and was seduced by the glamour bouncing off those glossy pages. A tale as old as time. 

But I was five-foot nothing, and ordinarily shaped, pale and freckly. These women were tigers, leopards, jaguars, and I was a soggy moggy from Manchester, and that was as the world should be. Not one bit of me thought, 'Oh, I could be a supermodel.' And not one bit of me wanted to be. All that posing and starving (even I could feel the starving, through the pages) and being poked and prodded and critiqued. An impromptu haircut would spark headlines and lose jobs. Turlington tells the doco crew that she was “let go” from some of the Milan shows because she’d “put on a few pounds”.


See, even the supermodels weren’t really quite super enough for the intensely fat-phobic fashion industry. Which, again, is an oddly freeing fact.

was seduced by the idea of the travel, and the parties, and the rock stars, and the Manhattan lofts, and the room service, and the champagne. They lived a life a million miles away from mine, and it looked thrilling. 

Not so the people my daughter compares herself to on her phone, daily.

They’re posing in their bedrooms. Or out in their backyards, or in their local gyms. They’re full of ideas of how you could look more like the way they do, in their activewear or their bikinis.

Maybe you could buy their diet supplements, follow their workout tips. Maybe you could download their meal-prepping plans, stock the freezer and juice up a storm.

They’re beautiful in the conventional ways, of course. But these are the girls next door who are selling you a dream of being able to be them. A more “accessible” beauty for a more authentic age.

The Supers were selling you all kinds of things, too, of course, but with their noses slightly skyward. You couldn't be us if you tried.


We began to see the shift begin right after the Supers faded.

In the documentary, the fabulous four explain how, ultimately, they priced themselves out of the market. Then the USSR fell, and you could get “40 models” from the former Soviet Union for the price of one Cindy C. If this sounds like an incredibly narrow way to view major world events and shifting beauty standards, it certainly is. Another telling glimpse into a very strange industry.

The problem, Naomi tells us, is that this new breed of high-quantity models all had to be the same size, so all the clothes would fit. And so The Waif was born.

Imagine that: millions of young girls’ eating disorders kick-started from the necessity of one-size-fits-all wardrobe fittings.

It’s a simplistic explanation, but it tracks. And what also tracks is what happened next. As the 1990s wore on into the noughties, models disappeared from magazine covers, replaced by actresses and pop stars.

And they came in (slightly) different shapes and sizes. They came with non-symmetrical faces and without the otherworldly chiselled bone-structure and magnetic camera skills of the Supers.

And when the world turned again, and aspiration was reinvented in our phones, the actresses became influencers.

And the influencers didn’t try to sell us a dream. They tried to sell us a new reality, an “authentic” one, with food diaries and a discount code.

I don’t know, maybe the nostalgia I was swimming in on Friday night was the misplaced affection for a simpler, more rigid world. Where we weren’t on a constant mission to optimise our ordinary selves, and the beautiful people were a million miles away, spinning in another orbit that we were not permitted to enter.


Now those faces are in the palms of our hands at all times, and they’re just ordinary enough – and just extraordinary enough – to have us believe that if we just tried a little harder, we could be them, too.

The new supermodels – Gigi, Bella, Hailey – want to be more like the influencers than the untouchable human artworks of the past. They fall over themselves to show us their flesh and blood weaknesses, their struggles and their anxieties, their insecurities and their tears.

Don’t hate us because we’re beautiful, they seem to be saying, with each confessional post.

And we don’t. But we do hate ourselves just a little bit more. Because every time you show us how you’re just like us, all we see is how we’re not like you at all.

Maybe that's why the supermodel nostalgia is so irresistible. 

Revisiting Linda, Naomi, Cindy and Christy on Friday night was like watching ghostly big cats stalk the parameters of a gold-trimmed cage. You know you shouldn't be enjoying witnessing their captivity, or thinking too hard about how they got there, but the spectacle is remarkable.

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