Models are generally divided into groups based on the type of work they do; the most common types of models are fashion, glamour, fine art, and body part models. While modeling has a reputation for consisting solely of tall, thin, exceptionally beautiful women, the industry actually encompasses both men and women with a huge range of body types and looks.
The most famous type of model is undoubtedly the fashion model. Fashion models are hired to advertise clothing through print advertisements (editorial modeling) and to promote fashion designers in runway shows. Many fashion models succeed at both editorial and runway modeling, but it is not uncommon for them to specialize in one or the other, as they each have a slightly different set of requirements.
In terms of body type, fashion modeling is the most ruthless, especially for women. Female fashion models need to be both uncommonly tall and uncommonly thin; the average height of a female fashion model is 5 feet 10 inches with a weight of 110 pounds, while the average American woman is 5 feet 4 inches and weighs 160 pounds. Male fashion models are also taller and thinner than average: a typical male fashion model is 6 feet and 150 pounds, while the average American man is 5 feet 9 inches and 190 pounds.
Beauty is an important factor for fashion models, though not as much as it is for glamour models. For runway models in particular, beauty is less important than body type, well-defined bone structure, and ease in walking on the catwalk. Beauty is more important for editorial fashion modeling, as photographs present a closer view of the model than is found on the runway. In fact, many highly successful editorial fashion models also become engaged in glamour modeling, where beauty is paramount.
Glamour modeling places an emphasis on the model instead of a product—most instances of glamour modeling do not feature a product for sale at all. Glamour modeling is almost exclusively a female profession; while there is a small market for male glamour models, some may argue the types of work given to men and women are not equivalent.
Female glamour models are mostly featured in men’s magazines. The beauty and sexuality of the model are the main focus of the photograph, and many of the pictures feature short profiles about the model. One of the most recognizable instances of glamour modeling is swimsuit modeling, made famous by the hugely popular Sports Illustrated “Swimsuit Issue.” Glamour modeling became popular in the United States in the first half of the 20th century with pinups and posters featuring scantily clad women, and today a huge range of men’s magazines highlight glamour modeling. Nude glamour modeling is also a pervasive type of pornography, made famous by Playboy magazine.
While there are instances of male glamour modeling, it isn’t nearly as omnipresent as female. Most male glamour modeling takes place in the handful of pornographic magazines targeted at women and gay men. Some mainstream women’s magazines, such as Cosmopolitan, feature semi-nude photographs of male models, but they are not as important a feature of content as the corresponding female models in men’s magazines.
While fashion and glamour models are the most common, there are many other types of models who do not fit the popular image of models and modeling. The original models posed for painters and other artists, and visual artists in the 21st century continue to hire models to pose for artistic work. Fine arts models come in virtually all shapes and sizes, and while nude images are common, they are distinguished from pornography based on the lack of emphasis on the sexuality of the model.
Many advertisements for accessories demand a close-up shot of a specific body part: for example a wrist and hand modeling a watch, or foot and lower leg displaying a shoe. While the part in question is usually especially elegant, the demands placed on the body as a whole are not nearly as stringent as for other types of modeling. Body part modeling is often an avenue to success, especially for petite models that do not fulfill the height requirements set forth by fashion modeling.
Fitness models are used to advertise exercise equipment and lifestyles, and this is the one area of modeling that is dominated by men, though both men and women participate. Fitness models have athletic physiques, with more muscle mass and definition than is customary for fashion or glamour modeling.
Another example of alternative body types in women’s modeling is plus-size modeling. Any model wearing a dress size 8 or greater is considered plus size, though most plus-size models wear size 12–16. A high fashion runway model, on the other hand, usually wears a size 2. Plus-size modeling is most common in editorial fashion pages in magazines, as well as advertisements for specialty retailers such as Lane Bryant. There are almost no plus-size runway models, as runway work is usually limited to haute couture, the designers of which rarely work in plus sizes. While the body size standards for plus size models are different, the rest of the requirements still apply: plus size models must be beautiful, with clear skin and straight teeth, and extremely photogenic.
The most famous of all model types is the supermodel, the very highest echelon attainable for models. Supermodels are almost entirely female and gain celebrity status akin to Hollywood actors and rock stars. Supermodels also usually cross modeling boundaries, combining fashion and glamour modeling, and often including television commercials and even films.
The modeling industry is a frequent recipient of criticism from the public. Many argue that the bodies presented in fashion magazines create unrealistic expectations for young women, citing the rise of eating disorders in teenage girls and young women in recent decades.
The 2006 deaths of two models caused the public to look with an even sharper eye at the fashion industry and its demands on models. In August 2006, Uruguayan model Luisel Ramos died during a fashion show of a heart attack brought on by anorexia nervosa, and just a few months later anorexia also claimed the life of Brazilian model Ana Carolina Reston. Ramos’s body mass index, a figure calculated from a person’s height and weight, was well below starvation levels at the time of her death. In response to the public outcry, the administrators of the 2006 Madrid Fashion Week instigated new weight minimums for all its models, regulated by monitoring the models’ body mass index. Italian designers followed suit later that year by signing a joint measure with the Italian government banning size 0 models from their catwalks.
Despite the frantic response to these tragic events, it is unclear whether the exceptional thinness of high fashion models will cease to be the trend. The ease of flattering a tall, thin body originally prompted the popularity of typical model sizes with haute couture designers, and it seems unlikely that they will suddenly abandon tradition. Many top designers have advocated the hiring of healthy models to the runways, but it is important to note that just because obscenely thin models may be banned, the models that remain are by no means indicative of the average bodies of women. Glamour models are a perfect example of a healthy figure that is still virtually unattainable for a majority of women. While glamour models are far more voluptuous and usually shorter than runway models, they are still much thinner and much more beautiful than the average woman.
While glamour models might not induce eating disorders in women the way high fashion models do, the pervasiveness of images of glamour models is often cited as the source for poor body image among women. Not only are they thinner than most women, the vast majority of photographs of glamour models are airbrushed, or altered with a computer, creating even more unrealistic expectations. Airbrushing is ubiquitous and far-reaching and not just used to erase the occasional blemish. It is also used to completely reshape the body of the model. Waists are whittled, legs are slimmed, and stomachs are flattened, all with the click of a mouse on a computer program. The images created leave the average woman feeling a sense of failure that she can’t look like that, without realizing that in fact, no one looks like that, not even the model.