Part 5: The Importance of Being Anna Nicole

Anna Nicole Smith
I'm a bigger model than everybody else. I guess I'd have to say I'm not a huge model, but I'm not a thin model either. I'm pushing the way for women that have these curvaceous, womanly bodies.... I love my weight right now. I'm not hard-bodied, which I never ever want to be, and I'm just soft and yummy!

— Anna Nicole Smith,
Newsweek, 8/21/2000

There is a certain group of oddball celebrities derided as the "famous for being famous." They don't act or sing or do anything in particular, or perhaps they used to and don't anymore, and yet they're always turning up on talk shows and in gossip columns. Many of these quasi-stars rapidly fade into yesterday's news, but some like Joan Rivers and Tom Arnold manage to make a career out of it. Our "what have you done for me lately?" attitude offers little compassion for those second-string celebrities of no discernible talent who hang around long after their fifteen minutes have expired.

Anna Nicole Smith is generally lumped in with this ignoble crowd. That's understandable, since she's always at Hollywood premieres and parties but never in the movies, and her most noted performances in recent years have taken place in the courtroom. Maybe it's fair to say that she's famous for being famous. But what I will not accept is the notion that Anna Nicole therefore has no talent or importance. I will fight with every ounce of my strength the cynical belief that she is a has-been, a tawdry waste of ink and airtime, a burned-out, vacuous bimbo with nothing of worth or meaning to offer in return for our attention.

This commonly held view is an evil and despicable lie. And I'm going to prove it.

As I said back in Part 2, being a celebrity is all about power, and doesn't necessarily have anything to do with talent. And in Part 3, I described Anna Nicole's vast power as a mythological icon. One might think that's enough, and she doesn't really need any special talent to account for her fame. But that's not correct. It's preposterous to suggest that Anna Nicole Smith is untalented.

Anna Nicole Smith She possesses a tremendous talent, which is this: the ability to create and project a desirable image of immense beauty on a stage or in front of a camera. That's not a common talent that every attractive woman automatically has just because of her looks. It exists in a higher dimension, an intangible mixture of sensual, theatrical and improvisational aptitudes, and a woman either has it or she doesn't. Without this innate skill, Anna Nicole's physical qualities alone would not have been sufficient to elevate her to the level of goddess.

I absolutely love to watch video footage of Anna Nicole doing a photo shoot. The degree of precision with which she controls her every facial expression and bodily gesture, while flowing like quicksilver from one pose to the next, is sheer poetry to behold. Her photographers have often remarked on how hard it is to keep up with everything she's throwing out to them. It's like watching a great musician play a solo, or seeing a figure skater execute a triple axis. In front of the camera, she ceases to be the ditzy blonde who has trouble stringing a sentence together. She is an artist at work, doing what she was put on this Earth to do.

Those women who are gifted with the ability to create and project a desirable image of immense beauty on a stage or in front of a camera, but lack the ability to sing or dance or act, have one career option where they can make use of their talent. That, obviously, is the profession of modeling. Now here's where things start to get tricky. Our society has a very narrow and prejudiced concept of what it means to be a model, so let's back up and look at the big picture.

If a woman has the talent and wants to work as a model, she can find opportunities in three broad categories. She can be a model who poses for artist's renderings. She can be a model who promotes clothing and other commercial products. Or she can be a model who displays her body in the adult entertainment industry. No one ever got rich and famous as an artist's model, so we'll just focus on the other two options.

Although they may seem worlds apart, fashion modeling and adult entertainment modeling are simply opposite sides of the same coin. Both industries depend on the skill of beautiful women who can conjure up the appropriate idealized fantasy to appeal to their respective consumers and sell their respective products. Both put on live performances in front of rapt audiences (runway shows and topless dancing), and both are featured in widely circulated publications (fashion magazines and nudie books). And goodness knows the Internet has been a blessing for all parties involved.

Fashion modeling vs. porn modeling While I personally dislike excessively vulgar pornography, I see no inherent moral distinction between models who show off their clothes and models who take off their clothes. Both are being used as objects of desirability by their employers for the sake of profit. The fundamental difference between fashion and porn is not an issue of morality, but of market segment. Generally speaking, the fashion business is selling a fantasy to women and the porn industry is selling a fantasy to men. Just about all the divergence in technique and perception between the two trades stems from that basis alone.

To name one of the strongest linkages between these different worlds of modeling, the standard accepted body type for both industries is extremely thin. Of course, adult entertainment models are likely to carry around gigantic breasts (whether implants or natural) that fashion models would never be caught dead with -- but again, that's a matter of audience. Aside from cup size, the ideal bodies sought in both kinds of models are much the same: lean, hollow-cheekboned faces, thin arms, tiny waists, visible ribs, washboard stomachs, narrow hips, long and lean legs, and virtually no butt to speak of. That's what our culture has decided is beautiful, from both the male and the female perspectives.

And there's the rub. Many of us out here do not accept that thinness is the true standard of feminine beauty. It's a fad. For whatever reason, our society has collectively dismissed our genetic attraction to the natural, fully developed female form, resplendent with its softness, curves, and yes, exquisitely contoured layers of adipose tissue. This is what our ancestors thought was sexy. This is what people in cultures less sexually confused than ours still think is sexy. And God willing, one day our trendy obsession with thinness will fade away, and we'll embrace timeless beauty once again. But the modeling industries are in no rush to see that happen.

Fashion and adult entertainment are businesses. They're interested in money, not aesthetics. With no intention or desire to change the way things are, they actually work to reinforce the attraction to thinness, in the interest of protecting their bread and butter. But there's a catch. Any business is ultimately a slave to its market. When large numbers of consumers are dissatisfied, and an industry recognizes that they could form a lucrative niche market, it will make token concessions -- not for the sake of a cultural revolution, but in the hope of making an extra buck.

This is what has happened with skinny models. The adult entertainment business recognized that lots of men are attracted to women larger than those found in Playboy and the typical porn flick. So they created a subgenre of erotica catering to our tastes, featuring full-figured models in such magazines as Voluptuous and Plumpers & Big Women, along with countless videos and web sites. And the fashion industry recognized that lots of women could not identify with the stick-thin models found in Vogue and on the Paris runways. They wanted to see larger models with bodies like theirs, wearing clothing that they could look great in. So the fashion industry brought forth a strange and wonderful new creation.

The plus-size model.

Anna Nicole Smith It really irritates me no end to hear the media's continuous references to "former model Anna Nicole Smith." Aren't these people paid to keep up with the news? Anna Nicole has walked the runway at Lane Bryant fashion shows in 2000, 2001 and 2002, and also did a major campaign for the company's line of jeans. I'm no industry expert, but that sounds like an active modeling career to me. If you confronted those journalists with her current resume, I imagine they would say with a shrug, "Well, I meant she used to be a real model."

A "real" model, indeed. From that point of view, Anna Nicole has spent her entire career doing modeling that wasn't real modeling, with the exception of one brief period in the middle when she was provisionally allowed inside the big house. Vickie started out on the lowest rung of the ladder, the area of modeling most readily available to the attractive woman desperate to make a living, which is exotic dancing. Undignified, yes, but also undeniably a form of modeling. Then she made the vertical progression within the adult entertainment industry to Playboy. Even if you consider the magazine atrocious pornography, Playmates are models by the proper definition. Those girls are hired for their ability to create and project a desirable image of immense beauty in a nude centerfold.

The great democratizing element common to all types of modeling is that the cream always rises to the top. There are models posing nude on self-published web sites whose beauty far exceeds the typical haute couture model. I have seen one particular model wearing unflattering hair curlers in an ad for a home electronics manufacturer, and her face and figure mesmerized me like a classical painting. These sorts of "hidden treasures" occur because modeling harnesses a natural, inchoate force that is far too powerful for mere commerce to control. Just as with our efforts to tap the potential of the atom, sometimes there will be meltdowns. The model's gifts can outstrip the business intentions of her employer or client, and become an end in themselves. She demands our attention as an individual rather than a tool used to sell stuff.

When a model of lowly stature musters that sort of "crossover" appeal, her beauty and talent transcending the bounds of porn or low-glamour modeling, it doesn't necessarily mean she'll become rich and famous. Usually it's just a momentary flash that a handful of viewers might apprehend before the model recedes into anonymity. But when it's intense enough, and identified by the right parties, and gets enough people asking "Who's that girl?", this X-factor is responsible for the modern phenomenon of the supermodel.

Anna Nicole Smith Paul Marciano was the first visionary to recognize that Vickie Smith could be far more than just a Playboy Playmate. If it hadn't been him, somebody else would have. By the divine stroke of his hand, Marciano elevated his ingenue from the seamy underworld of adult entertainment modeling to the lofty realm of fashion modeling. As the new Guess? girl, Anna Nicole Smith was a tremendous success. And even though she underwent a complete transfiguration of name, image and context, the fundamental process behind those classy black and white photographs was just the same as it had been back at Rick's Cabaret: her ability to create and project a desirable image of immense beauty on a stage or in front of a camera.

After Guess? and Playboy, Anna Nicole went on to do modeling work for European retailer H&M, Conair hair care products, and a few other lesser known assignments between 1993 and 1995. And that marked the end of her career as a "real" model. There are three distinct factors that led to her media-dubbed status as "former model Anna Nicole Smith," and I suppose you'd have to say that all of them are her own fault.

First, she made the faulty decision to abandon modeling in favor of an acting career. Based on the evidence thus far presented, Anna Nicole has virtually no talent as an actress. Aside from some slight moments of physical comedy in Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult, Hollywood has been a complete misuse of her abilities. Her two hideous low-budget action movies would have been far more respectable had they emerged as erotica pieces with nothing but the nude scenes. The only character Anna Nicole has any skill at portraying is her own persona. That's what models do.

The second development serving to derail Anna Nicole's modeling career has been her prolonged legal battles over her late husband's estate. This cul-de-sac of jurisprudence has almost entirely precluded her from devoting time and effort to acting, modeling, singing, dancing or anything. Note I said almost. And that brings us to number three.

The paramount circumstance that spelled the end of Anna Nicole's short ride as a "real" model was that she gained weight. The novelty of her generous proportions was perceived as a positive attribute, a "retro" appeal, until she allowed her figure to fill out even further. "Too much of a good thing," rang the chorus. "Voluptuous is okay, but this is ridiculous!" After all, our society says "model" equals "beautiful," and "beautiful" equals "thin." Anna Nicole Smith got too fat, so she could no longer be a model. Q.E.D.

But that logic is bullshit. And fortunately, Anna Nicole is far too indomitable to let that kind of conventional thinking crush her. At this juncture, she made the greatest and most laudable decision of her entire career. She became a plus-size model.

Anna Nicole Smith As I mentioned in Part 2, plus-size fashion retailer Lane Bryant has long been criticized for using straight-size models to sell clothes for larger women. They have always pointed to supposed market research showing that products do not sell as well when promoted by larger models. By fits and starts, Lane Bryant has made steps toward changing its ways and switching to true plus-size models. In 1995, the company hired Anna Nicole as one of their first celebrity spokepersons (subsequently using such personalities as Kathy Najimy, Queen Latifah and Carré Otis), as well as one of their first major plus-size models.

It has been a splendid partnership, the two parties uniting just when they needed each other most. For Lane Bryant, Anna Nicole has produced the most beautiful and significant work of her professional career. Nowhere else has she so fully exhibited her talent for creating and projecting a desirable image of immense beauty on a stage or in front of a camera. Even with her relatively small portfolio of work in this segment of the industry, I believe she has become the greatest plus-size model the world has ever seen.

"Former model," my ass. She's just getting started.

Mode The plus-size modeling world is presently in an exciting state of flux, bristling with potential. In barely more than a couple of decades, the industry has progressed from bland, matronly models wearing shape-cloaking tents to fabulously gorgeous models clad in daringly sexy fashions. Even though it's obviously geared toward selling clothing to women, plus-size modeling has drawn the devoted attention of men such as myself. The late, lamented plus-size fashion magazine Mode, a revolutionary force in its early years, enjoyed a healthy subscriber base of heterosexual males more interested in eye candy than fashion trends. Heinrich Saint-Germain's web site The Judgment of Paris posits that plus-size modeling represents a restoration of timeless beauty, convincingly juxtaposing images of top plus-size models with classical art and passages from literature. It gives me an uncommon thrill simply to see the sort of women I find beautiful portrayed in the media as beautiful women.

Yet despite its successes, plus-size modeling remains a difficult concept for the general public to wrap its collective head around. The very term "plus-size model" is an apparent conundrum. A model has to be beautiful, and a beautiful woman has to be slim, so we believe all models have to be slim.

But as my friend Heinrich has pondered,"What happens when the culture is confronted by that paradoxical entity called the 'plus-size model'? Such a being shouldn't even be possible, since the terms 'plus-size' and 'model' appear to contradict each other. But there she is, nevertheless, and... and my goodness, she is beautiful. She's not supposed to be... but she is! ... She upsets the media-ordained 'order of things.' She is a living revaluation of social values."

As grand and true a cultural upheaval as that may represent, the reality is that plus-size modeling is confined by its status as a niche industry. Given the limited market exposed to plus-size models, the number of people likely to "see the light" is quite restricted -- in fact, it's basically a situation of preaching to the choir. When the world at large does confront plus-size models, it's easiest to take the path of least resistance. People are more apt to resolve the paradox by concluding that plus-size models aren't "real" models, sidestepping the uncomfortable necessity of questioning their standards of beauty.

I agree that plus-size models offer our best hope of an aesthetic restoration. Marginalized though they may be, they're a million times more mainstream than their full-figured counterparts modeling in the adult entertainment industry. But if there's going to be a change, it will have to be spurred on by a dramatically explosive catalyst. Plus-size models are in need of a charismatic representative capable of grabbing the whole world by the throat and strangling some damn sense into it.

Here's where Anna Nicole Smith comes in.

Anna Nicole Smith With all due respect to Barbara Brickner, Kate Dillon and Shannon Marie, I consider Anna Nicole the finest and most important plus-size model to emerge from the industry thus far. Her beauty is perfectly suited to the ideals that plus-size modeling should strive for, and her talents on the runway and in front of the camera are beyond reproach. But more than that, Anna Nicole brings the full weight of her mythology to bear on the proposition that plus-size women can be beautiful models.

The greatest of today's plus-size models have developed mythologies of their own, and are worthy of being considered goddesses. But with the limited scope of influence that plus-size modeling encompasses, they are local tribal deities at best, worshipped by a loyal few. By contrast, Anna Nicole is an uber-goddess. The entire world knows her, and through her stirring legends she symbolizes the full-figured woman's fearless assertion of sexiness in the modern world. This equips her with more leverage against the prevailing size prejudices of our society than any other plus-size model can hope to possess.

Those familiar with plus-size modeling are likely to point to "supermodel" Emme as the industry's foremost ambassador. Emme is probably the best known and most admired plus-size model, having been anointed by People magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People" list twice. I have nothing against Emme, but I believe Anna Nicole Smith is far more important to plus-size modeling... and I'll tell you why. Emme is safe and comfortable, the kind of person a woman would want to be friends with. Anna Nicole is different. She's got a wild and dangerous edge, and is more likely to be the object of another woman's jealousy than camaraderie. To put it bluntly, Emme represents a woman's idea of plus-size beauty, while Anna Nicole is the embodiment of what men want. I'll tell you right now, if we're gonna have a restoration of timeless feminine beauty, someone besides women and gay fashion designers is gonna have to get his rightful say in it.

Anna Nicole Smith Some people might argue that plus-size models, and plus-size women in general, deserve a better spokesperson than Anna Nicole Smith, one with more refinement and grace. That may be true. Even I will admit she's not perfect. And as much as I love Anna Nicole, I'm not so blind as to believe she can single-handedly win complete societal acceptance of plus-size beauty. The problem is too big, and the flaws in Anna Nicole's image are too burdensome. Now that she's in her mid-thirties, her remaining days as a leading plus-size model are finite, and there's only so much she'll be able to do.

But Anna Nicole has kicked down the door, and left it wide open for others to follow her. One day she will no longer be the only full-figured sex symbol in our culture. One day another Playmate or supermodel will become a size 18 and remain fully proud and confident in her beauty. One day a teenage boy won't feel weird and confused because he likes big girls. One day a young model who aspires to be like Anna Nicole Smith instead of Kate Moss will see her dream come true. One day... all because a simple country girl from Texas paved the way.

Earlier I compared Anna Nicole to Luke Skywalker, but I think she probably hews more closely to the tragic path of his father. A talented prodigy of unfathomable potential, she fell from grace by making unfortunate choices and surrendering to dark temptation. But her successors will be those still able to sense the good in her. With their support, she may yet find the strength to destroy the evil empire -- or at least fuck shit up a little bit. And in the process may she find some measure of redemption.

Anna Nicole Smith That's the story of my love affair with Anna Nicole Smith. Warts and all, through thick and thin, she will always be my Goddess Supreme. If you had asked me a while back what I'd most like to see Anna Nicole do next, outside of modeling, I might have suggested something crazy like this: how about her own weekly television series with cameras following her around in her everyday life? And by gosh, that's exactly what we're getting. The Anna Nicole Show on E! is set to focus on how she interacts with the outside world, so it should provide fascinating insights on the Anna Nicole mythology, and perhaps help people grasp the difference between the real person and the persona she has invented. The series has not yet debuted at this writing, and its impact may someday necessitate a Part 6 for this thesis. (NOTE: That extra chapter addressing the TV series has since been added, entitled She Drives Me Crazy.)

As a closing thought, I'd like to address the likely criticism that this thesis is too preoccupied with beauty. After all, since beauty is only skin deep, isn't it a bit frivolous to fret over how fat or how skinny models ought to be, and pontificate about something called "timeless beauty"? Aren't there more important things to worry about?

All I have to say is that beauty is what you make of it. And by that I mean more than just the "eye of the beholder" part. If you regard beauty in a superficial way, as a basis for prejudice and personal discrimination, it will be just an empty distraction. But if you regard beauty in its full aspect, as mythology, as symbolism that supersedes the mere individual, as a pillar of human existence that makes being alive worthwhile, then I promise you it will mean much more. It's in our nature to search for guidance and inspiration from sources bigger than ourselves. We all need our gods and our muses. And with my apologies to everyone who's made it this far, I can think of no other proper way to end this romantic encomium but in verse.

O my goddess, hear this song of my love
For your fair glory unmatched on this earth.
Please smile down on me from your realm above,
Transcending the bonds of your humble birth.
Once all the world loved you, or so it seems,
Until pleasures increased your fleshy size;
You've grown only more lovely in my dreams,
But by the rest, you are cruelly despised.
In your defense I had to take a stand,
Pained to see you so unjustly hated
By those poor fools who fail to understand
Anna Nicole's myth that you created.
Goddess, I pray I have done my duty:
A song of praise for your timeless beauty.

Anna Nicole Smith

Part 6: She Drives Me Crazy
A lunatic's appreciation of The Anna Nicole Show.

My Love Affair with Anna Nicole Smith

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