Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Attention All Catfighting Super Models

Well, we can all breathe an enormous sigh of relief. I know it’s something that’s been haunting the American public for over a decade now, but apparently supermodels Tyra Banks and Naomi Campbell have made peace (or, according to the literature “made peace!) Not privately, over dinner or plates of French fries or magnums of champagne or whatever supermodels gather over. They did it on national television, on an episode of — you guessed it — “The Tyra Banks Show.”

I admit that at certain times in my life I have followed the goings-on of the supermodel set a little more closely than is healthy. I know enough that this sordid history if diva dueling comes as no great shock. Big money, big egos, and — let’s be honest — room for only one black supermodel at the top. All the ingredients, in hyper-format. Naomi was the finger-snapping, hip-swishing queen of that catwalk. But models start getting long in the tooth two weeks after they hit puberty and when another foxy young girl – even worse, another foxy young black girl — started making waves I think Naomi was probably wise to assume it’s her or me. She was catty, bitchy, double-crossing, backstabbing. Tyra got her feelings hurt, so much so that she eventually bowed out of modeling full-time (to take on more humbling pursuits like hosting her own talk show). End of story.

Except that it wasn’t. Here’s where things get a little interesting, at least on the women and competition front. Instead of seeking flat-out revenge, Tyra’s looking to take the high road. She’s on a mission to stop competition and catfighting among women and, I quote from her website, “urges you to take the first step towards building a sisterhood of united women, a crusade for us to become one and stop the hate!”

While I admire the impulse, that word sisterhood always sends up a red flag. This “let’s all stop competing and just support and love each other” mindset can create as many problems as it solves. Tyra’s “crusade” reminds me of the early days of Ms. magazine when Letty Cottin Pogrebin published an article in which she equated competition between women with “raising ourselves on the crushed remains of your sisters.” I find this whole anti-competition stance scarily simplistic. We don’t help ourselves by setting a standard by which women aren’t allowed to conflict or compete with each other at all. We’re humans, we live high pressure, high stress lives, and we’re going to clash and disagree. It’s crucial that we acknowledge rather than ignore this, and that we start discussing how to communicate about our problems — like Tyra did by calling Naomi out — rather than sending some message that we should all just unequivocally love and support. Because I’m telling you, that’s just never going to happen. As soon as we’re not allowed to both have conflicts and be “good women,” those conflicts start going underground and they can resurface in some pretty twisted ways.

I’m also curious about the part where Tyra asks you to send in videotapes or photos of your girlfriends in the act of betraying you. Unless you hired a PI who caught her in bed with your husband, I can’t imagine what anyone could come up with. These kinds of betrayals are usually too subtle for instant replay. They come in the form of little digs that eat away at our trust, or behind the back moves that dawn on us weeks later. If we were out there clunking each other on the head with a hammer it would be a hell of a lot easier to say, “Hey, what do you think you’re doing.” (If we were clunking each other on the head with hammers, we’d be men). I know that I’ve been put through the wringer, and even put people through the wringer, and don’t have photo evidence of a damn second of any of it.

That said, it’s a rare day when you get to look to supermodels for life lessons. Best of luck to you on this one Tyra.

No comments: