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What is a Supermodel?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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A supermodel is a highly elite fashion model who has attained celebrity status. As a general rule, only women become supermodels, although there are a few very high powered male models in the fashion industry. Supermodels are generally famous enough to be considered household names, with most people at least knowing that someone like Heidi Klum is a supermodel, even if they can't tell you which labels she works for.

The term “supermodel” appears to have been coined in the 1940s, but it really took off in the 1980s, when the fashion industry exploded and several women took advantage of this flourishing to become major names. Twiggy, Christie Brinkley, Kate Moss, Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell, Gisele Bündchen, and Elle Macpherson are commonly considered to be supermodels, along with several other famous models.

As a general rule, a woman is considered to be a supermodel when she commands a high salary with a large number of perks, and when she has a widespread reputation in the fashion industry. Supermodels tend to work only for the top labels in the industry, and they often receive hefty endorsement contracts, thanks to their fame. Supermodels are also famous enough to be featured on magazine covers, and some may branch out into film; many also have their own lines of branded fashion products.

In addition to being famous, supermodels are also famously perceived as being extremely high maintenance. Many are well aware of their status and earning power, and they are not afraid to push for very high-paying contracts and schedules which suit their needs. It is also necessary to be pushy and strong to get ahead in the fashion industry, and these traits can make a supermodel seem like an extremely aggressive women.

In the 1990s, the era of the supermodel appeared to be waning. Many fashion designers were turning to unknown models to promote their clothing, out of fear that supermodels would distract viewers from their designs; the typically high pay needed to retain a supermodel may also have become an issue for some designers. Supermodels also began to vie with actresses and singers for celebrity.

Numerous criticisms of supermodels and modeling culture have been made. Many people feel that supermodels represent a highly unrealistic beauty standard, and that more natural looking models would be better role models, especially for young women. Haute couture and the fashion industry are also regularly criticized for their notorious high prices and elitism, with some people suggesting that high fashion is out of place in an egalitarian society.

PublicPeople is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PublicPeople researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments
By anon934316 — On Feb 19, 2014

Please, Janice Dickinson looks like a wax dummy - the real supermodels have come and gone: Kate, Naomi, Linda, Christy, Elle, Cindy, Giselle, Adriana - now we have the likes of Cara Delavigne. However, the supermodels of the 80s and 90s can still hold their own and have proved their longevity.

By breakofday — On Dec 21, 2009

What would Janice Dickinson have to say about not being included on the short list of supermodels here?!

Let's see, the average model dress size is usually never larger than a 4, with many actually wearing a size 0! We won't argue with the whole "size 0 should just be a flat sheet of fabric" scenario though. The average woman wears a size 12 or 14...so yeah I'd say that qualifies as unrealistic.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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