Model Behavior

Teenage dreams of a glamorous life on the runway

“There's more girls coming down here than ever before,” sighs the booker from a prominent South Beach modeling agency. “They all think they're going to be models, but they just don't have it. So now there's all these bottom-feeder “agencies' that get $300 to send these girls to a convention where they just stand around all day and point to things. That's not modeling. And these girls are never going to be models. My advice to them? Go home!”

Of course the magnetic draw for all these lithe young hopefuls isn't simply the prospect of a lucrative livelihood. As Michael Gross explains in his Model: The Ugly Business of Beautiful Women, models are more than just talking mannequins. Models matter.

“Though they exist in an apparently superficial milieu, models are metaphors for matters of cultural consequence like commerce, sexuality, and aesthetics,” writes Gross. “Today's models hawk not only clothes and cosmetics but a complex, ever-lasting psychology and social ambiance, a potent commercial fiction that goes by the name lifestyle.” Clearly an awful lot of folks want in.

Ready for our closeup: Anna-Maria Kymalainen (left) and friend  competing in the Elite Model Look 2000 search
Steve Satterwhite
Ready for our closeup: Anna-Maria Kymalainen (left) and friend competing in the Elite Model Look 2000 search
Meet this year's girls: The Elite modeling agency's crop for 2000
Steve Satterwhite
Meet this year's girls: The Elite modeling agency's crop for 2000

Elite, the world's largest modeling agency with booking fees of more than $100 million last year, certainly appears determined to capitalize on this relentless surge of interest. Nearly 40,000 girls flocked to malls across the nation for the Elite Model Look 2000 talent search, all hoping to snag the grand prize of a million-dollar contract in Geneva next month. When that 40,000 was weeded down over the past year to 26 individuals, South Beach was chosen for the contest's final U.S. round, a change from its usual New York City preening ground. It's a fitting destination. After all, is there any other burg in America whose identity is more closely wedded to the model trade?

On a sunny afternoon last month, the Model Look kicked off affairs by herding its 26 finalists over to the South Beach salon Stella for their requisite makeovers. Sitting in a stylist's chair is Anna-Maria Kymalainen. At age sixteen the West Palm Beacher may only be entering her junior year of high school, but she's already had twelve months to mull over this career move.

Kymalainen was first spotted by an Elite talent scout last summer, when she was part of the crowd gathered for the Warped Tour stop in her hometown. With the punkish Warped Tour about to make its annual return to South Florida, Kymalainen has the date memorized. “July 29!” she gushes, waving a cowabunga hand sign as a smile lights up her face -- a sun-kissed visage whose flattering cheekbones, Scandinavian features, and long blond hair would seem closer to a character out of a vintage Beach Boys tune than any song from the tattooed punk-rock outfits that comprise the Warped Tour.

That says less about Kymalainen, however, and more about the changing world of punk. Now in its sixth year of gathering up two dozen or so different punk bands and crisscrossing the nation's amphitheaters to capacity crowds, the Warped Tour marks a sea change in that genre's cultural position since it first hit the suburbs two decades ago.

In 1980 if you were sixteen and a fan of Miami punk mainstays the Eat, Kill the Hostages, or Gay Cowboys in Bondage, it was a pretty good indication that you were (a) something of a social pariah, and (b) getting your ass kicked in high school on a regular basis. You certainly didn't hear your music of choice on the radio. Punks did make it on to TV, but always as stock villains: terrorizing a video arcade on CHiPs, enticing Silver Spoons' Ricky Schroder into a life of crime, or dealing angel dust on any number of ABC Afterschool Specials. To be sure punks didn't spend much time in venues frequented by modeling scouts.

Flash-forward to the present. As hordes of mothers dropped off their kids at this past Saturday's Warped shindig at West Palm Beach's MARS complex, you could almost read their relieved minds: Thank God my children aren't going to a rave!

“It's all about the music,” Kymalainen exhorts, somewhat nonplussed at Kulchur's suggestion of there being a fatal contradiction between her self-professed punk-rocker status and her aspirations to become a model. “If they ever let me choose the music when I'm on the runway, punk is what I'd choose: Less Than Jake, MxPx, Pennywise. The music is what I'm all about.” So is there any difference between Warped Tour headliners Green Day and, say, classic-rock standard-bearers Aerosmith? “Well, they've got a different kind of beat,” she offers, “but punks can sing about parties and girls too now.” She pauses and adds, “But punk has that extreme rush, that go feeling. If I'm driving on my way to go surfing and I listen to punk, I'm totally pumped up!” Kulchur gets flashed another cowabunga sign.

Two days later the girls are waiting to be assembled into teams for a scavenger hunt on Lincoln Road. Though it's only been 48 hours since Kulchur and Kymalainen first met, she explains that rigid cliques have already formed. One of her friends motions toward the Road's nearby intersection with Meridian Avenue, where a cluster of fellow contestants frantically hop up and down in front of a Pontiac Sunfire banner (Model Look 2000's main sponsor), practicing dueling screams of “I want the car!” for a Pontiac video crew.

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