This model business is not all smiles

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The Independent Culture
SUZANNE MIZZI is wearing a tight black strapless dress with a frontal slit almost to the waist, and a pair of - what four-inch? six-inch? - Vivienne Westwood platform shoes, and she's standing on one leg on a slatted wooden chair, the other leg bent at the knee so that it's poking through the slit in her dress. She's holding on to a life-size model of Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator, half-mangled, with bits of blood and flesh and metal coming out of it. Mizzi is utterly rigid, you wonder how much pain she's in, but she's moving nothing apart from her lips. Mizzi has full, malleable lips, and she's delicately arranging them, pulling them across the borderline between pout and smile, trying them one way and then another, minutely different, still holding her pose, still standing on one leg. This is work that needs precision, expertise, endurance. The lips part, gently, opening, and . . . there] The corners flicker upwards.

'Happier - that's it]'


'OK . . . happy now]'

Terry and Harry and Bob are taking photographs of Suzanne for the tabloids, and tabloid readers like models to smile; the point is to make the readers feel good. Suzanne Mizzi is 5ft 4in, and looks like a normal woman; you can imagine her eating, grabbing a sandwich or having a few cocktails in the evening. She's slim, but she's not wasted, she's not unhealthy, she looks realistic.

'She's crossing over,' says her manager Frank Camilleri, a Maltese Londoner like Suzanne. 'She hasn't done any topless work for four years. No, four and a half years, it's four and a half years now. She's done Esquire, For Him, Clothes Show, German Elle, German Company, and she's been working for Vivienne Westwood, people are beginning to associate her with Vivienne Westwood now.'

But Suzanne Mizzi hasn't quite crossed over yet, and she's still doing tabloid shoots - like this one at the opening of the new Planet Hollywood shop in London - to keep her going while she's passing over the mysterious line between being a model who smiles, and being a top model; a model who scowls and pouts, who looks distressed, bemused, a model with the proper classy look. To step into the top division, Suzanne will have to change her entire professional function; instead of trying to make men feel libidinous, she'll be engaged in an another thing altogether, the business of making women feel insecure.

The female-angst industry is in overdrive, defending itself against the success of feminism. As intelligent women began to feature regularly in the financial pages in the late Eighties, tall, skinny women became household names for being ridiculously proportioned and earning even more money than the clever women. No wonder Linda Evangelista and Carla Bruni earn millions: they are the fashion industry's only hope of making women feel bad about themselves; who could emulate them?

Look at the Elite Premier model directory, the female-angst centre of the universe. It's confusing, scary. For a start, they nearly all look as if they're in pain; they've got terrible stomach cramps, or they're constipated, or they've just heard some terrible news. Eva Dijkstra: look at the face on her. 'I'm sorry, madam, we've towed it away.' And Tatjana Patitz: what's up with her? Has someone kicked her in the stomach? She's gritting her teeth, squinting her eyes, gripping her midriff - a study in agony. Naomi Campbell is in a weird, mad position; she actually looks mad, half-squatting, legs open, arms behind her head. And lots of them just look fed up. They're looking out of slitty eyes, lips parted, showing their teeth in the aftermath of an oath; some are smoking, some look like they're tearing their hair out. They're saying: this isn't easy; this is practically impossible. And it is, too - look at the statistics, at the weights and measures. They're well over average height, 30 per cent under average bodyweight. Match that.

Harpers & Queen, January 1993. The headline is: 'Beauty's new rules'. Carla Bruni (5ft 9in, 23in waist, makes pounds 1m-plus a year) is lying across a double-spread. The text says: 'It's time for a fresh look at yourself, a new discipline, a new regime.' Bruni's face looks pinched, severe. How hard would you have to try to look like this?

But things are getting more complicated, more twisted. This month's American Vogue has a spread featuring the new fashion thing, 'grunge'. Grunge is ugliness and dirt. So now you're supposed to look pale, angular, horrid, thin . . . not very nice, but somehow exquisite. The woman in the spread is bean-pole thin, with an angular face, an unflattering pudding-basin haircut and not-nice clothes: a shapeless skirt, heavy boots, dark T-shirt. The female-angst industry has entered its cubist phase - these are new, disorientating shapes. Instead of looking at fashion spreads and thinking, Gosh, I could look like that, as they did in the Sixties, or How hard will I have to work?, like they did in the Eighties, women will look at these pictures and think, Oh no] If I did that to myself, I bet I'd look even uglier]

But Suzanne Mizzi doesn't look like a sick waif - she looks pretty and healthy. And she's also 5ft 4in. 'She's in proportion,' says Frank Camilleri. 'So you can't tell how tall she is from a photograph.'

Mizzi is standing on the slatted chair, pretending to kiss Arnold, the side of his face that hasn't been ripped away, and trying to smile. 'I can't go 'mmm' ', she says, 'and smile at the same time.' She rolls her eyes. Then Mizzi says: 'How about if I sit up on the counter and have him up on the counter with me? Then you've got loads of leg.'

She's thinking tabloid, she's thinking men. She's not thinking insecurity, pain, grunge. She hoists her body up, sits on the counter; her skirt splits. She expertly crosses her legs. Terry and Harry and Bob move in closer, getting one from the front, getting one at an angle. Suzanne smiles. She's not crossing over yet.-