In Search of Beauty, Radio 4

Erin's so ordinary, in the nicest possible way

There's more to the model Erin O'Connor than meets the eye. She's not fierce, haughty or aristocratic, things, she says, people expect of her when she enters a room.

When she told the designer Valentino that she was raised on a large estate, he got quite the wrong idea. Spotted on a school trip by a scout and told she was beautiful, she was shocked. "The relationship I had with myself was radically different to the observations and perceptions the fashion world had of me," she would soon discover.

For her first big campaign she had to work on her smile. "I always look vaguely sarcastic," she laughed. "It was a question of training the muscles in my face to go north." And it's true – I'd always thought she looked rather patrician with her swan's neck, noble nose and air of superiority, but she comes across on the radio as warm and, in a good way, ordinary. Her thoughtful, intelligent programme was called In Search of Beauty – and it did chronicle her campaign to persuade the fashion industry to admit a greater variety of shapes and ages into its universe. But it actually went deeper than that, exploring the very notion that looks equal identity.

She spoke to a reconstructive surgeon who got people to rate before-and-after pictures of his patients for attractiveness, violence, honesty and promiscuity. The "after" pictures were rated higher for attractiveness and honesty, lower for violence. (Promiscuity stayed the same.) She also spoke to one of his patients, who'd had a concave, crescent-moon face with a hook nose. She was ecstatic, post-op – "I saw the me that should have been there at birth."

After her successful campaign launch during London Fashion Week, O'Connor was optimistic that change may be coming, that we may be in the process of freeing our minds on the subject of bodies and faces. She concluded by saying how she wants to embrace the ageing process (she's 31, the old duffer): "Someone said to me, 'As a woman, at 30 your looks start to go.' I said, 'But your resolve grows – thank God.'"

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