Julie Burchill: Supermodel to super-role-model: what women can learn from Cindy Crawford

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Pity the poor supermodel! In an interview with Parade magazine, Cindy Crawford says "I do feel like an outsider now. I just saw the CoverGirl commercial with Taylor Swift and I thought, 'Wow, it is so hard for models to get a job these days.' You have to sing and act, too..."

It has been said that a pretty face is a passport. But it's not – it's a visa, and it runs out. It can even, if the Israelis are to be believed (and I ALWAYS believe the Israelis), be a burden, as good-looking women who add a photograph to their CVs are less likely to be interviewed than their plainer competitors. "Attractive females are singled out for punishment" was how the Department of Economics at Ben-Gurion University summed it up in a report published by the Royal Economic Society this week.

If even a professional beauty doesn't have character behind the shimmering mask, it's quite likely that she will fall to pieces as the thing which has been her magic carpet is pulled out from under her feet. Think of nasty Naomi Campbell, hitting out – literally – as her beauty goes and her rage grows. On the other hand, there are the slinky saints such as Christy Turlington with their good works, artistic pursuits and perfect motherhood. But extreme goodness is not always likeable. If Campbell is an object lesson in how we never want to be, the designer domestic goddesses are how we know we will never get to be – which we are secretly quite pleased about, as it looks so BORING being one.

And then there is Cindy Crawford - neither a saint nor a sinner, just SENSIBLE; that rarest of commodities in the hothouse playpen of modern celebrity. In an age where drama queens are a dime a dozen, this is special and sexy in a beautiful woman. She seems to be well aware that a model is an artisan rather an artist. Her ongoing contract with Omega watches, while her contemporaries promote airy-fairy nonsense such as yoga, ecology and time-halting cosmetics, seems to sum up perfectly her supremely matter-of-fact approach to her own amazing face. Most other vintage models wouldn't want to confront the ever-rolling stream of time, but Cindy stares the clock straight in the face, the way she looks at the camera. Full-on, straight up, no chaser.

Albert Einstein once said "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results", and part of Cindy C's dignity comes from the way she has learnt from her mistakes. One high profile marriage collapses? Try a private one next time. Prove to be a bad actress? Stick to modelling. Beauties are often tinged with hysteria – a combination of the reaction of others to themselves, and their own awareness that theirs is a fleeting gift – and to encounter one whose approach to her looks and career is practical, above all, is appealing. Crawford once opined that she was two people – "Cynthia" (her birth name) who was an ordinary woman, and "Cindy", who was a living doll sex symbol. She once also suggested that her mole should get its own agent and pursue a career independently of the rest of her. And she said: "Even I don't look like Cindy Crawford in the morning." In less grounded sex symbols this schism can cause yet more identity problems, as when the glittering goddess Marilyn grew more and more across the decades to resemble the sad, half-mad orphan Norma Jean, until they died in each other's arms with last rites of vodka and Valium, but Crawford seems well pleased by it.

In recent years, one of the gender-specific hoops that celebrity women have been urged to jump through is that tyrant "reinvention". Think about it; did Woody Allen ever have to reinvent himself? Or Jack Nicholson? Or Chris Martin? No: as famous men age, they "mature", and expect to be appreciated even more fully for their little quirks - even if, as in the case of Roman Polanski, that quirk is being a child-molester.

But famous women must ceaselessly seek new ways to keep the paying public interested. It's one of those unsettling moments – up there with Sharon Stone showing her vagina to strangers for pay – when one realises that in many ways, attractive female celebrities may well work in an elevated section of the sex industry and that people with proper jobs would better be called "punters" rather than Liz Hurley's ridic "civilians".

Madonna, of course, has been more of a reinvention whore than anyone, and judging by the early reports of her first film outing as director, maybe she might have been wiser to stick with the conical bra. But Cindy C is always the same. They're no one's idea of victims, but it's pleasing that the original, middle-aged supermodels are back hitting their stride, despite CC's whinge about these actresses and singers coming over here, taking our CoverGirl campaigns. Dismissed in the 1990s as being "greedy" by a gaggle of male designers who lived like Sun Kings but seemed rather put out by the spectacle of women refusing to get out of bed for less than a tenner, they are living proof that no matter how good-looking a woman is, she can eventually flourish in the cruel, character-obsessed, beauty-baiting modern world.

There's no money for wheelchairs – but lots for graffiti officers

Good luck to Catherine Zeta-Jones on her recovery – what a trouper! And how lucky for her she isn't dependent on the caring, sharing Brighton & Hove council to help her alleviate the misery of mental illness.

CZJ's bi-polar condition was said to have been brought on by the stress of caring for her sick husband; currently, one of my dearest friends is caring for her son, pole-axed by a combination of mental illness and multiple sclerosis. He sleeps on the sofa at her house because the council (and this is a council which sees fit to employ a GRAFFITI OFFICER who assists the turning of tagging into "art") cannot help him, a house where he is effectively a prisoner as he cannot get down the steps to the street. My friend, tiny and recovering from cancer, cannot even drag her 6ft son wherever he wishes to go within the house, and so, as there are no wheelchairs available, he stays put. She was, though, offered Stress Counselling, which she described thus: "There were two counsellors and five clients. All mobile phones were switched off – but what if he needs me? What if he has fallen and can't get up? (This is very stressful!) 'Would you like some water?' a counsellor said. 'I'd rather have a brandy and a cake,' I said. (THAT fell on stony ground!) We then closed our eyes and did some breathing in order to learn how to relax! 'How did you feel about your first session?' we were asked – I said 'STRESSFUL!'..."

When councils can afford graffiti officers and stress counsellors but not wheelchairs, I don't care how many protestations of evil government cuts they use to excuse themselves – the bread and circus balance is wildly out of wack. Hell, while my friend and her son sweat it out in limbo, B&H Council are probably planning to engage a Bread And Circus Officer right now...

The holier-than-thou hackettes are back

I've said it before but for as long as the other side INSIST on acting like two-faced, holier-than-thou, ocean-going tools, I'm going to keep responding.

WHY didn't all those female journalists who jumped on the bandwagon again this week to bash young girls attracted to a low-grafting, high-spending, hard-drinking lifestyle (according to a survey by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers) - whether by marrying a footballer or appearing on The X Factor – THEMSELVES become doctors or teachers, as they ceaselessly bemoan the failure of this coming generation to do? Why did they become JOURNALISTS? Because they too were attracted to a low-grafting, high-spending, hard-drinking lifestyle (as was I)!

Hypocrite hackette, haul thyself over the coals before you have a bash at Cheryl.

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