Kate Moss: A model or a role model?

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Photograph: Mario Testino

‘I don’t like doing pictures as myself. I like to be made into someone else’ – Kate Moss.

Kate Moss, the five foot seven iconic supermodel who rose to fame in the nineties, has consistently been doubly famed for her photographic and catwalk ability. She has a pure outstanding talent to sell and thus dominate the fashion industry, her controversial private life and the media’s labelling of her as ‘Cocaine Kate’, as well as references to the ‘Kate House Days’ and the destructive Pete Doherty relationship. She has been deemed one of the hundred most influential people in the world (Time magazine, 2007) – an influence which is both positive and negative. I wish to deconstruct Kate’s modelling career and private life, and explore whether Kate’s status as a model denotes that she must be a ‘role model.’ I want to examine whether the two distinctions can be rendered separate, and thus establish whether she is irresponsible, or indeed the victim of fame – a silent model who never asked to be a role model. Perhaps, however, by default, a model can never escape the status of ‘role model’; the term model is all-encompassing.
Dominique Miceli has told the Observer that the popular fascination which surrounds Kate is due to her chameleon ability to ‘completely change her image.’ She maintains that every picture of Kate Moss ‘shows a different girl.’ Her changeability and unpredictability separates her from models of her generation; Miceli asserts that Naomi Campbell and Claudia Schiffer are ‘superb’, but always ‘looked the same’, whereas Kate constantly shocks and re-invents her image – she exerts her force upon the very boundaries of the industry, and shatters such boundaries. If Kate wants to smoke whilst walking the catwalk (Louis Vuitton, 2007), then such behaviour is deemed ‘Kate-like’ and fabulous. Jess Cartner-Morley, of the Guardian, responded to Kate’s smoking performance with the assertion that ‘there’s only one thing the world loves more than a beautiful girl, and that’s a beautiful girl who’s a little bit bad. Therein lays the secret of the enduring appeal of Kate Moss.’ Marc Jacobs appreciation of Kate is evident, he said ‘the women in the show were all characters, not just anonymous girls.’ This complies with Kate’s own statement – ‘I like to be made into someone else.’ Kate establishes a mask, a front, or a character when posing behind the camera, or strutting down the catwalk; she escapes reality. Thus implies that for Kate, her professional and personal lives are separate and distinguishable – modelling is fantastical, whilst her private life is her own reality.
However, Kate’s personal opinion, most famously and sequentially most controversially, her statement: ‘nothing tastes as good as skinny feels’ (WWD magazine, 2009), unavoidably seeps into the public perspective. The term ‘waif’ accompanied Kate’s image in the nineties; inspiring a new breed of skinny models which wiped the portfolio of muscular Amazonian models who graced magazines in the eighties. The press branded Kate as a champion of anorexia for young girls who idolised her. Former Ultimo model Katie Green, who launched the Say No to Size Zero campaign the same year, said at the time: ‘There are 1.1 million eating disorders in the UK alone. Kate Moss’ comments are likely to cause many more. If you read any of the pro-anorexia websites, they go crazy for quotes like this.’ However, a large proportion of the fashion world hit back with a don’t- blame-Kate attitude.

Does Kate’s quote deem her a bad role model? Essentially, it is an expression of her love of her skinny frame, though it obviously alludes to a promotion of self-sacrifice of food. Yet, despite articulating such a weighted statement, Kate retains an enigmatic persona. As Miceli asserts, ‘the whole world knows her [Kate] without really knowing her.’ Snippets of controversial statements are provided every couple years; the very fact that such claims are torn apart by vulture-like media evidences that Kate rarely provides the media with information to work from – thus they squeeze meaning out of the rare occasions when she provides ammunition. Her unswayable fame, which never diminished during her Cocaine habit – if anything it raised her profile – has never been answered; neither fashion designers nor press can articulate just why she is so very successful.
The very fact that she rarely interviews, and she maintains a ‘never explain’ attitude which she claims she learnt from Johnny Depp – she doesn’t use Twitter because she doesn’t ‘want people to know what is true all the time and that’s what keeps the mystery’, problematises the bad press generated surrounding her position as a role model. Kate is a model, but it appears that she does not wish to be a role model; she steers away from the Cara Delevigne attitude of communicating with all of her followers and retains an aura of ambiguity.