Models vs. Supermodels: What's the Difference?

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The Dilemma: Sure, your friend's been on the cover of Vogue a couple of times now, but does that make her legitimately super?

People You Can Impress: Supermodels!

The Quick Trick: A model gets arrested for snorting cocaine; a supermodel gets on the cover of People for snorting cocaine.

The Explanation:

Like beauty itself, supermodeldom is in the eye of the beholder. One day, perhaps, there will be a Model Sanctioning Body that will establish clear rules for who qualifies as a supermodel—but until then we'll just have to muddle our way through. The difference between regular and super models is generally believed to involve not money but fame: A supermodel is someone whose celebrity extends outside of the fashion world. That is to say, you don't have to know your Dolce from your Gabbana to know that Cindy Crawford is really pretty.

janice.jpgJanice Dickinson, the thrice-divorced Surreal Life alum who wrote the literary gem Everything About Me Is Fake . . . And I'm Perfect, coined the term supermodel in 1979. Hence, she calls herself the world's first supermodel. But we feel that no one who ever appeared on Surreal Lifeshould be legally allowed the title of "super" anything. A better candidate for first-ever supermodel might be Suzy Parker. Born in 1932, the 5'10" Parker ushered in the era of tall female models, starred in many ad campaigns, and appeared in the movie Funny Face with Fred Astaire. She also became one of the first fashion models to be really, really bad at acting. But being unable to act your way out of a paper bag is just all part of la vita supermodel.

Nadja Auermann: Said to have the world's longest legs (they're 45"), Auermann has appeared on many magazine covers, starred in a couple German movies, and has her own perfume. But 1) these days, everybody has her own perfume, and 2) nobody outside of Germany can pronounce her last name. Verdict: model.

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Naomi Campbell: Instantly recognizable, Campbell's made $50 million modeling, was one of People's 50 Most Beautiful People in 1991, wrote (well, cowrote) a novel, and sold one million copies of her first and only album, Babywoman. (It was a failure in America, but a single from it was a huge hit in Japan.) Plus, she used to date Usher. Verdict: supermodel.

Helena Christensen: This former Miss Denmark changed our lives forever with her appearance in the music video for Chris Isaak's Wicked Game. And she dated Leonardo DiCaprio (although, really, at this point who hasn't?) in addition to appearing on the cover of countless fashion mags. But she never managed to parlay the Wicked Game video into widespread renown. Nothing personal, Helena, but we're gonna say: model.

Tyson Beckford: A former gangbanger who left the streets behind to become the face of Calvin Klein apparel, Beckford is the highest-paid male model in human history. He also appeared in Zoolander and 2003's Oscar-nominated Biker Boyz. What's that you say? Biker Boyz wasn't nominated for an Oscar? Oh, well. The verdict's still: supermodel.

This post was excerpted from the mental_floss book What's the Difference? For more columns like this, click here.

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September 4, 2008 - 7:09pm
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