Just about anyone who puts in the time to watch rap music videos and high-end fashion shows knows that there is a dramatic difference between the runway models of Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Milan, etc. and the video vixens from any rap video, strip club or city corner. There are the extreme physical differences, alarmingly thin versus cartoonishly curvy, and these differences are always explained away as cultural ones. White people prefer the anorexic look and black people like some more flesh, maybe a lot more. It’s all easy and obvious and to merely notice the difference is to make the analysis. Now, we might ask ourselves whether these two seemingly different types of women are really all that different? Are they really just a set of appearances, no more than the projection of easy cultural fantasies or desires? Or are they connected by other needs, other social forces? What does the public want to see in these polar opposite types? What’s in it for the women? How do the models and vixens work within the industries that they find themselves?
Let’s begin with a simple question. Who needs the models and vixens? I’ll give you a simple answer: designers and rappers. Both of them use the image of these women to promote and sell their products. Whether their purpose is to sell clothes or music, these women are there because of business needs, not cultural ones. Rappers use vixens as props. They are part of the street image. Although these women must seem desirable and sexually available, those qualities aren’t their real function. They’re background noise, there to complete our idea, probably erroneous, of what it means to be a street player—a gangsta needs his bitches and wouldn’t be one without a bevy of willing ho’s. Rappers sell a product, but it isn’t the vixen, it’s their own highly branded image of male swagger. The vixen is just an incidental byproduct of an elaborate fantasy. Why are they there? Well, to put it both artistically and bluntly, no one wants to watch a rap video with the rapper shooting off about women with ass, shape and moves without a women with ass, shape and moves. The vixen is a business necessity. It might seem unbelievable, but many of the women who play “vixens” are educated and quite successful in other walks of life. Quite simply, they are playing a role necessary to the smooth functioning of a highly lucrative business that needs their physical qualities.
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Of course, designers are in the fantasy business too. They use models to show off and sell their work to department store buyers. The economics of runway shows dictates one of the reasons they use stick skinny, throw-her-a-burger models. Fabric can be expensive and the thicker and more atypical the model’s body, the more difficult it is to get these prototypes before potential clients. But more importantly, skinny runway models like video vixens are not the stars of the show. They are there to show off the clothes and, like the video vixen, are not really provoking any kind of desire, cultural or otherwise. It’s a fact that clothing seems to look better on a hangar because of how it drapes with nothing inside of it, but just as we don’t desire a coat hanger, we don’t truly desire skinny models either. What we desire is the lifestyle that the rappers and the designers create and these so-called objects of desire are merely there to enhance the real product and the possibility of selling it—in large, lucrative quantities. Skinny models and video vixens move product, but they certainly don’t tell us about true desire. For that, you should examine the music and the clothes. So, to make a cultural argument is to miss the economic and structural reasons for the skinny model and the video vixen. Now, you might argue that these differences have real cultural results and I would agree with you to a point, but these so-called cultural differences are always a product of a much more powerful economic one.
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One obvious difference that people point to is that designers don’t disrespect models in the way that vixens are regularly humiliated in videos. No one refers to models as bitches and ho’s and they get to wear a lot more clothing than their video sisters. Not to mention that runway models can easily make six figure salaries, while vixens make at most $3,000 for a leading role in a video. Still, this is more a product of what needs to be sold and how. Runway shows are often more about an idea or concept than actual clothes. If the designer needs the model to be nude to sell a line of clothing, then that model will take her clothes off just as fast and maybe even faster than her ever available vixen sisters. I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with being nude or that nudity can’t be artful in its way, but there seems to be an inherent contradiction in the fashion industry’s use of undressing. When has any sane person decided to walk down the street in public with no top, wearing just a pair of trousers and red bottom Louis Vuitton heels? So yes, models do seem to be treated better and make a lot more money, but in the end if the boss says clothes off, those clothes will drop.
Another way of looking at the differences is what happens to these women when they aren’t playing their roles? Well, here things get a bit tricky, but if we’re looking at future prospects we might as well look at future romantic prospects. Rappers do date vixens, but only for a very short period of time and either for publicity or a good time. Only seldom does a vixen become “taken seriously” as a girlfriend or wife material. For example: Amber Rose and Kanye West; Amber Rose and Fabolous; Amber Rose and Drake; oh and finally and maybe temporarily, Amber Rose and Wiz Khalifa. I don’t mean to call out Amber or anything, but maybe she should rework her mating strategy. Rappers date vixens for the same reason that they use them prominently in their videos: to create an image and to sell a product. They don’t need to marry them to complete the rapper image and in fact marrying them would hurt the rapper image. In a basic way, a long-term relationship with a video vixen is detrimental to the business model. Rappers rotate and share vixens because that is what people want to believe. It’s not so much a cultural truth, but the fulfilling of a fantasy about a supposed cultural truth.
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Again, fashion models would seem to have an advantage over the vixens on the dating front. Many men and prominent men at that, actors, politicians as well as rappers, seem to like to date and be seen with models. You never see an actor or a politician go out on a date with a vixen, that’s absurd; it would simply ruin his name. In this way models have status and even have real names. Still, these real life results have a lot more to do with their initial use than in any intrinsic cultural worth. Rappers need to promote vixens as interchangeable, while designers need to promote models as substitute customers. The street image demands that the vixens be seen as disposable, whereas models represent the buying public, a more perfect version true, but they’re still representative. This goes a long way in explaining why they seem different, when in reality there are no more than adjuncts of a powerful business model. Everything here is perception and it’s important to note than perception is not really a cultural difference.
In the end, rappers and designers couldn’t care less about these women as long as the money starts and keeps flowing in. It’s all about the cash and $ cares very little about so-called cultural differences or, more importantly, people. What runway models and video vixens have in common is that they are nothing more than someone else’s fantasy of getting and being rich and in fulfilling those fantasies they often become victims of the industry they destroy themselves. To stay skinny models have been known to eat paper, which isn’t very nutritional, and many indulge in danger levels of drug use. As for the video vixens, they too often start to emulate the role they’re hired to play: sexual plaything. So what seems at first to be a huge difference is really no difference at all. Skinny runway models and video vixens are essentially the same thing and I use the word “thing” in all its dehumanizing qualities.
©The CCA Arts Review and Jasmine Stewart
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©The CCA Arts Review and Jasmine Stewart