Kate Moss, Skinny Feels, Personas, And PR

Can She Actually Speak?

A few weeks ago I read a feature in the brand new Stylist magazine about Kate Moss. Half-way through the interview I read this phrase that left me… well, speachless, if only for a moment.

Kate Moss

…while Karaiskos steered Kate’s profile and made the decision that she should never give interviews, ensuring her lasting mystique.

To this day I struggle to understand what it was that impressed me so profoundly. On the one hand, I realised that, indeed, Kate Moss’s interviews are rare. And on the other hand, I remember this strange, almost surreal feeling as if I wasn’t sure Kate Moss could speak at all.

Now, according to The Guardian,

When the supermodel Kate Moss, in a rare online interview this week, told readers that one of her mottos was “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”, the fallout was instant, vitriolic and damning.

I have no doubt that Paula Karaiskos has taught Kate Moss everything the model needed to know about handling both the press and the admiring crowd. And yet I wonder if sometimes she gets caught off guard with a question to which she wants to give an honest answer.

People and Disorders

In the last year or so I’ve come across a few people who’ve been experiencing eating disorders, cosmetic surgery disorders, all sorts of disorders that invariably have to do with our inner well-being. I have just been through a period when the work-related pressure had been so high that I experienced some kind of disorder myself. I also had to guard my finances rather tightly, and all in all this amounted to three months of extreme frugality. I’ve literally lived on bread and butter and some pasta all this time. A terrible experience for someone who’d been raised on and enjoys the home cooking. My prime comfort is in that I am a writer, and I am glad I had to experience all this in the privacy of my small flat, without travelling to the island of Tahiti or Parisian slums. My secondary comfort is in the fact that I have lost the weight that, to be fair, was excessive bearing in mind my figure, height, and age. The truth is that I have never been a “big eater”, so the positive outcome of the stress is that I am back to eating what and however much or little I like. I am my normal self, neither my family’s, nor the public’s.

The truth is, for the purists on the other side of some fence, my experience will be drastic, terrible, awful, unhealthy, you name it. I agree: it is. And, frankly, there were even more bitter experiences. Sadly or not, all together they make life, and it can be dramatic enough without us making a special verbal effort to dramatise it.

There is a fascinating thing about public personas. There may be as little as three people in one. There may be a tightly concealed and guarded private self: the one that wakes up in bed and goes to the toilet every morning. Once this private self leaves the house and goes to do some Christmas shopping “in the flesh”, we see the public side of their private self. For one, we may suddenly realise that these famous people do occasionally go to the shop and mix with more or less ordinary mortals. This is the side the News of the World hunts, since the paparazzi don’t always manage to get a through-the-blinds peek at the famous person in his or her privacy.

And then there is the public self, and I can think of no better illustration than this saying by Rudolph Valentino: “Women are not in love with me but with the picture of me on the screen. I am merely the canvas on which women paint their dreams“. The public self often emerges against the personal odds and doesn’t necessarily have much to do with the private individual. The public self exists in public, for the public, and often at the mercy of the public opinion. Not quite a godsend to wish for.

The majority of celebrities – including Kate Moss, so it seems – never manage to bridge the gaps between the above three selves, and they focus on nurturing and maintaining the public self as the means to ensure their longevity in the public eye. But the private self exists, and since it is the closest to what the person is, it breaks through whatever boundaries the public self builds around it.

It is possible to conceal this private self in the interviews and during public appearances. It is also possible to let it shine forth in such way that it does not destroy the appeal of the public image. But all this comes with experience, and giving rare interviews is unlikely to build the experience and confidence in answering challenging questions.

There is still a possibility, surely, that you will be misinterpreted. Just as celebrities are less PR-savvy, so are the journalists. They don’t research, they ask dull questions, they are less interested in the person than in the fact that their names will appear in the article’s credit.

And, as one poet put it, we cannot guess how our words may resonate. This is all the truer when we consider the public attitude. We cannot guess what influential someone may decide to disagree with us. But this does not mean we cannot project the possible repercussions of our words.

All the above surely sounds like some kind of psychological disorder, but in truth there is little wrong about it, considering how complex people are. There will always be a part of ourselves that is unknown to others, and this part may manifest itself suddenly and inconveniently. And it is much harder to find the fusion between all the various selves, which is why some people make a choice of either being totally private in order not to ruin their public image, or bringing their entire private life into the public domain. The in-betweens are not always successful.

The Private Side of the Public Self

In the recent case with Kate Moss, the problem is not quite about what sites and groups share her “motto”. The problem is with the actual phrase. The motto is your credo, something you live by, almost like your religion. And it is unfortunate for a public figure of such appeal and status to live by “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels“.

Let’s ask: what is good about this phrase to make it a motto? One would have thought that frugality was the natural retreat of the tight folk and the inevitable way of life for those who cannot afford much. Moss can certainly afford something, and there is hardly a reason for her to be tight with money. To repeat: why should this be her motto?

This is the prime example of the great divide between the private and public self. There is indeed no problem with the motto itself, and if Moss-the-private-person lives by it, the public has no right to intervene with its opinion. But for that this motto must remain private, too. When it is uttered by Moss-the-public-figure, it instantly becomes a part of her public image. And so we find Moss-the-public-figure engulfed by the concern that exists in the public domain. Arguing that these words were taken out of context is likely to be perceived as a mere excuse.

Speaking of the interview itself, the answers generally do not allow for an image of a terribly intelligent star. This is now the famous passage:

WWD: Do you have a motto?

KM: There are loads. There’s “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” That’s one of them. You try and remember, but it never works.

Reading it, I obviously wonder: how can a person have “loads” of mottos but never remember any?!

Most importantly, and this is very obvious from the questions, the Women’s Wear Daily reporter was interviewing the public figure, but the interviewee was far from that image. Brid Costello was talking to a “businesswoman as well as the fixture in front of the camera“. The answers were given by a woman who can multitask apparently because she can have babies and who channels her creativity into cooking jams or painting a dressing room. Sounds more like a housewife than a successful businesswoman and style icon.

As we only have a published version, we cannot see what other questions were asked, or what answers were given. Perhaps it was also the journalist’s task not to compromise his own trade and to change the question. Knowing what public reaction to this motto would likely be, he could surely ask a spin-off question, about mottos for either business or creativity. And should the answer be even worse, he could always avoid including this question about the motto in the publication. Yes, this would be unfair, untrue, etc. But even on-air interviews are often scripted, at least for the journalist. It’s not like not including this question and the answer to it would ultimately revolutionise the journalism.

Barking Up the Wrong Tree

Now that everything has been published, and the debate rages, this becomes a curious case study for PR folk. This is the occasion when we get to see the private side of the public self. This has nothing to do with anorexia, or what teens may think or do. One must not follow the line of modern journalism and, by dramatising the situation, deny every single person their bit of common sense. In short: there is no indication that Moss’s answer is going to produce a new generation of anorexic teenagers.

However, together with the famous drug taking episode this becomes yet another indication that Moss and her mentors must take seriously Moss’s own PR skills. In the situation when the public image has been so deftly and solidly constructed by other people, it is now all the more important to distinguish between the types of publications, the types of questions, and the gamut of answers Kate Moss may give. And maybe – if Ms Moss has time – to get her to read and analyse others’ interviews.

Image credit: Jamaican Slang.


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