At first glance, the current mini-wave of news coverage of former underwear model Kylie Bisutti is nothing more than a chance — in this search-engine-driven world in which we live — to slide the mouse-click friendly terms “God” and “Victoria’s Secret” into the same headline.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
On closer inspection (no, honest), this is actually a story that asks journalists the mainstream media to cover three surprisingly serious subjects.
First of all, it’s about a young woman’s second thoughts about the ethics, including moral and health concerns, of working in the racier corners of the fashion industry. Second, it’s about her realization that she was playing a starring role in a mass-media culture that teaches young girls to view their bodies as hot commodities. Third, there is a strong religious component to this story, since she began to worry about the impact of her risque modeling gigs on her marriage and her faith.
All of this led to the publication of an overtly Christian book entitled “I’m No Angel,” by a major evangelical publishing house.
Now, does anyone want to take a guess which of these three subjects seems to be receiving the least attention — in terms of information reported — from the mainstream press? Here is a hint: It’s the “why” in that old-school “who, what, when, where, why and how” journalism formula.
However, God did make it into the lede, and the video feature, in this Huffington Post mini-story. Just to be fair, here is the whole report:
Former Victoria’s Secret model Kylie Bisutti stopped by HuffPost Live Wednesday and opened up about her decision to quit modeling to protect her marriage and her relationship with God.
Bisutti told host Alicia Menendez that while her husband never asked her to stop modeling, she did feel that her flirtatious model persona hurt his feelings.
“He did not [ask me to stop modeling], he was very supportive. He just prayed, and his prayers have been answered,” Bisutti said.
She also said that God spoke to her during her modeling career, telling her to leave the industry because she “wasn’t being the right kind of role model.”
Details? That’s not what this story is about, is it?
Over at The Daily Beast, the first and second subjects received pretty serious attention. Also, it’s significant that the biblical contents of her kiss-off tweet made it — sort of — into the lede:
It’s not every day that you meet a lingerie model who has written a book about her devotion to the “Lord.” But Kylie Bisutti’s I’m No Angel (released Tuesday) is the exception. It begins with proverb 31:30, which reads: “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” The line sums up Bisutti’s exit from the modeling world, and serves as a prelude to the 23-year-old’s stories of commitment to the Christian church, as well as her strong stance against the industry’s inherent immodesty.
In 2009, you may have caught Bisutti on a household television screen after she beat out 10,000 girls to win the Victoria’s Secret Runway Angel Search contest. It’s then, at age 19, that the Idaho-born, Las Vegas-raised model pranced down the runway at the lingerie brand’s annual fashion show in a bejeweled black lace lingerie set — an opportunity that led to a feature in the label’s swimsuit catalog. A contract with IMG models followed soon thereafter.
Parents with daughters will shudder when reading parts of this news feature:
Bisutti’s first go at modeling began at age 16, when she encountered “a lot of pressure to have to be a certain weight,” in order to book jobs with New York-based contemporary labels like Jill Stuart and Yigal Azrouel. She says that at the beginning of her career, “my agency actually called me a fat pig and that I was a cow and needed to lose two inches off of my hips, weight off of my waist, or they weren’t going to send me on castings because I was too big. … I got very unhealthy thin,” she told The Daily Beast. At 5-foot-10 and 108 pounds, she got an early wake-up call when “my [8-year-old] cousin, when I was a lot thinner than I am now, told me that she thinks that she should throw up her food so she can feel pretty like me, and that really just showed me the kind of impact that the way I was living my life had on younger girls.”
Bisutti insists that she is not singling Victoria’s Secret out for blame, but she is meekly sharing a few grimy details of what she saw going on backstage in the fashion universe. The company insists that the former model has embellished some of the details of her story.
And the faith element here? There is quite a bit of content in the Beast report, yet it’s amazingly thin in the facts department:
Sitting doe-eyed in a chair at the Beast’s New York headquarters with a silver cross pendant prominently gracing her clavicle, Bisutti explains: “As I continued modeling lingerie, my convictions grew about wanting to honor my husband and our marriage and not having other men see me in lingerie, and also my desire to be a better role model for girls everywhere.” (She’ll soon channel her admiration for more modest fashions into something tangible with the release of a “Christian fashion line.”)
In 2009, following her Victoria’s Secret triumph, Bisutti decided — yet again — that modeling was not for her. It was then, while accompanying her husband on a business trip, that she tweeted: “I quit being a VS model to become a Proverbs 31 wife.” Her move quickly earned her national headlines and the book deal. … She continues: “I’m just working on being the right kind of wife to my husband as far as looking to him as the only person that gives me attention … He is the only man that’s gonna see me in lingerie, now that I’m not a lingerie model.”
She and her husband have since relocated to Montana, where they “really just focus on going to church and building our relationship with the Lord. …”
Good to know. So what is missing?
Well, for starters, in what faith tradition did Bisutti grow up? How about her husband?
Is she a Baptist? A nondenominational charismatic? A conservative Catholic? What?
What church does this couple currently attend? Does she actually see her current, and future work, as a form of ministry? In fact, her weblog — ImNoAngel.org — is, well, a “.org” site. Is her work linked to a church? Oh, and does she think it is possible to be a traditional Christian in the fashion industry? If the answer is “yes,” what corners does she think would welcome young women on their own terms? How about the fashion-magazine industry?
I think the assumption, in between the lines in these stories, is that anyone who talks like this and takes this (from the media’s perspective) kind of slightly strange public stance is, de facto, a born-again, evangelical, Protestant Christian. Right? Well, why not ask one or two specific questions and add some facts that address theme No. 3, the “why,” in this faith-driven story?