Saying goodbye to the mythology of the supermodel

Forbes’ Highest Paid Models list is out, and no surprise, social media powerhouses lead the top 10, changing the way we once viewed the mysterious and glamorous cover girl of yesterday.

Claudia Schiffer at the Chanel Haute-Couture collection Spring/Summer in 1995. Gerard Julien | Getty Images. Cindy Crawford circa 1990 in New York City. Robin Platzer | Getty Images. Naomi Campbell at the Laura Biagiotti Spring 1996 show circa 1995 in Milan. PL Gould | Getty Images

As a ’90s child, I grew up pawing through my mother’s fashion magazines, eager to see the season’s new faces and looks—only to be greeted by the faces of Cindy, Iman, Christy, and Naomi over and over again. It was the age of the supermodel, and these women were larger than life. A certain mythology surrounded these Amazonian beauties, a posed and photoshopped mythology that never had me wondering what they looked like splayed out on a sofa eating chips. As far as little-me was concerned, supermodels didn’t do normal, everyday things like dash to the grocery store or hang around watching TV. They had adventures, sure, but they always appeared glamorous, flawless, and mysterious.

Today’s supermodels may still be glamorous, but the onslaught of their Instagram photos in our streams has also introduced a more vulnerable view of these famous and beautiful women. We catch glimpses of their everyday life on the regular, from #nomakeup selfies to photos of them playing with their dogs. Instagram allows us to witness the behind-the-scenes highlights on supermodels’ photo shoots, the pain and sweat of supermodels’ intense workouts, and even what supermodels really eat for breakfast. These women are always “on.”

Dogs, travel pics and workouts all feature prominently

Instagram has torn down the mythology of the superhuman supermodel. This has by no means harmed the models—at least financially. According to a recent Forbes article, Instagram follower count largely contributes to success for the world’s highest-paid models in the world:

“For fashion’s elite, follower count has finally turned into fiscal fortitude. Though Gisele Bündchen still leads the world’s top-earning models with $30.5 million, Kendall Jenner (No. 3) and newcomer Gigi Hadid (No. 5) have risen up the ranks by turning their outsized Instagram followings into multi-million dollar paydays.”

Now of course you’re probably wondering who the other top-paid supermodels are. Here’s the lineup, along with their staggering number of Instagram followers:

Gisele Bündchen


Number of Instagram followers: 9.8 million

Gisele is queen. Her Instagram follower count may be modest compared to some of the other supermodels on the list, but that’s perhaps evidence that social media isn’t the only predictor for success in the fashion industry. There will always be that element of je ne sais quoi and Gisele has it.

Adriana Lima


Number of Instagram followers: 8.1 million

Adriana’s Instagram stream is a regular potpourri of inspirational quotes, her ads, her magazine covers, puppies, travel pics, and more. She’s a beautiful young woman who looks like she’s having the time of her life, even when she’s just sitting around at the salon, getting her hair done. This is the new supermodel we’re meant to envy as much as we’re meant to find her “relatable.”

Karlie Kloss


Number of Instagram followers: 5.3 million

Karlie travels a lot, but she also does tons of normal stuff (at least according to Instagram). She exercises, she hangs out with friends, and she eats—all in a rather pretty, carefully curated way. Granted, she also does these things with a supermodel’s pout, but other than that? Normal.

Kendall Jenner (tied with Kloss)


selfies with fans 💚

A photo posted by Kendall Jenner (@kendalljenner) on

Number of Instagram followers: 64.6 million

When you’re a member of the Kardashian family, you’re bound to get attention no matter what. For that reason alone, it’s hardly surprising that Kendall has such a massive Instagram following. But Kendall’s Instagram stream isn’t totally scandalous and brash. There are plenty of jetset moments documented, but also plenty of funny screenshots and pics of her socializing with family and friends.

Gigi Hadid


I clearly got the Dutch gene that takes biking very seriously... 🚲🇳🇱👭

A photo posted by Gigi Hadid (@gigihadid) on

Number of Instagram followers: 22.2 million

This is a girl who dunks breadsticks in Nutella but also prances around the beach looking perfectly fit. Gigi’s Instagram is action-packed with professional photos, as well as travel pics. There are quieter moments, too: old family snaps, post-workout poses, calmer hang-outs with friends.

Rosie Huntington-Whiteley (tied with Hadid)


Number of Instagram followers: 5.9 million

Rosie is just as likely to post about UNICEF’s work in Africa as she is what she’s eating for breakfast in Malibu. Yet despite the variation in content, her aesthetic remains the same: lots of blues and reds, strong composition, and her trademark sultry gaze.

Cara Delevigne


Yes boy racer

A photo posted by Cara Delevingne (@caradelevingne) on

Number of Instagram followers: 33.3 million

Cara’s stream is one of the darker ones you’ll see among the top 10 supermodels. While many of these women choose light and airy, Cara chooses black and deep berry tones. She definitely presents herself as an edgy cool girl, with the occasional goofy face or absurd Snapchat screenshot thrown in.

Candice Swanepoel


All you need is love, love Love is all you need. 💙

A photo posted by Candice Swanepoel (@angelcandices) on

Number of Instagram followers: 9.5 million

Now that Candice is expecting a baby, her stream is looking more maternal. She has variations on the “my, how big my belly is” post we’ve seen many mothers do, plus plenty of “healthy pregnancy glow” pics, too. Sunsets and beach life are other favorite subjects.

Liu Wen



A photo posted by Liu Wen (刘雯) (@liuwenlw) on

Number of Instagram followers: 2.1 million

If you want a tour of China, Liu will give it to you. As the country’s only supermodel, she’s something of an ambassador, making even little jaunts at the park look idyllic. Her feed is full of artistic, observational photos of landscapes, architecture, and her general surroundings as a well-heeled Chinese woman.

Miranda Kerr



A photo posted by Miranda (@mirandakerr) on

Number of Instagram followers: 9.9 million

Miranda’s big on fashion. She is, after all, a supermodel. But she really goes out of her way to fill her Instagram feed with photos of cute, simple outfits that are within the reach of everyday women. It’s not all evening gowns and bikinis for her. She has her share of pouty selfies and pics with friends, too.

These women are certainly raking in big bucks thanks in large part to social media, but we have to wonder what the constant Instagramming does to them mentally and emotionally. How does it affect their mindfulness and their ability to live in the moment? They must grapple with immense pressures to portray everyday things in just the right way. And even when they’re meant to look “imperfect,” they have to do so … perfectly. But who knows what we don’t see? Maybe, sometimes, they just leave the camera at home.

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