Patricia Soley-Beltran's former life as a model informs her studies on the sociology of body, style and fashion
Former model and actress Patricia Soley-Beltran returned this week to her alma mater, Aberdeen University, to give a paper on fashion models at a conference to celebrate 21 years of the university's cultural history degree course.
Dr Soley-Beltran became a model in her native Spain when she was 17, and the work was so time-consuming that she gave up her history course at Barcelona University. She abandoned modelling in her late 20s to return to higher education and won an Erasmus scholarship to Aberdeen, earning one of its first cultural history masters degrees, in 1995.
Fashion has been under-researched, with many academics considering it frivolous and superficial, Dr Soley-Beltran said, but following her tutors' encouragement she took a PhD in modelling at Edinburgh University. She now lectures in a number of Spanish universities on feminist theory and the sociology of the body, style and fashion.
"Feminists sometimes criticise models for being guilty of promoting unhealthy images, but they are just one piece of a complicated engine, which includes not only the industry around them but also the consumers," Dr Soley-Beltran said. "When we see Claudia Schiffer or Kate Moss, the image is unreal, the product of a very large team of professionals."
Her research has found that while models appear self-confident and assertive, they are often alienated from their own image and chronically insecure, as well as facing health risks. By the end of her modelling career, Dr Soley Beltran was unable to smile without her facial muscles going into spasm, because she had been required to smile so often.
"Models are nothing but clotheshorses. They are there to sell something unattainable, and because it's unattainable, it forces us always to consume because we are never going to get it," she said.