Why We Love to See Models Fall

model falling down

It starts with a wobble, then a twist of the knee and ankle. And then—boom!—skin hits catwalk. Cue gasps, sympathetic applause, and countless ruthless photos and tweets.

Today’s models may not be less coordinated than their predecessors, but they are more vulnerable to the whims of a plugged-in, high-surveillance society in which once-private fashion shows are live streamed around the world, front-rowers are armed with iPhones and Twitter feeds, and any ignominious moment is destined to have thousands of hits on YouTube the next day.

Take the Fall/Winter 2011 collections, for instance. This season’s shows have given us gleeful reports of face-plants at Christian Siriano and Nicholas K., and a near-collision between Coco Rocha and Lindsay Wixson at Jean Paul Gaultier. At Nicola Formichetti’s first Mugler womenswear show, models struggled to keep their balance as they weaved in and out of columns, and even guest star Lady Gaga—no stranger to sky-high stilts herself—was spied nervously asking for walking tips backstage, despite reportedly demanding higher heels.

It's understandable to feel unsteady when you've got a pair of oversize 9-inch heels strapped to your feet and a slick, slippery runway to cover. So why aren't people understanding when a model takes a misstep and plops down? Are we just cruel and heartless?

Not exactly.

Chalk it up to sartorial Schadenfreude. Even though we know the pressure is high and the heels are treacherous, we seem to greet runway roadkill with the same enthusiasm as a Charlie Sheen meltdown or a "Stars Without Their Makeup" photo spread. Sure, we don't have the million-dollar paycheck, tiny waist, or pair of "goddess" girlfriends, but we can all see some idolized figure fall from grace (literally) and feel a bit better about ourselves. It's our license to feel smug.

If the 20th century was all about keeping up appearances and controlling images, the 21st is about exposing the cracks. A few decades ago a clumsy model would have been a scandal; today it's just further proof that these gals aren't as perfect as the industry and media sets them up to be. Except for Gisele. That woman can do no wrong.

So, sorry, ladies. You'll just have to watch your step and grip those toes a little tighter. Or don't, actually—we could use the confidence boost.

Photo: A model loses her footing.