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The Woman Warrior
Jill Lieber
February 07, 1989
Ann Simonton fights for feminist issues—and against the SI swimsuit issue
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February 07, 1989

The Woman Warrior

Ann Simonton fights for feminist issues—and against the SI swimsuit issue

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Long, thick, red hair was her trademark. "Hi, I'm Ann Simonton, and I'm with the Ford Agency," she would bubble when being interviewed for TV commercials. She gladly obliged the creative guys from the ad agencies. Smile. Face the camera and flip around your gooorrrrrgeous hair! "Beautiful," they would say, and they would sign her to pitch products like Adorn hair spray, Vidal Sassoon shampoo or Clairol's Frost & Tip.

Simonton's freckles weren't so marketable. She was repeatedly asked to get rid of them. "Sure," she would chirp, and then she would apply covering makeup.

Simonton vaulted to the top of the modeling world in the early 1970s. In her first year out of Charter Oak High School in Covina, Calif., she earned $30,000. Her homecoming-queen looks appeared in Glamour, Mademoiselle, Seventeen, Cosmopolitan and Bride's magazines. At 22 she was SI's 1974 swimsuit-issue cover model. She had assignments in Europe and the Caribbean. She partied with the in crowd and lived on the 21st floor of a New York City high rise. A big-shot producer tried to lure her to Hollywood to make movies.

She also had to endure some uncomfortable situations. At the filming of a one-minute Camay commercial, Si-monton had to sit in a bathtub for 12 hours while prop men dumped buckets of sudsy water over her. For a lingerie commercial, the ad people scrutinized her buttocks. "There I was, bent over and dressed in a girdle, with a grown man and woman studying my derriere, saying, 'What do you think?'...'I'm not sure, what do you think?' " Simonton says. "All the while, I was thinking, What am I doing here, and why do I keep coming back for more?"

Try fame, fortune and acceptance. Simonton looked at modeling as a game, and she believed that despite the drawbacks of her profession, she was in complete control of her body. While other models wore fancy designer duds to work and caked their faces with makeup, Simonton arrived in bib overalls and sneakers, with only a hint of lipstick. While other models dieted, the 5'8", 117-pound Simonton did it her way, scarfing down bread smothered with butter and honey, or gorging on greasy falafel from street vendors.

"Diet is an important part of a model's life," Simonton says now. "Food is all they talk about. I'd show up at a job after breakfast and hear models say how guilty they felt because they had eaten a whole doughnut or an avocado. When the other girls ordered salads, I'd ask for the same but with a scoop of tuna on top and rolls to go with it."

Then, one summer day in 1979, modeling suddenly became an unacceptable way for Simonton to make a living. Thumbing through the San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle, Simonton noticed a department store ad for bed linens in which she was peering seductively from beneath a comforter. Her eyes glanced to the date at the top of the page. It was June 24, eight years to the day since she'd been gang-raped at knifepoint in a New York park on the way to a modeling assignment. Dismayed by the message of the photograph, Simonton's eyes burned with tears. "The connection between what I was doing and my rape hit me full force," she says. The following evening, she had her long red hair cut short. After 11 years, her modeling career was over.

"People still can't understand why I wasn't fulfilled as a model," Simonton says. "The most difficult part of modeling is putting up with the attitude that you're sought after only for your looks—not your brain or what's inside. It's a glamorized form of prostitution."

These days Simonton, 36, is a radical feminist who wouldn't dream of posing in a swimsuit for this issue of SI. She's a writer, a lecturer and the founder of Media Watch, a nonprofit organization based in Santa Cruz, Calif., that scrutinizes the images of women as projected on TV and radio and in newspapers, magazines, movies and rock 'n' roll lyrics.

"The main goal of Media Watch is to help people become more critical viewers of the media," she says. "I want to change the fundamental attitudes we have toward women, including women in sports. As a society, we're obsessed with male-dominated sports. We devote too much airtime and too many printed words to football. If long-distance swimming was covered as much as football, then our whole concept of sports might change, because we'd see women outdoing men left and right."

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