For just a minute, imagine you want a career as a high-fashion model.
You are female or look exceptionally good in women’s clothing. Terrific.
You were born no later than 2001. Excellent.
You are taller than 5-foot-9 inches but shorter than 6-foot-1. Brilliant.
Your limbs are long, your torso is short, your features are symmetrical and crisply defined and your face is structured for photography. Perfect.
Your measurements are 34-24-36.
Enjoy being the prettiest girl in your hometown.
In general, top-tier fashion work requires models to measure 34 inches around the widest part of their hips. In another time, with another standard of beauty, achieving this measurement would have required a brutally simple directive: “Eat nothing until you reach 30, then retire.”
But bone skinny is no longer the beauty standard. Today’s girls want, no, demand a curvy backside. However: If you want to increase mass in one area while staying within a specific measurement, something has to give. Considering that most of any human’s hip measurement is either buttock or bone, this would seem an insoluble problem.
Enter John Benton or, as the fashion industry knows him, “The Hip Whisperer.” Benton had been a fitness trainer in Texas for about a decade when, six years ago, a local modeling agent sent him a promising girl with 37-inch hips. Four months later, through exercise and diet, Benton got her hip measurement down to the magic 34 inches. She soon became the busiest model in Dallas.
And so it came to pass that modeling agencies in New York and Los Angeles started sending their girls to Dallas. The Hip Whisperer was born. “Their careers,” Benton says, “can be made or destroyed by a half-inch on their hips.”
Over the past five years, Benton has developed an enormous Instagram following of would-be models, pageant contestants and the occasional burrito-eating writer scanning Before/After makeovers in which the Before shots seem pretty close to perfect.
But that’s the point. As Benton explains, “a 5-foot-2 doctor doesn’t care about her hips, and she doesn’t have to. My girls are more like athletes. They have to be in peak physical form.”
Getting the chance to be Hip Whispered in person, to be the After picture you always hoped you could be, is a seductive lure. Not long ago, Benton came to Los Angeles for two days and made himself available to give four classes, costing $40 each. They sold out within hours.
Caley-Rae Pavillard — model, Miss Colorado 2016 and Instagram beauty with more than 61,000 followers — lives in L.A. and trains with Benton whenever he’s in town. When he isn’t, she travels to Dallas every two or three months. “It’s part of our job, just as if I have to go to the office.”
Model Kristen Dugas noticed that her friends were flying back and forth to Dallas. “So I reached out to him and I said, ‘How do we work together? I need to shrink.’” In just a month, she lost two inches off her waist and an inch off her hips.
What are Benton’s secrets? Leg lifts, crunches, pulse-elevating aerobics — there’s nothing in this class that would faze the average Zumba enthusiast. The devil and the child-sized hips are in the details, but the class itself feels slightly perfunctory, the details either underexplained or assumed.
Fresh acolytes may assume the real magic happens when you spend weeks, and thousands of dollars, in Dallas. But when your hips are your (low-carb) meal ticket, one can’t be too careful. If they’re lucky enough to reach the top of their profession, these models have careers lasting about a minute. So Benton’s full magic can be worth big bucks.
Rachel DeAngelis was taking her first class. She seemed smaller than the other girls, less formed. When asked her age, she said “15.” Her mother, sitting on the couch outside the studio, added: “She’s Miss Santa Monica Teen.” Her hips seemed to be well under the 34-inch threshold. So why drive more than an hour to take the class?
“To keep looking like this as long as I can,” Rachel answered with a sunny and professional smile before heading into the dance studio to join Benton’s army of Afters.