Britain's Missing Top Model

TV review by
Kari Croop, Common Sense Media
Britain's Missing Top Model TV Poster Image
Disabled models hit the runway to redefine beauty.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

The show breaks barriers with its central message: that disabled women have a place in the fashion industry, too. But it doesn't try to change the basic beauty standard, which prizes models who are pretty, tall, young, and thin.

Positive Role Models & Representations

For the most part, the women who do well in the competition have inspiring attitudes about their disabilities and believe they can do anything they set their minds to. Most reject society's gut instincts to pity and patronize them.


A few models describe the violent accidents (including automobile crashes) that caused their disabilities. There are also straightforward shots of missing limbs and visible scars.


The word "sexy" is used a good bit when the models participate in a pin-up style lingerie challenge in which some of them wear thongs, exposing their buttocks. There's also some sexually charged kissing between a few models and some guys they meet at a nightclub, etc.


Some bleeped swearing (including "f--k" and "s--t"). Audible words include "damn," "tits," and "ass."


Some visible brands (including L'Oreal and Vogue). Marie Claire magazine is a major sponsor.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Some models consume alcohol in social settings, but one 19-year-old (who's legally old enough to drink in Britain) abstains because of her disability. Some occasionally drink to excess.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this British reality series does a lot to expand the definition of beauty when it comes to the fashion industry by putting obviously (and not-so-obviously) disabled models on the runway. But it doesn't break through all of the barriers, as these women are universally young, thin, and pretty. Expect some bleeped swearing (including words like "f--k" and "s--t"), as well as some sexually suggestive challenges that show the women wearing revealing lingerie. The models occasionally drink alcohol, too.

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What's the story?

Disabled models compete for the chance to prove their mettle on the runway in BRITAIN'S MISSING TOP MODEL, a reality show that awards one lucky young woman the chance to work with acclaimed photographer Rankin and appear in a fashion spread in Marie Claire magazine. The eight consestants range from 19-year-old Jessica -- a teenager who, thanks to a rare neurological disorder that leads to paralysis, is already deaf in one ear and blind in one eye -- to 23-year-old Sophie, a paraplegic who broke her back in a car accident and is now confined to a wheelchair. (Spoiler alert: Since this series aired in the UK in 2008, a winner has already been selected. So if you don't want to know who won, keep away from the show's BBC Web site!)

Is it any good?

Whether it's due to the subject matter or the producers' decision to shoot the series in a stripped-down documentary style, Britain's Missing Top Model manages to be both entertaining and informative, and it avoids the gimmicky pitfalls that an American version of the series would probably have embraced. As a result, it's as much of a show about disabled women who are trying to make it as models as it is a show about models who are trying to make it ... and who just happen to be disabled. The fact that these women have specialized concerns is undeniable, but neither the show nor most of the judges get away with pitying or patronizing them -- because the models themselves reject special treatment.

The series also sheds light on what it means to be "disabled" and stirs up some thought-provoking debate topics, including whether a paraplegic confined to a wheelchair is any more or less disabled than a deaf girl who can speak but can't always be understood without an interpreter, for example. And far from lumping all of the competitors into one general "disabled" category, the show highlights the individuality of their conditions and reveals the day-to-day struggles that each will be forced to cope with if she truly wants to succeed in the industry.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why sex and beauty are so central to the fashion industry. In other words, why is it important for a model to be able to look "sexy" -- and what does that mean, exactly? Is being sexy simply showing a lot of skin, or is there something more to it?

  • Which contestants would have the best chance of succeeding in the modeling world? Why? Do you agree with a few of the contestants who believe that some of the competitors are more disabled than others?

  • Do you think the judges are holding the disabled models up to the same standards as non-disabled models? If so, is that a good thing or a bad thing?

TV details

  • Premiere date: July 1, 2008
  • Network: BBC America
  • Genre: Reality TV
  • TV rating: TV-14
  • Last updated: September 19, 2019

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