“It is amazing how complete is the delusion that beauty is goodness.” Tolstoy’s remark shot to mind this summer, when supermodel Linda Evangelista won 80,000 French francs in damages from her lawsuit against Jean-Marie Le Pen and the National Front Party of France. The controversy stemmed from Le Pen’s campaign posters, which depicted a Joan of Arc that looked strikingly similar to the short-haired, cat-eyed mega-model from Ontario. In accordance with the court’s decision, the posters have been banned.

A lawyer for the National Front called the flap “perfectly ridiculous” and said the party would appeal the decision. “When you look at the poster you think only of Jeanne d’Arc,” he said. Ms. Evangelista’s modeling agency. Elite of Paris, strongly disagreed and also sued, arguing that the poster was an invasion of its client’s privacy, infringed on the company’s right to control the model’s image, and damaged its “reputation and honour.” The London Telegraph reported that “Ms. Evangelista is well known for her determined and independent attitude,” and quoted one of the model’s friends as saying, “Linda won’t do anything she doesn’t want to do and is very idealistic.”

Now, famous people should certainly control how their likeness is used and marketed. Dennis Rodman, for example, has every right to sue the enterprising young capitalist selling T-shirts depicting the Chicago Bulls star’s “body art,” pierced navel and all, and surely this same right should be extended to Ms. Evangelista. But forget for a moment the legalities of the case, and set aside the supermodel’s reported disdain for Le Pen and his far-right politics. For the basic fact remains that—for whatever reasons—an “independent” and “determined” woman, one who is protective of her reputation and proud of her “idealism,” has objected to being portrayed as Joan of Arc.

One might think that Ms. Evangelista, given her Roman Catholic background and concern for her public image, would have felt honored to portray Jeanne La Pucelle. After all, the supermodel has been hailed as a symbol of the “empowerment” of women, and what historical figure would better fit an empowered Catholic woman’s pantheon of saints than Joan of Arc? A poor peasant girl battles male chauvinism and the old-boy network and rises to world fame in a male-dominated profession; she fights for her country and is wounded in battle, captured by quislings, and allowed to rot in prison by the very king she risked her life for; she is then sold to the enemy, condemned to death by an all-male panel of eggheads, and burned alive for her “idealistic” beliefs. More fashionable still, Joan of Arc was one of the most famous cross-dressers in Western history, one who died undefiled by the devil’s seed—i.e., she died a virgin. Could Sigourney Weaver or Meg Ryan ask for anything more?

Of course, the reason we shouldn’t expect to see The Maid From Domremy at the theaters anytime soon is that Joan of Arc’s “feminism” was neither a goal in itself nor a means to a selfish or material end. It was not a cudgel with which to play Thelma and Louise, or a crass strategy for acquiring riches and fame, but a means to a more significant, less tangible end, one virtually inconceivable because of its rarity today: sacrifice for the greater glory of God. Joan of Arc claimed to have heard and acted on the voice of the Almighty—Yahweh, not Hillary—and to double the offense, she was a martyr for a faith led today by a celibate old killjoy, a white male no less, who opposes such progress as the ordination of women and same-sex marriages. Moreover, whenever Catholics do deign to celebrate women, their heroines, we’re told, turn out to be hucksters and frauds, more sinners than saints. As the Kathie Lee Gifford of Grub Street is always whining—Christopher Hitchens, that is—Mother Teresa is a “ghoul.”

What really motivated the model and her agents to sue Le Pen—was it politics or the pocketbook, or a little of both?— will probably never be known. But what can be said is that the media’s moralistic spin on this story—that a brave and courageous woman has faced down a clique of reactionary white men because she is devoted to principle and ideals—is highly suspect. For “independent” and “determined” Ms. Evangelista may be, but a devotion to “principle” and “ideals”—at least to any principles and ideals consonant with Catholicism—would seem a dubious characterization of the model’s much-publicized career.

Linda Evangelista has long been touted as one of the most beautiful women in the world and one of the most successful persons in her field. Many worship her high cheekbones and almond-shaped eyes, though fashion illustrator Mats Gustafson has praised her “beautiful nostrils that tilt another way, and a mouth that angles in a third direction,” which makes her sound like one of the extras in Tod Browning’s film Freaks. She was part of what the fashion world dubbed the “Trinity”—Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, and Christy Turlington—and this hallowed term reflects the reverence with which the institutions of pop culture groveled before these icons between 1986 and 1991, when the waifish Kate Moss finally stole the limelight. This triumvirate came to epitomize Western fashion and were the prototypes of what today is called the “supermodel,” earning fees unprecedented in the history of their profession and garnering the kind of slavish attention which only movie stars in Hollywood’s glory days once enjoyed. No longer would models be mannequins, mere human clothes-hangers, as they were in the 1930’s; they were now sex symbols, celebrities, and cultural metaphors.

It’s all about models today!” John Towne’s lament was never more appropriate than last year, when both fashion and non-fashion publication alike covered Ms. Evangelista’s decision to do “the bob.” Harper’s Bazaar replayed the “event” snip by snip in its July issue, reporting that the bold new coiffure proved “drama is Evangelista’s middle name,” for when the climactic cut occurred, amid “unbelievable chaos,” the “hair color icon of our time” persevered like the “determined” woman she is.

“When Garren did this cut, I didn’t even flinch,” the model bragged. It was only after the wrenching experience, like a soldier plagued by flashbacks of the front, that the emotions of the event got the best of her. “It was at Louis’ [the hair colorist’s] that it hit me,” she confessed, “when we were rinsing the toner. I was sobbing at the sink—I was so emotional about the color.” Ah, yes, the color.

Joan of Arc took an arrow through the thigh. Whether she flinched or got emotional, history doesn’t say.

Born to an Italian Catholic family in St. Catharines, Ontario, in 1965, Ms. Evangelista admits to a childhood obsession with every aspect of “fashion—with the magazines, the models and the poses.” After entering the Miss Teen Niagara contest at age 16, she moved to New York and then to Paris, where at age 19—the age at which Joan of Arc was burned alive for her “idealistic” beliefs—she reportedly had affairs with various moguls of the Parisian modeling scene, including one with her future husband, Gerald Marie, later president and part owner of Elite in Paris.

As Linda’s star rose, and the famed Trinity graced every runway, atelier, and magazine cover in the fashion world, reports began surfacing about unscrupulous behavior by both her and her husband. Michael Gross, in Model: The Ugly Business of Beautiful Women (1995), could find few people to speak kindly about either of them, citing an April Ducksbury of Models One in London as saying, “Gerald had the most horrible reputation—just a ruthless barbarian.” Someone else called him a “sleaze.”

Regarding the “independent” Linda, she has long been known as “Evil-angelista” in the modeling world, more famous for her rudeness and prima donna outbursts than for any principles and idealism. “We don’t vogue—we are vogue,” she told People. “We have this expression, Christy [Turlington] and I,” she gloated to Vogue, “We don’t wake up for less than $10,000 a day.” Which is apparently true. When France’s Nouvel Observateur requested an interview with Linda and was told that the price would be $10,000 plus a 20 percent service fee, the magazine refused: it published instead the number of Somalis who could be fed on the model’s salary. The third person in the Trinity, Naomi Campbell, has had her share of scandal as well, refusing to share the runway with any other black model and chalking up affairs with a host of famous men, from Mike Tyson, Robert De Niro, and Sylvester Stallone to rock stars Eric Clapton and Adam Clayton. She was reportedly fired by Elite in 1993 for “unspecified bad behavior.”

There were even rumors of a lesbian relationship between Linda and Christy Turlington, a story fueled by their lewd gyrations in the swing mounted over the dance floor at a New York disco in 1990, which photographers gladly captured for posterity. To be fair, lesbianism and modeling are not exactly strange bedfellows, as the niece of Attorney General Janet Reno made clear in July. Apparently Hunter Reno, a blond model for L’Oreal, has fallen head-over-stiletto for tennis jock Martina Navratilova, who says she loves the younger Reno “in a way I haven’t loved before.” The gay duo was expected to join Chastity Bono, Candace Gingrich, and pro-golfer Muffin Spencer-Devlin at the first national gay political convention in Chicago in August. And Martina and Muffin wonder why their phones seldom ring with endorsement offers.

This bad behavior by the Trinity-turned-Terrible Trio didn’t exactly endear them to their colleagues. “They became very powerful and not nice about it,” said one top model. “They were very snobby and cold and shut people out. We had to deal with the disgusting influx of negative attention to models that they generated.”

This may be true, but the idea that the candy floss world of high fashion just recently turned nasty is a convenient but self-serving fiction. Whether it be professional baseball, professional acting, or professional modeling, each has feasted on the vain and the vulgar, and no matter how much we romanticize the “good old days”—whether the eupeptic days of the booze-swilling Babe or the white gloved early years of professional modeling in New York—the fact remains that the “good old days” were not very “good,” unless by “good” we mean what Mae West always meant by the word. The only difference between then and now is that models can today visit their abortionist by daylight.

Bill Blass told Michael Gross all about these early years, particularly about the business techniques of Stewart Cowley, the foremost modeling booker in the late 1940’s. “He must’ve f–ked every one of those girls,” Blass laughed. Regarding Harry Conover, the marketing genius who laid the foundations of professional modeling in America in the prewar years and who created that creature called the “Cover Girl,” he was “never available,” remembered Cowley. “He was too busy screwing his models.” And far from subsiding in recent years, these Sodom-and-Gomorrah sideshows, especially between agents and their jailbait tarts, continue to flourish and have been frequently investigated by both the news media and the FBI.

But should any of this really surprise us? “This is a world,” concludes Gross, “in which lawsuits fly as frequently as the models do from city to city, agency to agency, magazine to magazine, boyfriend to boyfriend. Loyalty is nonexistent. Betrayal is everywhere. But what else do you expect from a world that caters to envy and lust?”

We get the leaders—as well as the heroes—we deserve, and if at any time Linda Evangelista saw the irony of this story about “honor,” “principle,” “reputation,” and “ideals,” she was absolutely right not to let on. Sure, all that glitters may not be gold, and our wandering eyes and heedless hearts may indeed be tempted by unlawful prize. But, who cares? Her nostrils are beautiful, and they even tilt another way.