Saturday, February 27, 2010

Build a Better Chick Lit: Modelicious!

I'm back to recapping books, baby! I've read a couple of horrible YA/chick lit books about modeling. There's Model Student (a girl has to balance being a student at Columbia University with being a model). And there's Violet on the Runway, in which a high school girl goes from being awkward and dorky to a high fashion model when she's discovered in her small town by an agent. It's basically the training bra version of Model Student. I decided to show what stereotypes (modeling and chick lit) they fulfill, with a little help from Tyra and the good people at Cycle 8's modeling cliche photoshoot.

The Girl Who Is Here to Win, Not Make Friends.

Don't pretend you don't know who that is. Every cycle has one! In Violet, it's Veronica, the jealous roommate who shares a Zoolander esque apartment (complete with bunkbeds) with the title character. However, since our protagonist is a six foot tall Pollyanna who snorts sunshine, lollipops and rainbows instead of coke, Veronica realizes that being a bitch isn't all it's cracked up to be. The girls bond and Veronica learns that friendship is more important than a Page Six mention.

OK, I lied...Violet herself has a teeny bit of bitchery in her (though she's still only a 1.1 on the Doherty scale). This is what she says to her best guy friend when they're at a nightclub where he's MSTK-ing the whole scene:
You have no idea what this world is like...You sit at home in North Carolina scrolling through Gawker and Fishbowl and thinking that you're a part of things. Well, you're not. You're just a sad nerd of a boy who fills his time reading about other people's lives because he doesn't have one of his own. Go back to your blogs. Hey, maybe you'll even make the Post tomorrow--in the background of a photo of me.
Violet, can I please be in a Page Six photo holding your hair back?

Emily in Model Student's best bitchy moment? One day, she's walking along and she hears yet another "Daaaaaamn, you so FINE, baaby" come-on and prepares her best bitchface. Only the guy isn't paying any attention to her. Em realizes that he's looking at another girl who is, in her words, "'like, five foot two inches and not even cute." Bitch. I chortled so hard in the jewelry shoot scene where a hand model accidentally-on purpose gives Emily a bloody nose.

Dumb Models

'America's Next Top Model': Model Stereotypes: Caridee, the Dumb Blonde model

Violet's not dumb. She's just a fresh faced ingenue who smiles on the runway instead of affecting a fierce scowl. But since she's so damned cute, the fashion world thinks she's as whimsical as Ariel combing her hair with cutlery. Making this the ultimate in escapist fiction, her agent even tells her not to perfect her walk since everyone loves her sweet, "real," unpolished image (read: yes, you too, earnest young reader, can be a model! You don't need to go on scary go-sees! You don't even have to work hard!)

As an Ivy League student, Emily does her best to shatter the dumb model stereotype. She takes a particular joy in reading Paradise Lost in between lingerie shots on the beach in the Dominican Republic. Em's "I'm a smart model!" act isn't cute as cute as she thinks, though. I'd like to put her and Sasha "My porn name is a reference to Oscar Wilde" Grey in a room together so they can have a pretention-off. (And Sasha, sweetie, Dorian spelt his surname with an "a" not an "e." Somewhere, babe, there's a picture of you getting really, really smart.)

However, Emily is SMARTMODEL FAIL when you read a scene where she feels betrayed by her first agent. Does he (A) cop a feel (B) demand sexual favors or (C) tell her to lose ten pounds within the hour? No, it turns out he receives a fee from the other agencies he's taking Emily to interview at when she first comes to New York. She's mad that he's not escorting her to agencies out of the joy of being with her. That Armani wearing Shylock!

Drugs're baaad, mmkay?

Because Violet is basically the Dawson's Creek of YA lit in terms of risque-ness, the designated bad girl has to do all the drugs and boozin''. (For those paying attention, in Dawson's, that's Jen Lindley who ends up dead in the finale, and in Violet, it's Veronica who goes to rehab.) Violet limits herself to drinking (but, to placate any parents reading or watching along), her drinking is always accompanied by her feeling horribly hungover the next day, with the requisite "head in the toilet" moment.

Emily does drugs. This doesn't bother me. What does bother me is the scene where feeling alienated from her friends, Emily runs in desperation to Washington Square Park where drug dealers surround her hissing, "'Smoke, smoke'" and, "Tell me what a pretty girl needs!" It's as if the producers of Les Miz directed an anti drug PSA.

A is for Anorexia, B is for Bulimia...

Violet is as PG-13 with eating disorders as it is with drugs. In fact, Violet even makes a point of chowing down on some mixed veggies from the Chinese place when someone points out that she's losing a lot of weight. Realistically, this is the model world equivalent of sticking a straw straight into a goose and sucking, and Violet is the Adam Richman of fashionistas. But hey, it keeps Kate Harding off the editors' backs. Once again, Veronica is the designated bad girl and vomits herself into celebrity rehab.

Emily, however, does engage in Extreme Dieting to lose weight even though she never actually becomes anorexic, making her the Bill Clinton of YA lit ("I counted calories"/"I smoked" but I never "lost my period"/"inhaled"). She also attempts to go bulimic but can't vomit on command.

Less than ten thou a day? As if.

Somehow Emily manages to be this girl even though she never really achieves supermodel status. She gets huffy at wearing a tiny jumpsuit to an industry event. Doing a shoot dressed as a chorus girl on the West Side Highway almost sends her to the Rape Crisis Center. She's cast in a music video and is horrified when she has to make out with a guy dressed as a sailor. (She recoils as if asked to join in the 120 days of Sodomy when she finds out he's gay.)

Violet, on the other hand, is NOT this girl. She's more, "Gee whillickers, I get to wear purty clothes and you pay ME?" it's a wonder she never accidentally wanders into an American Apparel warehouse to be trapped in there for years until someone does a raid.

I'd love to see these girls react to shoots that a lot of people would consider quite a bit creepier.

Casting couch

Violet is way too escapist chick lit for something as crass as the casting couch mentality to even exist in this world. After all, Violet gets driven from go-see to go-see by a supportive chauffeur. She lands runway gigs and campaigns without ever having interviewed with anyone. Violet's idea of a casting couch would probably be a designer asking to see her book.

When Emily goes to Italy, part of schmoozing means dealing with guys who like to drug models at parties and then screw them. The scene is intense, with leering Italians on Vespas and broken English and girls passing out right and left and it's all very What if Tom Wolfe had ghostwritten a model memoir.

Going nude

Yes, nudity. We all know that the nice girl from the boonies who loves Jesus and won't do nudity and just isn't edgy enough for couture (sorry, cycle one's Shannon!). In Violet's world, nudity means changing clothes behind a screen but in front of an open window. She somehow manages to do a runway show without flashing anyone, though.

Emily manages to make a hjiab wearer look debauched, when she mentions that initially, her idea of nudity was having scarves draped over her chest for head shots where her shoulders were bare. She also decides she needs cocaine to get through a music video shoot where she and another girl make out naked in a bathtub.

Okay! Since these books are also steeped in the traditions of chick lit, there are some other requirements, as those of you following the syllabus know. Yes, there is brand and clothing worship (with a devotion that would creep out a Moonie) and the fetishization of boys (no one here passes the Bedchel test, ever). What else?

Self deprecating narrator

How do books where the narrator is a model manage to do this? In Violet's case, before she became a model, she was "awkward." (Read: wore glasses and was constantly complaining about being too tall and thin. Violet, you and every Francesca Lia Block character who moans about having a nose that's too small and eyes that are too big with breasts too small for her tiny frame are cruisin' for a brusin'.)

In Emily's case, it's Don't hate me because I'm beautiful. On Emily's first day at orientation, she wears a minidress and high heeled boots (fresh from agency seeing) and the Columbia students react like she's a woman baring her ankles in Warren Jeff's fundamentalist Utah. Guys are also lining up to date her, random men give her bouquets of roses on the street, and girls eye her jealously. What costumes shall the supermodel wear to all tomorrow's seminars? Poor Emily. She has to resort to bulky stained apparel to gain the respect of her fellow students (one girl approvingly says, "I had completely the wrong idea about you--completely," when she sees Emily in "untied sneakers, untucked button down shirt, and stained Columbia sweatpants").

There's No Place Like Home

Any time a girl goes on a wild adventure, she has to learn that a career in the fashion world is the chick lit equivalent of becoming Tony Montana. You either quit the life or go out in a blaze of white powder (see also Andie in Devil Wears Prada). After a talk with her wise old vegan aunt who lives in Brooklyn, Violet learns that Dolce & Gabbana can't compare with Mom, apple pie, and going to prom (until the author gets the option of a sequel and Violet's back on the runway).

And Emily decides that she's not going to be anyone's clothes hanger anymore. However my personal theory is that Em's decision has zip to do with integrity and is more about that time a guy wolf whistled at a short uncute girl instead of her. I guess dieting to fit the sample sizes is less important than pleasing the Sir Mix-a-Lots of the world.

Based on the book covers, I think both Violet and Emily need prosthetic legs. And for Emily, an extra parting gift: