I recently read this great piece by Christina Brinkley in the Wall Street Journal about 17-year-old Ali Michael, a lovely girl from Texas with a 23-inch waist who was the toast of the modeling world last season. She had worked hard to stay thin, and scored lots of big runways, including Chanel, John Galliano and Dior. I saw her on the cover of Teen Vogue with other up-and-comers Chanel Iman and Karlie Kloss.
This time around? Worried about her health, she stopped watching her weight so rigorously over the past few months. She gained five pounds and was deemed “too plump” for all but one runway (kudos to Yohji Yamamoto for booking lovely Ali).
This true story is very similar to what my character Violet faces in Violet by Design, and it involves an issue that’s bigger than who’s sitting in the front row of Fashion Week, which designer best illustrated the bright colors trend or who invented the latest handbag shape. The Skinny Thing is an issue to talk about, to remember as we flip through glossy magazines and watch red carpet coverage on E!, to keep in the news and in the forefront of our minds, lest we forget that we should all be concerned.
Sometimes when I tell people that I’m writing a series of teen books about a young fashion model, they wrinkle their noses. They imagine that the books are brand-laden write-ups of runways and high-heeled backstabbers.
And, okay, that’s part of it, because those things are fun to read — and write — about. But the truth is, there’s a lot of serious material within the fashion world, and I want the Violet books to touch on that, too.
Lots of people ask what inspired me to write a book about a girl who becomes a model. It’s a classic coming-of-age tale, complete with Top Model makeover and geek-to-chic transition. But that wasn’t what interested me most. More than the new clothes, hair and attention, I wanted to throw Violet into the competition, criticism and abject cattiness that exists in the fashion industry.
It probably sounds like I wanted to torture my character. I didn’t! I just imagined a real girl — one who grew up in the south, without a Bergdorf’s card and a closet full of Prada bags — reacting to the outrageous fashion industry. I wanted to show how a 17-year-old with great friends and a strong sense of family can find herself anywhere — even among the utter insanity of the modeling world.
A few readers have questioned whether the things that happen to Violet as she becomes a model are realistic. I often thought that when Violet by Design, book 2, was released, people would wonder whether a gain of merely five pounds would really cause such a stir with her agent and the designers who wanted to book her.
Now that we’ve seen Miss Michael’s story, I can point to that as the reality of the industry. Unfortunately.
The silver lining? Ali Michael went home with her supportive mom by her side. She stayed healthy. She’s a gorgeous role model. We should all applaud her decisions as a true It Girl.