Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

A Model of Beauty

Written by Melissa Walker
Last winter, seventeen-year-old Ali Michael, a lovely girl from Texas with a twenty-three-inch-waist who had been an It girl of the modeling world previously that same year (she walked dozens of 2007 shows and was featured as a rising star on Vogue's Style.com, along with editorials in W and Harper's Bazaar) was shut out of the Paris runways. Why? Her thigh measurements were deemed too big.
Last winter, seventeen-year-old Ali Michael, a lovely girl from Texas with a twenty-three-inch-waist who had been an It girl of the modeling world previously that same year (she walked dozens of 2007 shows and was featured as a rising star on Vogue's Style.com, along with editorials in W and Harper's Bazaar) was shut out of the Paris runways. Why? Her thigh measurements were deemed too big.

You think I’m joking, but I’m not.                         
Ali told Teen Vogue the following
:

As I got tinier, my career took off. By the time I entered my second season of shows last September, all  I was eating was oatmeal with water for breakfast, a banana and a few grapes for lunch, and plain lettuce for  dinner, maybe with a piece of fish. I stopped getting my period, which should have been a red flag. When my mom found out, she took me to the doctor. I discovered my body was no longer able to produce estrogen due to the lack of fat in my diet. The doctor put me on hormones, the same ones prescribed for women going through menopause. When I didn't get my period after several rounds, there was concern my ovaries had shut down. I was scared I might never be able to have children.

Understandably worried about her health, Ali stopped watching her weight so rigorously later that fall. She gained five pounds and was deemed "too plump" for all but one runway (cheers, Yohji Yamamoto).

This true story is uncannily similar to what the character Violet faces in Violet by Design, the sequel to my debut novel, Violet on the Runway. Violet gains five pounds after a bad breakup, and her agent starts referring to her as “Voluptuous Violet” and telling her she’ll never book another job if she doesn’t get rid of the extra weight. The skinny thing is so pervasive in the modeling world that when Violet asks some of her model friends for help, they earnestly pepper her with suggestions on how to lose five pounds in three days.

In real life, Ali Michael is bringing some attention to the perilous skinny trend. Besides the models in the industry whom this craze is literally killing, there are girls, boys, women, and men affected by it daily. Every time we flip through glossy magazines, visit fashion websites, and watch red carpet coverage on E!, we see impossible images of perfect bodies, hair, and smiles. Our self-esteem inevitably takes a beating when the mirror shows us something different.

Sometimes when I tell people 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—i.e. complexes, hang-ups, politics—and I want the Violet books to touch on that, too.

Violet’s story is 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 exist in the fashion industry. She caves under the pressure and makes bad decisions at first but is able—with the help of friends from home—to remember what she really believes in and who she is at heart. So, she ends up being a flawed but hopeful narrator in the first book, and she only gets stronger (and meets more challenges) in the second and third titles.

It probably sounds like I wanted to torture my character, but I didn't. I just imagined a real girl—one who grew up in a middle-class household, without a Bergdorf's card and a closet full of Prada bags—reacting to the insanity of the fashion world. I wanted to show how a seventeen-year-old with great friends and a strong sense of family can find herself anywhere—even among the utter insanity of the modeling life.

I often thought that when Violet by Design, book number two, was released in March, people would wonder whether a gain of merely five pounds would really cause such a stir with Violet’s 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 to her supportive mom by her side. She stayed healthy. She's an amazing role model who has spoken out about her experiences in the media—on the Today Show and in Teen Vogue. We should all applaud her decisions as a true It girl and hope that she remains in fashion's spotlight.
 
Illustration by Crystal Guffey 

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