by Mark Blankenship
I've watched every season of Project Runway, I know more about RuPaul's Drag Race than anyone in my family, and even though it pains me, I slog through Make Me a Supermodel every week, mostly to see what flimsy premise the producers will devise to make the boys take off their shirts.
Yet despite my taste for fashion reality, I've never seen an episode of America's Next Top Model. That's partly because modeling shows without shirtless guys strike me as wasted opportunities, and it's partly because ANTM started airing when I was in graduate school. I was just too busy reading obscure plays by cloistered nuns to get attached.
Fate's a strange mistress, though, and a few weeks ago, I opened my mail to discover an advance copy of America's Next Top Model: Fierce Guide to Life. Yes, that's right. Even though I never found the show, it finally found me.
And you know what? I decided to read the thing. I mean, I could use more fierceness in my life -- who couldn't? -- and since I'm the opposite of the book's target audience, I figured it could give me a new perspective on how to live like I mean it.
Fierceness, snacking, and much more, after the jump...
Boy, was I right. Here are three things I learned from this sassy, sassy tome.
1. You Can Be Fierce Without an Obvious Connection to Fashion
Right there on the cover, J. E. Bright is listed as the book's author, and a Google search reveals that he makes his living writing novelizations of kiddie films like Monsters vs. Aliens and Kung Fu Panda. (Awesomely, he also wrote a few Sweet Valley High books under a pseudonym.)
Unless he's secretly Tim Gunn, I don't see a connection between Bright and the model-verse, but that's weirdly appropriate. Divided into handy sections like "exercise," "history of modeling," and "photo shoots," the book is designed to teach newcomers about the ins and outs of the business. It helps, then, that Bright is never elitist. He writes clearly and succinctly, making it easy for neophytes to feel engaged.
2. When It Comes to "Wellness," the Fashion Industry Isn't Sure What "Fierce" Should Mean
Apparently, models feed on mixed messages.
The section on beauty opens by announcing, "Since it's often said that a camera adds 15 pounds, a scrawnier body photographs most appropriately for fashion, and shows off the high-end designs to their best advantage." That sounds harsh, but honest. Except that in the very next section---health---we're told, "The tide is turning on the belief that starving stick figures are the only standard of beauty."
The body section is just as contradictory. For every ode to plus-sized models, there's a checklist for hiding your big fat hips. For every warning about eating disorders, there's a pronouncement that "healthy appetizers" are a better idea than full meals.
If I took all this advice, I'd be confused. And hungry. And angry. That's not the kind of "fierceness" I'm after.
3. If You Can Survive the Professional Indignities of Modeling, Then You Will Have Enough Battle Scars to Feel Fierce
For all its failures as a wellness guide, however, the book is an effective starter kit for a career. Young women with catwalk dreams will likely need a brief history of supermodeling, a tutorial on how to contact agents, and tips on what to expect in a casting session.
Even better, Bright acknowledges that modeling can suck. From sleazy photographers angling for nude shots to designers who expect their girls to show up looking gorgeous at 3:00 AM, he prepares readers for the many, many aspects of the job that aren't glamorous. Anyone who learns about these dark details and still plows ahead has got to have something fierce going on.
That's the lesson I'm choosing to take away: If you're going to be a professional, then be fierce enough to face every part of your profession. While eating healthy appetizers.
Mark Blankenship runs The Critical Condition, a site for awesome reviews of movies, music, and TV.
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