model

Model: A Memoir, by Cheryl Diamond. (Simon Pulse, $10, 357 pages).

Why did I even read this book? I don’t really follow fashion. I don’t have a lot of patience for people of privilege. I don’t even particularly enjoy memoirs, though I have been reading a lot of them lately. I think I picked up this book because it was on sale and because I was going to be waiting some place for a long time. It won out over Joel Osteen’s latest thing about why God loves rich people (because everyone knows that) and over Jhumpa Lahiri’s latest collection of short stories (because I’m cheap), so obviously I had some pretty high expectations.

What I was expecting, mostly, was conflict. Modelling is glamorous and cutthroat, right? I was ready for some violent, sexy drama. I glanced through the book before I bought it to make sure that’s what I would see. I saw something about the mob and gangsters (really? in 2008? Italian gangsters? apparently yes.) and the word “rehabilitation” multiple times. This, I thought with unabashed voyeurism, was going to be good. Aside from voyeurism, I was also hoping to gain some insight into the mind of a person involved in the fashion industry. Why are women interested in selling their bodies, or in allowing their bodies to be used to sell other things?

Let me save you the trouble of reading this book. There was a gangster in her book named Giovanni that hit on her repeatedly. And her big issue from which she had to be rehabilitated? A bad haircut. I am not making this up. I understand that hair (especially her perfect hair) is a big part of a model’s marketability, but given that she was maybe seventeen and given that she presents herself as a business-savvy person throughout the book, I am fully confident that somehow she might be able to overcome this tragedy and live a meaningful life. As it turns out, she was able to model again (this just in: hair grows back!) and, apparently, begin a career in writing.

I can’t believe I bought this book. The back cover blurb promised me a story of “the triumphant rise, disastrous fall, and phoenixlike comeback,” but did not deliver at all. I suppose it’s an issue of audience, really. In what world is bad hair “a disastrous fall”? High school, of course, and, from the looks of it, high fashion modeling. Then again, I’ve lived through many, many terrible haircuts, so perhaps I’ve become numb to the true horror of them.

I don’t get why she chooses to talk about the things she talks about. Her memoir is a really thorough presentation of what it’s like getting started in the modelling industry, but as I was reading, I kept wanting to know more about the things she skipped over– her family, her motivations (money, according to her, but there are more conventional ways to make money that don’t involve gangsters, so I have trouble believing it was the only one), her neighbors. Why is it more important for me to read about how she had to run from one end of Manhattan to the other in stilettos or flip-flops than it is for me to know why this matters to her in the first place? I am disappointed at the lack of self-reflection in this memoir. There’s a very competent reportage of events in a typically linear fashion. There is a gesture or two towards the explanation of emotions (she was sad when she lost her cat), but I don’t see why those events or feelings remain significant to the I-who-is-writing.

For me, this book is a failure, but I don’t think it’s entirely the book’s fault. I am not its audience. I care about different things than the author (or perhaps her editors or her possible ghostwriters) does. I don’t find her account to be terribly believable either, but again, that may be only because I live in a very different world. The book isn’t structured to place emphasis where I think the author would like it, so I’m left wondering what is actually important in this account. I think this is a major fault, but then, this is the author’s first work and she has very little training involving the aesthetics of words. I really respect the courage (or narcissism?) of anyone willing to publish an account of themselves, but this particular work just doesn’t speak to me. I suppose I should be glad that particular store didn’t carry The Truth About Diamonds.

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