Bibliobitch: Modelland

Eye on 3D Cover of Modelland by Tyra Banks

I first heard of supermodel Tyra Banks’s new, young adult, fiction novel Modelland on this past All-Star season of America’s Next Top Model. I’m a dedicated fan of the show, so when the contestants had to film a “motion editorial” depicting different scenes from the book I was excited my Tyra studies could be extended past ANTM’s season finale. Little did I know, reading Modelland would be quite the commitment: a 546-page commitment to be exact. Yes, 546 pages. No one can accuse Tyra of not jumping into her literary pursuit with full force. Despite the length, Tyra is no J.K. Rowling, though she certainly tries.

Now stick with me here, this book has more made up words and terms than a Klingon translation of a Dr. Seuss book.

The story follows 15-year-old “Metopia” resident Tookie de la Crème on her journey from being a Forgetta-girl (an unremarkable girl who is easily forgettable and ignored) to becoming an Intoxibella (a supermodel with superpowers to make consumers buy, buy, buy). We meet Tookie just a couple days before The Day of Discovery, on which every girl in her region of Metopia catwalks on the main street for the rare chance at being chosen by a Scout to attend Modelland, the mysterious modeling boarding school on the hill that produces the world’s best, most beautiful and convincing models. Tookie knows she has no chance of being chosen because she looks unusual, or so everyone thinks:

The girl whose face not even the meanest person you know would describe as yuck but who you’d never in a million—no, a trillion years describe as alluring either. The girl whose eyes are three centimeters too far apart and whose mouth is four centimeters too wide… She’s the girl whose hair… can’t decide if it’s supposed to be quasi-curly, silky-straight, frantic-frizzy, or wet-and-wavy—or maybe a “Power to the People” ‘fro. The girl whose body is a contradiction of itself: a slightly hunched back (from years of poor posture, one must presume), feet the size of snowshoes, and stick-figure arms and legs so fragile, you think you can hear them screaming ‘Feed me an entire grilled cow, now!’ The girl with the humongous, punch-bowl-sized head, with a forehead that goes on and on and on, making her look like the weight of her cranium will topple her over and break her into a thousand pieces. And not only is her clothing painfully mismatched, so are her eyes, dahling. You heard me right. She has one green eye and one brown one.

Scary right? Nope, Tookie has no chance at Modelland. Instead, she and her abusive parents turn out to support her beautiful, yet bratty, little sister “The Myrracle.” When The Day of Discovery finally comes Tookie plans on running away with her self-mutilating best friend Lizzy when SURPRISE! she is remarkably chosen over her sister to attend Modelland. She—along with three other “misfits”—arrives at the school where all the other “pretty” students BitterBall (look down on) them. A pale girl, a short girl, a girl with a big butt, and big-foreheaded Tookie—how could any of them be models? Is there possibly some sort of redemption in store for them in the next 500 pages of the book?

I won’t ruin the surprise for you. Anyway, at the horrifically trippy Modelland the girls learn all that a great model should know to be successful: don’t share cosmetics, don’t buy counterfeit handbags, don’t show your true emotions, and of course, practice healthy eating habits! All the things that turn a mere Forgetta-girl into a dazzling Intoxibella. Magical model hijinks ensue, many people die, and Tookie finds a boy that actually likes her and thinks she’s pretty! Imagine that.

The overall message of this book is pretty heavy-handed: As long as you’re beautiful on the inside, you’re beautiful on the outside, which is great except I don’t recall the nicest contestants always being the winners of ANTM. But despite the book’s semi-maybe-not really-uplifting message, there’s much here to contradict Tyra’s good intentions. I know you’re shocked.

First off, though this book promotes self-esteem and confidence in girls, it is less than empowering since it is all to a depressing consumerist end, especially when one remembers that if Tookie doesn’t want to be a model all that’s left for her is working in a Metopia accessory factory as a slave, oh I mean, “Factory Dependent.” Secondly, men are explicitly objectified. The Belladonna (headmistress) of Modelland makes sure the girls know their brothers at Bestosterone are beneath them:

“And anyway, girls, males are accessories at Modelland. Don’t ever forget: we’re the stars, not the boys. Yeah, they do some modeling stuff, but basically we have them here to work for us: build our buildings, provide security and eye candy… that sort of thing.”

Yet attention from a boy is exactly what helps Tookie believe she is beautiful and what elevates her in the eyes of the other girls.

Second, traditional beauty standards still exist in this fictional world and are never truly challenged. Tyra’s bio on the back page says she “is a leading voice in empowering girls and is dedicated to expanding the definition of beauty worldwide” and while there is a huge cast of varied-looking girls in the book they are still bound by a traditional standard of beauty. For example, the only character who could be considered plus-size, Dylan, is never explicitly acknowledged as such. Instead she just has a “big butt,” even when it is revealed that she has an eating disorder. Another such character is Abigail, the standard “militant feminist” who spends her small part of the book campaigning for hairy women. However, even she doesn’t stand strong in the face of the glamorous Modelland:

Abigail brought the knife to her chest. “Noooo!” Harriet screamed. But instead of impaling her body with the weapon, Abigail began to scrape her body with it. A tuft of her thick underarm hair tumbled to the ground. With lightning speed, Abigail shaved her sideburns, her arms, her most private of parts, and then her legs. She finished by removing all the knee-length black hair from her head. Every trace of her hair, eyebrows included, was gone and lay in clumps at her feet….Now that she was completely without hair, the group could see the Abigail who had been hiding all along…Abigail was not simply pretty. She was out-of-this-world, breathtakingly beautiful— absolutely, undeniably, soul-stirringly stunning.

Great, the character I was rooting for ends up shaving off all her hair to fit in before being incinerated by a giant fireball (I’m not kidding). Lastly, the issue of race is conveniently avoided, with all the characters being from fictional lands like Bou-Big-Tique or Canne Del Abra. And while Tyra does describe the characters they are always either caramel- or olive-colored or just plain pale.

I started off reading this book for some lighthearted fun and a few laughs, but it quickly became a nonsensical, nightmarish, acid trip that seemed like it would never end. When it finally did end, I was more relieved than narratively satisfied. Would I recommend this book to young readers? Probably not. Would I recommend this book to my peers? Yes, if only for the selfish reason that I need someone to talk to about it. There is so much more to this book that needs to be discussed that I can’t fit here. If you’ve read the book please share your thoughts in the comments and help me understand what I’m feeling right now. If you plan on reading it, just be aware that it stops being funny when you realize just how long it is. And if you decide to skip it altogether it’s no great loss. Tyra has two more Modelland books in the works so this won’t be your last chance to get in on the… experience.

by Ann-Derrick Gaillot
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I am a freelance writer and reporter who watches a lot of TV. I tweet at @methodann.

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10 Comments Have Been Posted


Kudos to you for getting through all of that, Ms. G. I got a migraine just reading that small excerpt. :)

YA Books can be much better than this one.

This sounds like a spin-off of many Young Adult books, but specifically of "House of Night" which is a vampire finishing school. If you are looking for something a little bit more empowering, I definitely think this series is a step-up from Tyra's attempt. I'm always looking for good books for my four nieces that don't have girls as supporting characters. (Sorry Harry Potter and Percy Jackson. Both Hermione and Annabeth are pretty cool, but basically play a more interesting young adult version of the adventure girlfriend role)

Modelland and ANTM share similar problems

ANTM is my guilty pleasure and I never miss an episode. When I heard about "Modelland" through the show, specifically when I heard that Modelland was on the NYT Bestseller list, I decided to check it out. As a fan of ANTM and a feminist scholar it's hard not to notice that "Modelland" is riddled with the same issues as ANTM. Specifically, as you noted, girls are given conflicting messages on what it takes and what it means to be beautiful. More than that, however, the book and the show present lessons on what it means to be "good" and "successful". Psychologist Stephen Hinshaw does an analysis of the conflicting messages presented in the show (and, I would argue, the book) and their consequences for adolescent girls.

Thanks for that source,

Thanks for that source, Jamie. I'll definitely have to check that out. I hope he also sheds some light on why this show is so appealing even to feminists.

House of Night made me

House of Night made me physically sick. It was awful and probably the only thing I can compare to Twilight in horribleness( ?)!!! Girls who are side characters are nice and strong but usually serve no purpose other than a counter balance for the protagonist( Just like Annabeth and Herimone). When the main guy is immature, they are serious. When the guy is angry, they are calm. The boy is cool and the girl isemotional. One the flip side, when the girl is easily swayed, the boy stays strong. She is the damsel and he is the hero. Other examples of this is Ben 10, Avatar (Aang to a less extent is childish and silly while Katara is mature and motherly. etc.), Thundercats, and countless others. These girls usually aren't as complex as their boy counter parts but I've read awesome fan fiction exploring these girls going off on their own and developing their own story lines and digging deeper than their surface emotions.

If the girl is the main character, she usually is hot head, immature, and sharp tongue or the exact opposite. She is either hot or cold. she always wants, needs, looks for, unexpectingly finds, or stumbles upon a male love interest. Be it her best friend, a companion meet on the way, a wish-fulfillment lover; the female girl will find love.

I show Tyra being interviewed about her new book on some talk show. I knew it would probably be superficial and an easy slightly enjoyable read. Nothing big but nothing that bad. If I remember correctly, Tookie is Indian( or mixed with it) because she mentioned going to one of her Indian professors to help her preserve authenticity.

....that was absolutely

....that was absolutely surreal.

modelland Tyra Banks

I didn't read the whole story but....
You think that Modelland is anti-feminist?
Do you even know Tyra? she's pro female. her life's mission is to help women, not males.
it's just a bit of a love story, that's all. and it is feminist becuase women are depicted as surperior.

why all the bad reviews for this book?
i'm a feminist, i hate men and i'm a female, so i'd know if Modelland depicted any pro-men, or whatever.
stop saying bad things about Modelland and Tyra!
it's a good book.

My Point of View

Personally, I loved this story. I was sorrow when I finished the last page, and even more because all of the rude comments. This book was meant for tweens: 12-15 year olds. I'm 13, which might be a reason why it is my favorite book ever. Tyra has really stepped it up from being known as a retired model. If you guys haven't realized yet, she was aiming for fantasy, and I give her an A+ for that. All in all, Modelland is a book to enjoy and to have connections with. Maybe you guys are too old to remember your childhood.

Thoughts on Modelland

Did you guys seriously think that it was that bad?? I thought it was an amazing book an I am going to read it again. I cant wait for the next book to come out. I am a teen and I would recomend this to other teenagers. Everyone has their different opinion and you cant read these reviews and diss the book before reading some of it. When I first saw the book I wad like, shit, this is huge!! But then I saw it was written by my favorite model and role model, Tyra Banks and I was like, might as well give it a try. So I checked it out and the more pages I turned, the more engrossed I got into the story and I didnt realize hos much and how long I had read until I finished the book and realized that is was 7 am, like, half a day had went by and I had finished the book. I decided to read it again so this time I could know what was halpening and clarify some of the things. Basically, I think that book was amazing.

This is really sad that our

This is really sad that our society has come to this when teen girls find this to be the greatest book they ever read. It also makes me sad that girls think of Tyra as a role model. How is it she seems to think that women are superior in this land by only being represented as pretty faces in a consumerist/ materialistic culture. Does anyone what to write a book where men and women are equal and use their minds for the betterment of society? It sucks that women are given this message that they can do anything they want to (have equal power as men) but as long as she does everything she can to fit a certain standard of beauty. It is bad enough that society doesn't help when girls get the message the last females who contributed to society are maybe madam currie. Shouldn't we be encouraged to contribute other things to society than fashion and make-up? Are those ever going to be thought of good contributions in history. No. People re-invent fashion every decade. No one gives a shit about what people were wearing a hundred years ago and be all like oh what a great contribution to society. It doesn't matter, also like if you think about it, while you are in school it doesn't matter what you look like or what clothes you are wearing when it comes to the greater scheme of your life. All that matters to what you learned and how you used it.

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