Interview: Melissa Walker
Current Mood: thirsty
Current Song: When It All Falls Apart by The Veronicas
Melissa Walker's novel Violet on the Runway follows a tall, awkward girl as she teeters in uncomfortable shoes on the road to stardom. Violet tries to keep her head on straight as she transitions from a high school student in Chapel Hill to an international supermodel, and she's not sure whether or not she really wants to pursue modeling.
After reading the first two books in Melissa's series and talking to the author about her books, we discovered a mutual concern about teens' perception of their bodies and of themselves. With Melissa's background in journalism and interest in the modeling world and my tendency to ramble, we both had a lot to say.
In this day and age, we communicate with strangers everyday over the internet. In person or online, someone can get easily taken by modeling and acting scams, then be led into dangerous situations. How can a young person know that a talent scout or company is legit?
The only real way is to send your photos in to agents or to be scouted on the street. This happens a lot to the most successful girls, but it's something you can't control. An agent will see you and just "know" you are right. It has a lot to do with body type and not a lot to do with whether or not you're a beautiful girl.
If you get a business card from someone who says they're scouting you, check out their agency online and make sure they're legit. Above all, if they ask for any money up front, it's a scam. If an agent thinks you have modeling potential, they will cover the cost of your first photos.
May I add: If you are a minor, DO NOT GO TO ANY RANDOM STUDIO OR ADDRESS WITHOUT YOUR PARENT OR GUARDIAN. Be safe, not sorry.
Also, no matter how old or young you are, please do not trust strangers on networking websites who send you messages to the tune of, "Hey, cutie, I like your profile pic. I can make you a famous model. Come to 123 Main Street and I'll take your picture." NO. Do NOT GO. Also don't give those people your personal information - your name, age, additional pictures - NO. This is NOT SAFE.
(Little Willow steps off of her soapbox, sits back down, and resumes the interview.)
Prior to writing novels, you worked for magazines such as ELLEgirl and Seventeen. Do you plan to continue working in the field of journalism?
Yes. I love writing for magazines, and it's still my main source of income. I write regularly for Glamour, CosmoGIRL, Teen Vogue and others. Being able to work from home and write both books and magazine stories is a dream come true!
In 2006, ELLEgirl surveyed over 10,000 girls regarding body image and published the results in a piece co-written by you, Emma Bothorel and Lizzie Dunlap, with photographs by Nina Rich. (See and read the piece.) Were you assigned the piece, or did you help pitch the idea? What results or topics surprised you the most?
This was an idea that I conceived with our editor-in-chief, Christina Kelly. Emma was a fantastic intern who helped a ton with this story, and Lizzie was an editorial assistant who found great stats to add to the piece – like the one that notes that fashion models in the U.S. now weigh about 23% less than the average woman.
We got to photograph and interview dozens of girls, which was such a fun task! Everyone was ready to tell us what they really loved about their bodies.
The survey results, however, were upsetting. 40% of girls surveyed said they do not have a positive body image and nearly half said they knew someone with an eating disorder.
Still, there were bright spots among the disturbing numbers. One girl from Holland gave this quote: "We admire skinny catwalk models, but I think women with female shapes -- boobs, a blushing face and soft belly -- look so beautiful!" So right.
How did you feel about your appearance and weight when you were 14? Did your perception change when you were 16? 18? In your adulthood?
I have never felt overweight, although in the early years of high school, I would complain about "thunder thighs" and sometimes I'd try to watch what I ate. Most of that behavior was just because my friends were doing it, though.
By the time I was a senior, I felt more confident in my skin. That lasted until . . . drumroll . . . I got a job at a fashion magazine. Suddenly, I compared myself to the other editors (many of whom were "pin thin") and the models we were interviewing. It turned my head around about my weight . . . and I realized I was still susceptible to feeling insecure about my body. Which was a bummer.
What do you think of the BMI (Body Mass Index) policies for models which are being put into place in some countries? Do you think America should follow suit?
Okay, this is tough. I do think that the fashion industry should make a point of hiring ONLY HEALTHY models. Some people ARE naturally very thin, and I don't want to make rules/regulations that leave out someone for that reason, but I wish that designers would really make a point of hiring models who are at a healthy weight.
So I suppose I'm for the idea of the BMI policies, but I still have hope that US Fashion Week will right itself without having to be forced to do it by an official policy...
The road to publication is short and easy for some, rocky for others. How long have you been writing fiction? Who helped you along the way?
I just started writing fiction with Violet on the Runway. Before that, seven years writing and editing for magazines - including teen titles - prepared me.
When I thought about proposing a book about a regular-girl-turned-runway-model, I got in touch with Carolyn Mackler, whom I knew through magazine writing. She was (and is) endlessly helpful and encouraging. She suggested I pitch Kate Seaver at Penguin's Berkley JAM, where Violet eventually ended up!
Violet on the Runway follows the trip-ups and slip-ups of an aspiring young supermodel. What inspired this story and this character?
Also, as soon as I started peeking behind the scenes of modeling and fashion as a magazine editor, I knew that I wanted to put a "real girl" in the middle of this crazy world, a girl who would see it from the outside and be like, "Holy crap!" It's an insane environment, so there's lots of fodder for adventure, humor and drama, especially from the point of view of a small town girl who's not yet jaded.
Honestly, many of Violet's likes and dislikes are my own, so I'd say there's probably a bit of me in her. I worked at a movie theater in high school, too. But I didn't feel QUITE as awkward as she does.
Violet by Design comes out in March, and Violet in Private is due in August. How many books will be in the series?
So far, just these three are planned. I made a story that arcs over all three in a full-circle way . . . but there's always room for more adventure!
In the series, Violet is shocked to learn how many of her fellow models have eating disorders and unhealthy habits. She gets caught up in partying and dieting for a while. In the third book, will she aspire to a healthy weight and be more comfortable in her own skin?
I think in each book, Violet struggles with the fashion world and its values. She grows a bit in each story as she gets to know herself more.
And yes, she does move toward the kind of confidence that we all hope to have, despite the modeling industry's pressures.
Violet is a minor when she enters the modeling industry, but turns eighteen halfway through the book. Do you have any words of wisdom for kids and young teens who are in a rush to grow up?
Just this: Sometimes people ask me why I like to write for teenagers, and I always tell them it's because I those years were the most emotionally raw and honest time of my life so far. Remember your first dance? The day you got your driver's license (Yes!)? Your best friend whom you've known since kindergarten and don't keep any secrets from? Your first broken heart?
Treasure it all.
Please list your ten favorite books.
This is hard, so I’m going to read my 10 favorite books that I’ve read in the last year. They are (in no particular order):
Mortified: Real Words. Real People. Real Pathetic. by David Nadelberg
I Love You, Beth Cooper, by Larry Doyle
Grosse Pointe Girl: Tales from a Suburban Adolescence, by Sarah Grace McCandless and Christine Norrie
Love is Mix Tape, by Rob Sheffield
Go Ask Ogre, by Jolene Siana
Bloom, by Elizabeth Scott
Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn
Sufficient Grace, by Darnell Arnoult
Uglies, by Scott Westerfeld
Guyaholic, by Carolyn Mackler
Thank to Melissa for responding so honestly. I hope that, someday, the general population re-adjusts their beauty scale and realizes what true beauty is, not to mention valuing good health above fads and ideals which are impossible to obtain.
Visit Melissa's website.
When this interview was first posted, Melissa gave a free copy of Violet By Design and a Juicy Tube from Lancome to the first commenter!
The Violet books were spotlighted in the August 2008 issue of readergirlz.
Read the Love Your Body ELLEgirl piece and share it with the teens in your life.