The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Being a Model, Roshumba Williams & Anne Marie O’Connor

Alpha, 1999, 391 pages, C$25.95 tpb, ISBN 0-02-863190-0

I think that I know what you’re thinking: “Why has he read a book about becoming a model?”

Hey, my mind works in mysterious ways, and it doesn’t take much more than a three-dollar book promising to reveal all secrets of the modeling field to interest me. I know next to nothing about that particular profession, but I can’t resist the attraction of random arcane knowledge. So I grabbed the book. And read it. And will now review it. You can send your complaints to our service department.

At least I’ll admit that that I’m not the target audience for this material. This Guide is very explicitly written for teenage girls. It’s hard to ignore questions like “Are you old enough to A>Cross the street, B>Baby-sit, C>Drive, or D> Get your ears pierced?” [Front Inset] as a potential clue to the desired market for this book. Heck, before reading the book, I didn’t even have any idea who was Roshumba Williams!

It turns out that she’s a relatively well-known black supermodel with an extensive portfolio of work. If we’re to believe the cover blurb, her years of experience in the field have given her the depth of knowledge required to explain the industry to interested young girls. Indeed, that’s what this Guide does: It introduces the business in general terms, then describe how a model can make it to the top, stay there and diversify her interests (financial, artistic and otherwise) in preparation for her modeling post-career.

This is a book meant, like many of the other Guides I’ve read, to be bought by a beginner, re-read by a rising star and re-written by a seasoned pro. In passing, Williams gives a surprisingly complete view of the fashion industry, from the slang to the potential pitfalls, war anecdotes and unexpected rewards.

It’s not as if she pulls any punches. She’s brutally honest in what it takes to be a model (work, work, work and, oh, don’t apply if you’re less than 5’8”), how it’s not easy money and which kind of predators cluster around models. There’s a chapter on substance abuse, excessive shopping, eating disorders and parasitic boyfriends. Fittingly enough for the target audience, there’s even a chapter that provides advice for parents!

For chumps like me with no previous knowledge of the fashion biz, Williams’ discussion of the seven modeling types, the details of a model shoot, the classification of “fashion markets” (Ottawa definitely isn’t!) and the mechanics of runaway modeling are fascinating beyond belief. I would have appreciated many more pictures, but I guess there’s probably a whole bunch of licensing issues involved in illustrating her subject matter. Still, as a guy I can only bitch about the fact that she spends pages discussing supermodels without once showing us what they look like.

With these kind of “celebrity” books, it’s always a risky thing to try to guess how much of the book she really wrote, and which part was put together by “the second writer”, in this case Anne Marie O’Connor. Not matter here, though; Whether Williams wrote most of it on her photo-shoot high chair or O’Connor re-wrote substantial portions of it in her overstuffed office, the whole Guide is infused with Williams’ personality and certainly feels as if she wrote most of it. There are a few exceptions (some material on agencies feels as if it’s adapted from a magazine article), but as someone with closer affective ties to writers than to supermodels, I’d like to congratulate Anne Marie O’Connor on, presumably, a job well done.

Keep in mind, though, that even if I may feel informed and satisfied by the book, I lack the knowledge required to put a stamp of approval on the content of the book; I’ll leave those reviews to pros of the field. But I certainly feel as if I learned a lot from the Guide, and intend to refer to it once in a while, assuming that I’ll eventually need urgent fashion reference information.

I’m just having a hard time picturing my visitors’ reaction to seeing that book on my reference shelves, though…

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