Tyra Banks Talks Modelland, Deadlines, and Aging in the Fashion Industry

​Tyra Banks may have just penned America's Next Top Novel, for teens, that is. Alas, the joke is terrible, but it needed to be made. The former supermodel published her first book, describing it as a fantasy and adventure tale for young women entitled Modelland.

Her goal is to make young girls feel better about themselves and improve their self-image. Though she felt she was able to do that through the now off-air The Tyra Banks Show, she continues to connect with budding women through her book. She spoke with Cultist about her passion for storytelling, relating to her book's main character, and aging in the fashion industry.

Cultist: What was it like to write your first novel? Was it hard to get into the groove or were you totally inspired?
Tyra Banks: I was extremely, super inspired by it. Because it's fantasy and adventure, there's no rules, so it was just this amazing free-for-all for the creative side of my brain. So, that was amazing and inspiring. It was a stressful situation, having to deal with deadlines and my editor calling, saying, "pencil's down!" but knowing that I needed more time. I can say it now and chuckle, but it was a seriously stressful situation for me.

I understand! I'm a writer, too. Was this the first time you've ever written anything or did you write growing up?
I wanted to write since I was nine years old, but it started with wanting to be copy writer, in advertising, and my mom explained to me what that was. It wasn't like I was nine years old going around and being like, "I want to write copy." That grew into me wanting to do film and television writing and producing. I was accepted into all of the universities I applied to to do that, but I was sidetracked by my modeling. It was so nice to come back to what my true passion has always been. Whereas modeling happened to me. This was my passion, something that came from within me. It's nice to finally use my imagination and let it go.

Can you tell us a little about Tookie de la Creme, the main character? Is she you or mostly an imaginary creation?
I wouldn't say Tookie de la Creme is 100% me, she's inspired by me. Tookie has the most awful, disgusting parents in the whole entire world. What I did was thought of my parents and then wrote the exact opposite of what they represent to me. But at the same time, Tookie is highly insecure, very awkward, gawky, she calls herself a "forgetta-girl" meaning she just feels forgot about, invisible, and her sister is doted over, and really traditionally beautiful. Tookie has one green eye and one brown eye and she has a huge, huge forehead. Now I don't have a brown eye, I have two green eyes, but I have a huge forehead, so there are some similarities and there are some differences.

Can you tell us more about the plot?
There's a school called Modelland. Every year, Modelland chooses girls to go to the school, perfect looking girls, what Tookie thinks is perfect looking, but for some reason she gets chosen and she doesn't understand why and on her way to the school, three other girls get chosen, a plus sized girl, which I prefer to say a 'fiercely real girl,' a girl that's 4'7", and a girl that has Albinism. They go to Modelland and they all desperately want to be there, because it is a fun and exciting place, but at the same time, there are rumors that Modelland brings civilian girls to the school to sacrifice them and bathe in their blood to maintain their breathtaking beauty. The girls go from being on runways to running for their lives and feeling terrified and feeling that they need to get the hell out of Modelland.

Did you feel that way growing up in the modeling industry? Did you feel like you needed to escape it?
You might be the first person to ask me that. I never thought of the plot line of Modelland connected to my experience, but you bringing it up, I know that I was always intimidated by the fashion industry, and I know it was a very tantalizing place, but at the same time, it was scary. There are very intimidating people, people that I was terrified of. So maybe that plot does connect to how I used to feel when I was very young modeling in Europe.

Do you ever do any runway or modeling still?
No. I'm retired since 2005. I don't do that anymore.

Have you or would you ever do a show or a project with retired models?
I haven't actually. The great thing about America's Next Top Model is that it's in 170 countries, the American version, and then we have two dozen format rights which allows me to... for instance, we have Germany's America's Next Top Model and Heidi Klum hosts the German version. We have Canada's America's Next Top Model and Mr. Jay with the blond hair hosts that format of America's Next Top Model and then we have Britain and Ireland's America's Next Top Model and Elle McPherson hosts it. What I love is that the creation of Top Model has allowed other models to now be enterprising and get out of just doing pictures to hosting a television show, some even produce their versions in their countries. To me that's a great network.

How do you feel about aging in the modeling industry? Obviously, you're not old and you don't look old, but we're all getting older.
Definitely, the modeling industry is obsessed with youth, the look of youth and the sound, meaning the age. Like, "Oh, she's sixteen!" A lot of models have lied about their ages and they say they're younger than they are and I've always told the truth. I'm very proud of my age. I have to say that lately, the industry has gone back to the supermodels of past, and they're using Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, Claudia Schiffer and Naomi Cambell, they're using them in huge ad campaigns. The trend, at least now, is that they appreciate the models from the past.

In Modelland, there are seven girls that graduate from Modelland out of the whole class, each of them has one out of seven superpowers. One is called Thirty Never, meaning that model never turns 30. Say she graduates at 18 or 19 years old, she starts modeling. Once she hits 29, her age goes back to whenever she graduated from Modelland. And that talks about the fashion industry's obsession with youth.

It's not like you stop being beautiful because you turned thirty something.
My mom has told me that she feels that women in their thirties, they really start to come into their beauty, because their cheekbones, certain things start to develop, there's a certain wisdom in the eye that she finds more attractive and I agree with her.

I've been very fortunate in my career that when I retired from modeling, the last contract I had was Victoria's Secret. I'm not even contracted with them anymore, have no connection at all. I have to take my hat off to them, because they're that one company that doesn't discard models once they get older. I believe Stephanie Seymour walked away from her contract, like I think she could have continued if she wanted to. I'm not sure if that's a fact, that was the word that she didn't want to re-up. Same with me, I decided to retire from modeling when I was 31 years old, and the company still would have been open to me continuing and that's very rare in the fashion industry.

They also have curvier ladies. One last question, what's your favorite thing about Miami?
Oh, yeah, Joe's Stone Crabs, key lime pie, and cafe con leche!

This Monday, Banks will engage in a group discussion about Modelland at Books & Books in Bal Harbour (9700 Collins Ave., Bal Harbour). Tickets include a signed copy of the book ($17.99). Visit booksandbooks.com.

Follow Cultist on Facebook and Twitter @CultistMiami.

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