Writing for Macworld can have its perks, a chance to preview and test new software and hardware, meet lovely PR people and enjoy the odd sandwich or three at press lunches...sorry launches. Amongst the packages heading our way recently was a rather wonderful double bill from model and author Isobella Jade - a copy of her novel Almost 5'4" and graphic novel Model Life.
Almost 5'4", recently published in the UK by The Friday Project/HarperCollins, is a very readable, very revealing memoir that feels at times like you are peeking at someone's secret diary. It's possibly the only book ever to have been written entirely on the free Mac computers at a New York Apple Store. Part memoir, part inspirational guide, Almost 5'4" would make a good film, and likely the rather persuasive Isobella Jade would insist on playing the lead. Model Life: The Journey of a Pint-Size Fashion Warrior, meanwhile, continues the story with Jazmin Ruotolo providing playful illustrations.
Macworld chatted with Isobella Jade as she ably promoted the UK release of Almost 5'4".
Q. How much of your memoir Almost 5'4" was written at the Apple Store on Prince Street in New York City?
I wrote over 300 pages of my manuscript on a 17" iMac. I was totally without an Internet connection. I didn’t have the ability to check my email so casually as I do now on my iPhone - and the Internet is a life line to anyone who is self made these days, so when I discovered the Apple store, I discovered a dream come true. A rent free office. I would visit the store as a routine daily. I was a regular, checking my email there for many months before I started writing my memoir there. At first Almost 5'4" was just something I wanted to write for myself. It was a way to keep my memories of my early modeling pursuits; I wasn’t even sure about publishing it. Later, with editing and publishing, some things got cleaned up, but it meant a lot to me to keep the story written raw, real and honest.
Q. How did you manage to save the results?
I saved each writing session to my Yahoo account. It was a free and easy way to save my writing. I was really broke at the time. I remember once the computer froze and I could not save my document and an employee casually told me to buy a CD and burn my document. He didn’t know how broke I was at the time. I could barely afford lunch.
Q. Did anyone from the Apple Store ever hassle you to move along?
No. Sometimes I would be writing, and in the groove, and an employee would ask to use the computer I was using to show a potential shopping customer something on the computer. Now some stores in New York City have a time limit, but when I was working there you could stand for hours, as long as your legs could hold you, and just hog the computer all day, without being bothered or told "times up!" I was one of those people who made the store look busy all the time because I was always there.
Q. If the Apple Store hadn't been there do you think we'd be talking now?
I don’t think so. I may have written the book at another time in my life. I think because the store was there, I was inclined to write. I think desperation leads people to soul search and writing was a stress relief. Yet, the store was more than a place to write. I was in a very desperate moment during the time I wrote the manuscript for Almost 5'4", it wasn’t just a computer I was lacking; I was also living out of a suitcase, without a stable living situation, a good toothbrush and living on dollar menu or the cheapest thing I could find. I was battling myself, my goals, my mistakes, the doubt, and I wanted to continue to model and not work a 9-5 and it meant giving up convention. I was hanging on by a thread in many ways. The Apple store, honestly, was inspiring to me each day. It was a place to go and collect my thoughts, make my next move, and it did help me survive. After I wrote the manuscript, I did not expect the store to also become a tool, a marketing tool. I was still very broke, and unsure about how the publishing world worked, but I became my own little publicist and I emailed some news bloggers and reporters who wrote about the publishing industry. They might not have heard of me, but they knew Apple, and now the store became a way to introduce myself, my book, my story of striving.
Q. After using Apple's products in the store, did you eventually buy a Mac?
I am not a vagabond anymore, but I am still not able to afford all the Apple products I want. I am hoping for my birthday, this September, I’ll get a MacBook or an iPad. Currently the only products I have are an iPhone and an iPod. I really love my iPhone!
Q. And how does it feel to have Almost 5'4" published in the UK?
It excites me to have international readers. It is an author's dream come true to have readers around the world. I often get contacted from girls in the UK on Facebook about my modeling tips.
Q. When starting off, did you ever think modelling was a non starter?
I think we grow from the things we observe. At first trying to be a model was about my ego, it wasn’t about what it really takes to be one. After many mistakes shooting in front of the wrong lens too many times, I realised modeling is about modeling "for something" -not just being cute. I started noticing ads, and learned the difference between an amateur photo and one that will help you market yourself as a real model. Through trial and error I focused on improving my photos, and whole perspective, to make modeling about marketing my assets. At first glance, the word model appeared to be only about the tall, but the more I focused on what I had that products, brands, and magazines could use, I saw that a model is not measured in being just one type of look.
Q. Do you think you now get modelling work thanks to your looks or because of success as a writer and self-promoter?
Both. It depends on the day and job. I do editorial photo-shoots for magazines based on a story about myself as a model, author and advocate, and then I also still work with my agents and show up to a casting, or booking as "the hired model for the day." However it is entwining and I am seeking out and getting opportunities to mesh together my little industry with brand building by working alongside products and brands that I use and enjoy. I am striving to work with a shoe company currently, and many brands are becoming more humanistic and the models in the campaigns are authors, musicians, artists, etc.
Q. Why do fashion designers, advertisers seek tall women when they are not typical of the average woman?
I think it is a huge mistake. I think the designers and advertisers don’t feel comfortable trusting that women can handle seeing: real. I think there is an obsession over thinking that women want the fantasy. I think women would still buy the product if someone closer to their height was modeling the clothing. Maybe they’d buy more. Fashion is an illusion, that isn’t meant to make women feel good about themselves necessarily. Seeing a tall women, is like seeing something foreign or exotic and it is the opposite of what most women in the world are, and really if the designers started making sample sizes the size of what real women are, I don’t think it would hurt the brand. But brands, designers, advertisers fear the chance that it will. They figure that desire is found in seeing something flawless, instead of embracing the fact that we all have flaws, and no one is honestly perfect without the airbrush.
I think there is an obsession over status. And creating an illusion that with a certain accessory or shoe a women can live a better life. Now, I will admit that I love heels, and I do feel internally more confident while wearing them, but I could still be who I want to be in flats. There is too much product in general. Too much material that can save you, make you happy. The other day I saw a leg cream to make your legs look less tired. LOL. There is a product for everything but the image projected is not about lifting a women’s self esteem, it is about saying you’ve got a wrinkle and your life will be over if you don’t fix it now!
I have a love/hate relationship with fashion. I can appreciate the creativity involved, the time invested, and the passion put into each seam, but fashion doesn’t seem to help the consumer’s self esteem. It is temporary fulfillment. I don’t typically wear a ton of logos. I like vintage designer items, but I think creating a status symbol by carrying a handbag from a designer or brand name (which you probably know nothing of the history about), is careless. I am very into the meaning behind things, the soul of it, and it is one thing to carry Chanel because you love the design, the history of Coco, and the strain her life really endured, and the beauty in what her collection meant for women, but it is another to just flaunt fashion for the sake of status. I encourage people to create their own logo, stand for something, admire something, appreciate the value, relying on fashion just to make you feel important, is ignoring the real essence of who you are. I love high heels, don’t get me wrong, but I wouldn’t call myself a total fashionista.
Q. When did you think Model Life: The Journey of a Pint Size Fashion Warrior night make a better graphic novel rather book?
While writing Almost 5’4” I started imagining how some of the situations, encounters, and the highs and lows would look as a visual. Also I noticed that graphic novels started becoming more and more talked about, not just for superheros but for humanistic stories. Also I noticed that there were not many graphic novels for girls, with a female heroine. I wanted to entwine the Internet-age into a female driven graphic novel. I found my illustrator Jazmin Ruotolo from researching online for an illustrator, she was a perfect fit. For the style, she has a fashion illustration background and she really got the character that I was striving to create. After falling in love with the format of storytelling I am now aiming to turn Model Life into a series, soon Model Life will be available on the iPhone through a mobile publisher!
Q. How much of the graphic novel is true and how much is creative writing?
I based Model Life on my real modeling experiences and versions of all the characters are true to life. I knew of a painter, a weird magazine photo-editor, and the others. I haven’t modeled shoes in Times Square…yet.
Q. Finally, what advice would you give to any young women looking to model?
There many misconceptions about working as a model and reality TV doesn’t make it clear and honest. #1 The Internet is full of scams, and mistakes, and the main tools a girl needs to start modeling are still the same old tools. Even in the Internet-age, a modeling comp card will get you further as an aspiring model than any Internet profile. Agencies might have websites now, but a model still needs a comp card, a portfolio, and professional photos inside. Most girls who ask me about modeling are not tall. They are shorter than 5’6” and they are curious about how to start. The most important photo is a smiling headshot, you being you. Then you need some photos showing you "modeling something", could be a handbag, a shoe, holding a coffee or a cell phone, but the shots need to show your personality.
You can also include beauty shots and if you have nice hands, legs or feet you might want to consider "parts modeling," for skincare and shoe ads. It is best to study ads, lifestyle product ads before you get in front of the camera, and to have a plan and goal while you shoot.
(Photo credit: All images by Vera Melo)
And with that in mind, take yourself seriously and only work with professional photographers. Modeling for a shorter girl is about your own will and effort; print modeling agencies do not house you, craft your portfolio, create your comp card, or teach you how to model naturally. This is stuff an aspiring model has to be hands-on with herself. Daily you can find my tips on the ins and outs of making your self a model on my blog, podcast radio show and videos, because "discovering yourself and being honest with yourself" is really what it is about these days. If you want to do something you have to be willing to roll up your sleeves, learn as much as you can about it, invest the time, and dedication, and understand that there is no certain rule or way to find your success. The more you notice what you do have that can be marketable, the better. That goes for models, writers, and anyone with a dream.
Here are some links on my modelling tips for shorter models:
(Almost 5'4": Confessions of an Unconventional Model is out now and published by The Friday Project/HarperCollins in the UK. Model Life: The Journey of a Pint-Size Fashion Warrior is published by Soft Skull Press with illustrations by Jazmin Ruotolo. Read more about Isobella Jade at www.isobelladreams.com)