The Dark Side of Modeling: 10 Books From Behind The Runway

Size Zero by Abigail Mangin.

Condom dresses and space helmets have debuted on fashion runways. A dead body becomes the trend when a coat made of human skin saunters down fashion’s biggest stage. The body is identified as Annabelle Leigh, the teenager who famously disappeared over a decade ago from her boyfriend’s New York City mansion. This new evidence casts suspicion back on the former boyfriend, Cecil LeClaire. Now a monk, he is forced to return to his dark and absurd childhood home to clear his name. He teams up with Ava Germaine, a renegade ex-model. And together, they investigate the depraved and lawless modeling industry behind Cecil’s family fortune.

Modeling: glamorous, exciting, elite, mysterious. Full of impractical but impressive clothes, wild hair and makeup, and the famous “smize.”
Also modeling: scandalous, body-image obsessed, exploitative, and sometimes deadly.

Take a journey with us into the complex and often dangerous world of modeling with these memoirs and nonfiction books.

No Lifeguard on Duty: The Accidental Life of the World’s First Supermodel by Janice Dickinson

Janice Dickinson is considered by some to be the first supermodel, and her memoir is a rollercoaster of highs and lows. She went on to be a judge on American’s Next Top Model due to her life story, and to start an agency of her own.

Thing of Beauty: The Tragedy of Supermodel Gia by Stephen Fried

Another contender for the first “supermodel,” Gia’s image is still recognizable today, more than 30 years after her death. She rocketed to stardom in less than a year, and almost as quickly succumbed to an addiction to cocaine and then heroin. In 1986, she was one of the first women in America to die of AIDS. Her story is tragic and, to some degree, the blueprint for our idea of a model desperate for love, and who could not exorcise her demons.

The Chiffon Trenches: A Memoir by André Leon Talley

While not directly about modeling itself, André Leon Talley’s memoir takes us one extra step away from the runway to the world of designer fashion. Talley candidly discusses his life as a Black man in high fashion (spoiler: it’s challenging), on his relationship with Anna Wintour, and the last half-century in the fashion industry.

Shut Up and Smile: Supermodels, the Dark Side by Ian Halperin

The late 1990s were arguably the peak of supermodel hysteria. Halperin is a Canadian investigative journalist who has spent his career steeped in the world of celebrities. In Shut Up And Smile, he dives into the world of the late 1990s modeling world by tracing the rise of several contemporary supermodels.

Model: The Ugly Business of Beautiful Women by Michael Gross

Gross’s investigative journalism delves into the world of international supermodeling, stretching from Twiggy in the 1960s to the trinity of Christy, Naomi, and Linda of the 2000s. Gross points out the dangerous combination of young, attractive women and avaricious older men, and how that drives an industry.

Perfect Is Boring: 10 Things My Crazy, Fierce Mama Taught Me About Beauty, Booty, and Being a Boss by Tyra and her Mama

Tyra Banks and her mother, Carolyn, came together to write the story of Tyra’s rise to stardom and the things they have learned along the way. Billed as “hilarious” and smart, this memoir also touches on the darker aspects of modeling and the price of being uber-famous.

Washed Away: From Darkness to Light by Nikki Dubose

Dubose was at the top of her career as a model when she lost her mother to addiction in 2012. Her mother’s death required her to reevaluate her own life, and while on her road to recovery she wrote this memoir about her lifelong struggles with body dysmorphia, addiction, and depression.

B Model: An Embellished Memoir by Miranda Darling

In the 1980s, supermodels were all the rage. Darling worked as a B model: a second-tier model working where she could find it, never quite making ends meet. This is the story of those in fashion who are hustling for a dream that is never realized.

Love, Loss, and What We Ate by Padma Lakshmi

Lakshmi’s memoir chronicles her life from a small family kitchen in New York City to stardom both as a model and as a judge for Top Chef, amongst other food-centric television shows. Sprinkled throughout with recipes, Love, Loss, and What We Ate is a story about the fierce determination and luck that it takes to be a star.

Supreme Models: Iconic Black Women Who Revolutionized Fashion by Marcellas Reynolds

In 2011, a book about British Vogue models was published that included only two Black women: Iman and Naomi Campbell. Reynolds quickly realized the opportunity to lift up Black models, and thus was Supreme Models born, written by a former model himself and detailing the lives and work of the Black models who walk our runways and grace our magazine covers.