The Tokyo Cover Girls by Jackie Amsden * Genre: contemporary YA
New York has Jacobs, Paris has Chanel, Milan has Versace and Tokyo has . . . Hello Kitty toilet plungers? With its cute-obsessed catalogue and magazine market, anyone who is anyone knows that modeling in Japan means being at the bottom of the fashion industry. Blake, Jess, and Hailey are doing their best to survive yet another casting where pigtails and toddler-impressions are a must when they stumble upon the opportunity of a lifetime. The prestigious Satsujin company has selected them to compete for a campaign that will transform the winner from commercial nobody to haute couture superstar faster than you can say Vogue Italia.
Biggest Influences on Your Writing:
I read somewhere that Stephen King always starts his books with one question: “What would happen if…a girl with special powers was bullied at school…a boy with special powers was trapped in a haunted hotel…a dog was infected with rabies.
I started The Tokyo Cover Girls with a “What would happen if…” as well: what would happen if three girls went through the same thing I did–but the stakes were even higher.
When I was a child, I my favorite book was Cinderella. I was fascinated by the scene where she arrives at the ball for the first time. A girl that can transfix an entire room–and not just a regular sized room, a FREAKING CASTLE BALLROOM–with her gorgeous face, killer bod and stellar fashion choices. Now that was a power I wanted.
Though I eventually realized that the odds of turning myself into an animated princess were pretty low, I wasn’t concerned because by that time I had discovered a new idol. She was just as shiny and sparkly and two dimensional as the blue-gowned knockout I had grown up adoring but even better because she had time for boyfriends. She was The Fashion Model and she had it all.
I got my chance to become her at the age of 16 when a Japanese modelling agency offered me a two-month contract to model in Tokyo. At least so I thought.
It wasn’t as though I expected a limo with magic pumpkins for wheels to pick me up from the airport, but I did come into the industry with a lot of other childish ideas–because, you know, I was a child. And unfortunately, these led me to a very dark place.
My first agency was called Pueblo and was staffed by a woman named Chaco, my booker, and a guy named Ricky, our manager. Chaco organized the castings and Ricky took us to them, always in the agency van. One evening after the last casting Ricky told us we wouldn’t be driven home like usual but would all have to take the subway back. The van had to go to the shop for some repairs, he said.
The other girls rolled their eyes and said this was just Chaco’s way of reprimanding them for refusing to carry their portfolios earlier. I was sure they were wrong. After all, the agency was there to take care of us. Taking the subway home was a small thing but still, why would they make life harder for us for no reason? Especially since my apartment was right next to the spot they parked the van every night.
About a half an hour later I walked past the office and saw the van, parked in its spot like usual. I remember just staring there for about ten seconds, totally flabbergasted by the fact that was suddenly so clear: the agency had lied to me.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=anPeTRGOz5U (video about my life in Tokyo)
It was not the last time I would be bullied by the people that I thought were there to take care of me, and it wasn’t the last time that I would let them do it. Throughout the next two years of my modelling career, I felt constantly judged, monitored, manipulated, and controlled. Here I was, travelling the world, and making thousands of dollars per week at a time when my friends counted themselves lucky if they got a free Big Mac during their shifts and I was miserable.
I kept plodding along until one of my agents pushed me too far. I was in my Osaka apartment one night, about to make dinner when she called, her voice frantic and angry. She claimed that a client I was shooting a lingerie catalogue for the next morning had seen me at a casting that day and was freaking out because he thought I’d gained weight. She ordered me not to eat anything for the next 24 hours. I was confused. How would he have seen me–I hadn’t gone to any castings for his company that day. And I hadn’t done any bikini castings that day so he wouldn’t have been able to see my body even if he had just been hanging out at one of the studios I’d been to. Was she lying? But why? I had been struggling with my weight lately–was this just another ploy to punish me? But mostly I felt humiliated–I quit the industry a few months later.
Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if she hadn’t made that call? What if I had kept going and things had gotten even worse? What if my agency had become even more manipulative? What if clients had become even more demanding? What if the industry hadn’t been content with owning for two months, but had wanted to own me forever?
These questions swirled around in my head for a while until I read Pretty Little Liars, and was inspired to approach them through that novel’s unique blending of the mystery, thriller, and contemporary genres. America’s Next Top Model was another big influence on me and its idea of the “challenges.” I wondered what would happen if the challenges weren’t just about showing modelling skills, but about forcing girls to overcome their deepest and darkest fears?
I didn’t know the answer to any of these questions–but I wanted to. So I wrote the book to find out.
Jackie Amsden worked as a fashion model in China, Japan, and Taiwan before retiring at the age of eighteen after one too many agent threats, nude photo shoot requests, and self-loathing-induced Pocky binges. If you’d like to learn more about her decent into the darker side of Asia’s candy-coated modeling industry sign up for free installments of her upcoming memoir, Toy Girl, at www.jackieamsden.com.