An industry centered around beauty can often be quite ugly.
This was the lesson Cherry Hill native Nicole Gabor learned during the year she spent pursuing a modeling career. While Gabor has since become an accomplished writer of more than 20 children’s picture books, in many ways, that year taught her the most. So, she drew inspiration from it to write her debut young adult novel, “Catwalk,” released this month.
At 5 foot 9, Gabor was tall and thin growing up, and people often asked her if she’d considered becoming a model. As a senior at Cherry Hill High School West, Gabor nabbed a contract with a modelling agency in Philadelphia, and when she went on to study English and journalism at Rutgers-Camden, she also did modeling.
Gabor later decided that before embarking on another post-grad career path, she wanted to give modeling another try. At the time, she felt like she was at a crossroads, deciding if she wanted to pursue a less traditional career path with a high failure rate as a model or if she should go the safer route as a teacher or journalist with an English degree. She decided to give modeling a chance and signed with an agency in New York.
“Part of me just wanted to give it a shot and see what else is out there,” Gabor recalled.
She said at times, the experiences were amazing. Gabor met designers, walked the runway, appeared in commercials and catalogues and interacted with interesting people. But at the same time, she found herself dealing with situations that left her morally conflicted.
Gabor noted there weren’t many protections for minors working in the field, so she saw teens being sexually harassed, propositioned and threatened. Gabor was commonly exposed to drugs and alcohol, and both male and female models were often harshly criticized for their weight, leaving many of them with body issues. She also experienced first-hand how a model was crushed if his or her sense of self-worth was tied to someone else’s idea of beauty,
“I feel like I was fortunate, because I was able to keep my head above water,” Gabor explained.
After about a year, there came the moment when Gabor decided she’d had enough after her agency pressured her to move forward with a situation that went against her morals. That moment is detailed in “Catwalk.” The situation ended with Gabor grabbing her agency photos and walking out of the modeling agency’s offices forever.
From there, she took a position as a production assistant at CBS in New York, and later did some freelance writing. But Gabor realized that she enjoyed writing more than broadcast journalism, so she moved on to print news. Today, she’s a freelance writer at “Highlights for Children” magazine and senior editor at KidsHealth.org. She lives in Delaware with her husband and three children.
“Catwalk” was written about a decade ago in Gabor’s free time, before her children came into the picture. She had notes from the time she was modeling, so she drew on that to create the fictional story of Catherine “Cat” Watson, who is discovered and moves to New York City to pursue a career in modeling.
Gabor noted that while the story is about modeling, it is also a coming-of-age tale and an exploration of first love, told through the eyes of a small-town girl. She sent the finished work to about 100 agents, and while she received positive feedback and was contacted by an agency in New York, there were one or two other books about modeling that had recently been published, so the agency was reluctant to put out another.
Instead, Gabor posted “Catwalk” on Wattpad, an interactive website and app for writers to publish their stories so readers can comment and respond to them before publication. Already popular there, the book really began to generate interest among readers during COVID. So, Gabor decided to publish on her own.
The book launched on July 6 and took the No.1 new release spot on Amazon for teen/young adult books. Nearly 10 years after writing “Catwalk,” Gabor was shocked to learn her book was such a quick success.
“I couldn’t believe it,” she said.
“Catwalk” is available for purchase on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Target and other online booksellers.