Kaia Gerber went live on Instagram Friday with Alisson Wood to discuss the author’s new mind coming-of-age memoir Being Lolita.
“When I first heard about @alissonwood’s book Being Lolita I was immediately drawn to Alisson and her story,” the supermodel wrote on the gram before going live with the author. “Now after reading it four times and filling the margins with endless annotations I am so excited to finally be doing it this week.”
As part of Gerber’s weekly book club – a “quarantine passion project” – the pair delved deep into the author’s deeply personal story about abuse, power, and the sexualization of underage girls, one which really resonated with the 18-year-old.
“Her book has helped me and so many other young women,” Gerber said.
The page turner follows seventeen-year-old Wood’s metamorphosis from student to lover and then victim. As lonely and vulnerable high school senior, Wood finds solace only in her writing―and in a young, charismatic English teacher, Mr. North. He praises her as a special and gifted writer, and she blossoms under his support and his vision for her future.
Mr. North gives Wood a copy of Vladimir Nabokov’s 1995 book Lolita to read, telling her it is a beautiful story about love. The book soon becomes the backdrop to a connection that blooms from a simple crush into a forbidden romance, with Mr. North convincing her that theirs is a love affair rivaled only by Nabokov’s masterpiece. But as time progresses and his hold on her tightens, Wood is forced to evaluate how much of that narrative is actually a disturbing fiction.
In the wake of what becomes a deeply abusive relationship, Wood is faced again and again with the story of her past, from rereading Lolita in college, to working with teenage girls, to becoming a professor of creative writing. It is only with that distance and perspective that she understands the ultimate power language has had on her―and how to harness that power to tell her own true story.
“It was really really hard,” Wood said of the process of writing Being Lolita. “I know we all want to believe in the idea of catharsis, as in by writing this book everything is better and that hasn’t been my experience. It was really emotional and technically it was difficult because this was my first book.”
“But I felt like it has been enough time where i have the perspective needed to write it, it’s been almost 20 years since this all happened, so I’ve had a lot of space and time to process and understand what happened to me in new ways and write in a way that wasn’t just ‘here’s what happened,’ but in a way that at least at times was interesting or beautiful. I finally felt like I had enough skill, understanding, time and frankly therapy. It was such a traumatic thing;you have to process it first
Gerber noted how the idea of a the story of an underage girl and older man in nothing new in literature but Wood sheds an entirely new light on it.
It’s a very interesting perspective,” noted Gerber to the author. “Nabokov’s Lolita is told from a man’s perspective, and a lot of the time stories like these are written by men so to have a very authentic and true story written by a woman I think it give light to a category that doesn’t always get told from the correct perspective, or the woman perspective.”
“This a story that has been told by men a lot, by male writers, but it’s also a story that’s a fantasy,” Wood agreed. “When you search ‘Lolita,’ you find porn real quick, you find Lolita as this ultra sexualized object and sexualizing young women and a women has this dangerous sex pot
Gerber quickly related to this idea having worked in the ultra sexualized world of modeling since her early teen years. She said she recognized that there is an idea around a Lolita type as sort of a sexual siren who is totally in control but in reality it’s the exact opposite
“I think that was my biggest takeaway, that it’s not her fault, it’s not her being irresistible, or you being irresistible and that common narrative of she’s a siren, she this and that. It’s interesting when you look back and think because I’m so powerful and you realize that’s not the reality.
“Whether it’s being objective or sexualized or what happened to me which is a very abusive, manipulative relationship, you realize this power is false,” echoed Wood. “This power is based on abuse or patriarchy or capitalism , it’s never true real power and the point is you are getting tricked into thinking it is which allows you to go on with it.”,
A contrast Gerber brought up between Wood’s experience and the fictional Lolita character was that even though there wasn’t a massive age gap between her and her teacher, it didn’t make the abuse any less heinous.
“In Lolita, it’s a much older man and Lolita who is like 14 but then you get to a story like yours when you were 17 and he was 26, people tend to overlook that which they shouldn’t because you see how dangerous it can be and that’s the narrative that needs to be told. Just because you aren’t 40 years apart, it’s still not okay to be groomed and conditioned from a very impressionable age.
“We all have this idea of like ‘well, he wasn’t married, he isn’t 40 years older it’s fine.’ No, he was my teacher, I’m a 17 year-old high school student,” agreed Wood. “This is why I wanted it to be a memoir. When we have these fantasy or fictional versions we can exaggerate, it makes it seem like it’s not real but in actuality this is how it happens a lot.”
Wood said her goal in writing this book was to not only to show how these types of things happen all too frequently, but to have people walk away having shaken off that fantasy or those misogynistic, dangerous ideas of power and sex.”
“That’s the best part of writing this book is knowing that I’m helping other young women not feel alone.”
Check out the full Instagram Live Video below.