Hooking Up With Tila Tequila: Chapter 4: Making It, Part 1


[Image: And upper body shot of Tila Tequila, smiling. She is clad in a red animal-print bikini.

The full-page photo opposite the beginning of this chapter is one of Tila in a yellow bikini, sitting on an armchair with a macbook on her lap. Her legs are spread in a way that seems hardly comfortable for working on a laptop, her feet are clad in black high heels. The photo attempts to display how she “made it”; in her bikini, through an internet connection.

The text begins with a reference to the previous chapter of photos. Tila asks, “So, did you like that? Did you get your rocks off (or your box off, in the case of the lovely ladies)?” It seems interesting that she’s mentioning her female fans that are attracted to women here, as she made it pretty clear in the previous chapter that she intended for her photos to be male masturbation material. The text continues, “Good. I like to keep my fans happy. But that’s not the only reason I put so many photos in my book. See, all of these photos, that is how I got started.”

Tila continues to talk about how people have misconceptions regarding her start in the entertainment industry. She then delves into her troubling past by stating, “I’ve been on my own since I was eleven years old. I’ve had six near-death experiences. Hell, I’d had my first OD by the time I was sixteen.” But for all of these claims, she provides no evidence or explanation. An 11-year-old girl cannot, by law, live on her own. So in what way was she on her own and where were her parents at this point in her life?

Her insistence on bringing up her childhood as a way of legitimizing her claims for toughness, but never actually discussing it continues as she leaves this statement to stand on its own and talks about how she had to “hustle” for her shot at fame. She laments that in the late 90s, no one knew what to make of her or what to do with her and she just declared to all within earshot that she was there to stay.

Going back to her origin story, Tila writes that she was highly unhappy in her hometown of Houston, TX and she knew that she had to leave that place to become the person that she wanted to be. But it was more than that. She states, “I needed so much more from my life. I just knew, somehow, that I had a profound purpose for being here.” What this profound purpose was, she never says.

Other celebrities have discussed their lives as being incredibly meaningful and important when the most memorable thing they ever accomplished was being photographed falling out of a cab at 4am with no underwear on. What is her definition of “profound purpose” and how has she accomplished this goal through her fleeting career and notoriety for the ridiculous? Tila never says, but for some reason that makes more sense. The only thing more ludicrous than Tila actually making this statement would probably be her attempting to explain it.

Realizing that she needed to get out of Houston, Tila asks herself what path she is going to take and how she will get there. And then, “I let my heart lead the way, trusting it fully, without hesitation.” This not only doesn’t answer the questions that she just posed, it opens up an entirely new and very questionable fact about Tila existence. As someone with bipolar disorder, I can assure you that following your heart is often a terrible idea.

When you have a mental illness most of the time the parts of your brain telling you to do things has nothing to do with your intelligence, your common sense, or your rationality. When you feel something very strongly in your “heart” it’s occasionally nothing more than your mind deceiving you into making poor choices based on feelings generated by an altered mental state. As daydreamy fun as it sounds to just follow your heart to the right path, having a major mental illness is nothing to take lightly when you are making decisions.

Tila then relates how she got she got her first modeling gig while still in Houston. She was a self-professed tomboy and dubbed herself “Baddest Bitch on the Block”. After being torn about what to do, Tila says that she asked her friends and they told her not to go into modeling. This is the first time that Tila ever mentions having friends. Throughout her book she comes across as not only unlikable but incredibly hard to be friends with. Between her belief that everyone is jealous of her and her idea that she needs toxic feedback to feel good about herself, it doesn’t seem as if it would be at all easy to befriend her.

But moving on, Tila questions herself, which is more important; keeping her tough girl image or getting out of Houston. Ultimately, Ms. Tequila decides to try modeling. She writes, “Soooo that is exactly what I did! I learned how to grow some balls an be tough in a different way… by following my heart.” Why she has to equate toughness to male sexual organs here is never explained.

Anyway, Tila then goes into a section regarding her first modeling experience and how foreign it felt to her. She then relates how the friend that gave her her first modeling job, a bikini calendar, also did a car show where the models would be signing photos. Tila then gets herself into a bikini and discovers the strange world of being a sexual object. She pens, “It was my first experience of people wanting their picture taken with me. I was walking around in a bikini thinking, “What the fuck is going on?” ”

Tila’s plan works and she gets discovered by modeling agents out of California. She writes, “I didn’t care about being a model, but I finally started to admit something I’d known since I was eleven. I wanted to be an entertainer and be known and admired by millions of people.” This dream is something that is problematic in and of itself. Tila doesn’t aspire to master a talent or be known for being competent or gifted at one thing; she just wants to be known.

Her method of entertainment, at this point in her career, was catering to masturbation fantasies and providing enough outrageous behavior to keep people interested in watching her, even if it was solely to dislike her. In the end, her dream seems to be one of complete narcissism. She wants to be known and admired while not actually giving anyone a reason for knowing or admiring her. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with having a deep psychological need to gain fame for the very sake of having it. However, when she talks about “purpose” it makes it seem like she’s gathering this fame for some reason other than her own ego. And she never explains what that reason would be.

Tila then relates a trip to LA for a car show and how she was young, naive and unprofessional. She writes, “I didn’t know any better. I was not professional. At all. But it actually worked to my advantage. Everyone was like, “Did you hear that fucking bitch?” Because they couldn’t believe it and they wanted to hear more.” This is more evidence of Tila’s belief that generating controversy is her talent and if she can make people talk about her, then that should be respected as much as someone that spends years cultivating a gift or ability.

She continues, “-there were Tila lovers. And Tila haters, too. But everyone, and I mean everyone, knew who I was. That’s how I liked it then. And that’s how I like it now. Love me or hate me, you can’t ignore me. And I don’t care what you say.” However, she doesn’t understand that cultivating this dichotomy is one of her biggest distresses. She dedicated an entire chapter in her book to people that don’t like her. And while her only goal is to be known and her way of achieving that is through unconventional, sometimes exploitive behavior, there are going to be plenty of people who actively dislike her and only know her as the obnoxious fame seeker that aggravated them once when she was on TV.

Although she talks about love a lot in this book and discusses how her mission is to spread love and be in love and be utterly surrounded by love, it never seems to occur to her that this “hate” that’s being waged upon her is a direct reaction to her inability to give anyone a positive reason for why she should be famous. She is a girl in a bikini that was the subject of a trashy reality dating show. Why should anyone love her or applaud her for doing something that has no lasting relevance for anyone, even herself?

But moving on, Tila shares her secret to confidence (don’t compare yourself to others or worry about what anyone else thinks, chapter on haters excluded, apparently) and then she talks about being in Playboy and being featured as the first Asian Cyber Girl of the Month. Which is notable for both the accomplishment and for the limitedness of it. Sure, she made a statement about including Asian women in media that has very clearly defined racially-based ideas of beauty, but at the same time, equality is not born on the display of bare breasts. Fitting well enough into the mold of western beauty standards is just as limiting as ever.

In the next section, Tila relates how she built up her fan base. She states that people would see her out partying and decide to get to know her. She claims their thoughts fall somewhere along the lines of, “There’s something special about her. This girl is going somewhere. She’s got a personality. I’d like to hang out with her.” She built up her own website and mailing list. As her fan base grew she told herself, “They liked me for just being me!” Bragging, she relates how she would open up to these people and, “My life was like a live reality show on the Internet, twenty-four hours a day, way before MTV got a hold of it.”

Tila then delves into what made her really famous in the first place; the internet. She describes the internet as “a paradise for misfits like me”. Then she adds, “(or maybe I should say misfits like us, because I know you’ve got that badass streak in you, too)”. Which seems interesting that Tila works so hard to separate herself from normality or mainstream society, while using all of the benefits of being what that society considers conventionally attractive. When she wants to be different and out there, she swears and does something outrageous. When she wants to be paid for being pretty, she puts on a bikini and does her best to live up to whatever fantasy men are calling for that day.

After this, Tila relates the story of how she got her nickname:

I was already known as Tila Tequila by then. I’d gotten that nickname when I was thirteen, when some friends and I snuck out and started taking shots of tequila. I got sooooo sick! My face swelled up, my eyeballs turned red, I broke out in a rash, and I totally threw up all of the place. That’s when I realized I’m allergic to alcohol. All my friends started calling me Tila Tequila. And it just stuck.

But nickname stories aside, Tila talks about how she started out on AsianAvenue.com, a website that she describes as “It was like MySpace, but for Asians.” She then laments that, “I was so big and caused such a commotion that they kicked my ass off.” This seems to be a common problem for Tila. Internet research has not uncovered exactly what Tila did in order to get kicked off, but it seems to be posting inappropriate photos and attacking other users who dared to criticize her in any way.

After she was ejected from Asian Avenue, she tried Friendster and was kicked off of that, multiple times. But then Tom Anderson, founder of MySpace, decided to bring her aboard his site. He personally invited Tila to join and she described the site in the beginning as, “MySpace was a lame party with two people, some deflated helium balloons, and a bowl of stale tortilla chips.” But never worry, because Tila is there! She decided to turn things around for humble MySpace.

She writes that she had already built her own website. And she clarified, “And I don’t just mean I seduced some egghead and got him to do my bidding. I mean I learned HTML and built it with my tiny little hands and my tiny little fan base, and it grew from there.” Of course she did. Because when it’s convenient, Tila will take objection to being treated like a vapid beauty object. But when she wants to make money off of her breast implants, she will be offended if anyone suggests that she has a brain.

Tila brags that after she posted to her 50 thousand person email list that she was going to MySpace, people started to follow. She concludes, “That’s how I immediately became the first person to rock MySpace.” According to Tila, MySpace would have been nothing without her, but that hardly seems to be the case. Yes, she helped to bring people to the social media site, but if she had not been there, there’s no doubt MySpace would have had its 15 minutes of fame anyway.

Skipping ahead to when she moved to LA, Tila again makes it very clear that this book has no coherent timeline or overarching narrative. It’s a collection of mishmash stories that even a ghost writer couldn’t put into order. Tila then talks about what made her stand out from all of the other girls naked girls on the internet, “-they’d come up to get their picture taken with me and -you know what?- I’d actually talk back and shit!” Tila prides herself on her interaction with her fans. She doesn’t just have breasts, she has a voice. A voice that often reinforces that she has nothing but breasts, but a voice nonetheless. She remarks, “I thanked them [her fans] by keeping it real.”

If I had a penny for every time a celebrity that mostly operates in their own heads said that, I would be a millionaire. There is nothing real or genuine about a manipulated facade focused on making money and delivering an image based off of sex to sell a brand. There is nothing real about Tila Tequila and that is by her own choice. On her TV show, the contestants often wonder what Tila really wants or thinks. And the answer is that no one knows. The reality that she presents is always based around maintaining her somewhat disjointed image.

And if you really want proof, why, in this entire book, does she never mention her bipolar disorder? What would be more real and more heartfelt than discussing a very real mental illness that is a constant part of your life? She never does, despite talking about other difficult things that she has dealt with.

But Tila is not done insisting that she’s “real”. She tells her readers how she was so successful because of her own work. “I styled my own photoshoots. I shot and edited my own videos. I made my own calendars, posters, and t-shirts and sold them online. And I kept writing my blog, sharing everything that was happening, and how I felt about it, with my fans. That’s how my fans and I developed such a strong blond. And we’re still friends.” Reading this now, after seeing how her life unfolds over the next few years, strikes me as very sad.

She wants to think that people who friended her on a website are real people in her life that care about her and that idea is nothing short of dangerously naive. Once her star of outrageousness started to fade, her fans went to the next hot mess with boobs, and she was all but forgotten. Not to mention that she seems to like people better when they’re agreeing with her.

When she posted a pregnancy photo remarking on how she had no stretch marks, many women responded to what they thought was a genetically gifted person shaming a very real happening in a pregnant woman’s reality. Suddenly, her best friends were “ugly” and “catty” and their opinions were brushed off as those of the haters that fervently dislike her for no apparent reason. She had no concern for her “friend’s” opinions on how her tag was problematic. They were wrong and petty. I’ll touch more on this later.

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