When it comes to Tyra Banks, Black Twitter never forgets. Because at least every other month, someone shares a throwback clip of some of the transgressions committed on America’s Next Top Model.
Quick recap: The show, written by Ken Mok and executive produced and hosted by Tyra, aired from 2003 to 2018. It followed hopeful models who, in each episode, participated in photoshoots, runway contests and different-themed competitions to have their shot at becoming America’s next top ‘it’ girl. The photos were then judged by Tyra Banks and a panel of others, a roster which included former model Janice Dickinson, photographer Nigel Barker, runway coach J. Alexander, fashion editor Andre Leon Talley, and creative consultant Jay Manuel.
At its peak in the late 2000s, clips of the show that have recirculated in recent years show mistreatment of the models from Tyra Banks and the judges, often making degrading remarks about the physical appearances of the models, weighing in on everything from tooth gaps to body fat. In some of the most disturbing instances, Tyra Banks takes aim at women with darker skin complexions.
Equally as horrifying as these clips, though, are the testimonies of women who spent time on the show. America’s Next Top Model alum Danielle Evans, who was on the show in 2006, was told by Banks that she’d never be a CoverGirl with a gap in her teeth.
The show actually organized a dentist appointment for Evans to have the gap closed, but she refused.
"So, Danielle, you went to the dentist, but you refused to have your gap closed…Do you really think you can have a CoverGirl contract with a gap in your mouth?" Banks said to Evans at the time.
Evans posted a video on social media reacting to the clip going viral roughly 14 years later in 2020. It was one of the only instances that actually got a response from Banks.
In May of 2020, after being dragged on Twitter over her treatment of Evans, Banks posted this statement on Twitter:
“Been seeing the posts about the insensitivity of some past ANTM moments and I agree with you…Looking back, those were some really off choices. Appreciate your honest feedback and am sending so much love and virtual hugs.”
She’s since deleted her account, which I surmise is due to the bi-monthly massacre going down in her mentions.
Another America’s Next Top Model alum, Lisa D’amato, who placed sixth in 2005 for the show’s fifth cycle and went on to win the all-star competition in 2011, blasted Tyra Banks on social media last January. In the video, D’amato says Banks exploited her childhood traumas for profit.
“I don’t know how you sleep at night. You, Tyra, you knew very well the horrible trauma that my mom inflicted on me, and you also talk so much about how you wouldn’t be where you are without your mother and how powerful she is. So knowing that, you still did that to me and continued to do it to other girls, even after I spoke publicly about it.”
D’amato opened up about the mistreatment women endured on the show in an episode of E! True Hollywood Story, something she says was a breach of contract.
“I did it knowing that it was a breach of contract, still, because I felt like it was my duty to warn other girls that were going to audition for ‘America’s Next Top Model’, to know that what you guys do and the way that you guys would poke me and use my childhood trauma against me, day in and day out,” D’Amato shared. “It was just so f–ked up, and it broke my heart. Like, how could you do that?”
Former show fans and Twitter users were in an uproar over this clip of Janice Dickinson telling aspiring model Kelle that her finished and untouched photos, when compared, was “like an Alfred Hitchcock film”, urging those in control of the monitor to alternate quickly between the photos to illustrate her point.
And most recently, this clip set the internet ablaze. In it, aspiring model Robin is being referred to as “a woman of a different size”, with castmates saying “it must be hard being around girls that are so skinny.” In the clip, Janice Dickinson fires off a series of remarks that include the idea she should “work for a car toppling company,” saying “she’s huge!”, and that “She doesn’t have the personality to be a top model. She should be working at Avis.”
As someone who watched this show during its peak, I would lose my mind if my daughter tuned into this type of programming. And whatever impact it had on me is insignificant to the damage this must have done to these women, who regarded Tyra Banks with such high esteem, to the point of idolization in some cases, only to be told that they were either too fat, too ugly, or didn’t have nice enough teeth to land their dream job.
I’ve wondered, though, should Tyra take all of the blame as the sole representative of the industry in which these women were seeking a place? It’s a difficult thing to negotiate, considering that the industry looked very different back then than it does now. In the 2000s, we wouldn’t have seen women like Ashley Graham ripping up a runway. Now, there’s more appreciation and respect for real bodies.
What I can say with certainty is that the reason Black Twitter has it out for Tyra Banks is because she was in a prime position to uplift Black women, and rather than do that, she humiliated them on national television, perpetuating all kinds of stereotypes, and most importantly, not calling out her panel of judges when they made racist remarks, as Janice Dickinson did many times. She had power, presence, and a primetime, widely-watched reality show at a time where not many Black women did. It’s no wonder it’s made internet sleuths revisit her famed beef with Naomi Campbell. The beef allegedly started when Banks was starting off in the modelling industry. She said she looked up to Campbell for years and had a “very difficult” beginning, adding that Campbell wasn’t friendly to her. The irony.
Banks even revealed to The Wall Street Journal that she was “going home at night crying my eyes out because a woman I was looking up to seemed like she just didn't want me to be there. And was doing everything in her power to make me go away."
But in 2016, when Campbell reshared an article that cited Banks as “the real mean girl”, the rumour mill started spinning again. BuzzFeed wrote that Banks was facing harsh accusations about her time on America’s Next Top Model, pointing to an instance where models appeared in Blackface.
Tyra Banks has weaponized her privilege in ways that are incredibly damaging to so many. She left a legacy of trauma on the women who spent time on the show. Regardless of how well they may have been treated, all these years later, having to drudge through the resurfacing of these clips and sit with the fact that you were part of this incredibly predatory production can be triggering. Imagine what it feels like for the women who were under Tyra’s attack.
She’s also left an entire generation of young women, including myself, questioning everything from whether our teeth are straight, white, and close enough together to be considered “pretty”. And the amount of body dysmorphia this show must have fostered in women, young and old, is truly devastating to even begin thinking about.
I always like to hope that time teaches us all the things we didn’t know in the past. But learning requires accountability, and the issue so many people have is that she really hasn’t taken any, other than her response to the clip of Evans in 2020. If she’s thinking of her next production, she might consider having an open conversation about the damage that was done. Those women deserve an apology.