Tyra Banks is a double-edged sword. On one edge lies crazy. On the other lies beautiful, strong and sensible. If these two sides were ever allowed to duke it out, without hesitation I would place my bets on crazy. Tyra Banks screams at unsuspecting girls, cries when called fat, says things without thinking, and generally ignores the unspoken rules of stardom, but she is genuine, and for this I applaud her. The contrast between her former image as a model that embodied the “niche desirability” (Joseph, 238) of an African American woman, and her current image of total abandon on reality television is large enough to be upsetting. If this contrast is studied more closely however, there begins to be a pattern of a woman who is dealing with a multitude of flaws but is unconditionally accepting of herself. She is a better role model now than she was when she was modeling professionally because she represents a real woman who has a grasp on confidence and happiness, and she empowers others to do the same.
Image Credits: Janet Mayer, PR Photos and Screen Capture from The Tyra Banks Show, h/t Tracie at Jezebel.com, Edited by Kelly Johnson
I present to you “Exhibit A,” a photo of Tyra from a German edition of Ellemagazine in April 1993.
Image Credit: Elle Magazine, fmd1.com
In this photo she is looking elegant and refined. Her slender, long neck (the mark of a model) is visible in the photo just above a modest neckline. Her lips are open in a come-hither sort of way, revealing perfect, white teeth. Her eyebrows are regally arched, her eyes alive with the spark of a camera flash, and her skin free from imperfections. She wears a high-fashion red hat and large double pearl earrings, creating a look of “quintessential” (Joseph, 241) class. Everything about this photo is relating that Tyra Banks is a well-kept, unbelievably beautiful woman who can deliver sex appeal without appearing sleazy. Looking at this airbrushed photo, one would imagine that Tyra’s day-to-day life includes sipping tea and eating scones, taking long walks in her garden with a parasol, and riding horseback through the vineyard. Not only was she beautiful during her modeling days, she was extremely talented. At the top of Tyra Banks career “she could earn $50,000 a day and had a lingerie contract worth $4 million;” she could “flip through a dozen looks--sexy, pensive, dreamy, flirty--in a dozen seconds” (Blakeley, 4-5). Her "chameleonic” (Joseph, 242) image that jumped from girl next door to fierce high fashion to entrepreneur was to be envied. If Banks had never opened her mouth on a television show that allowed her a free range of dialogue, Americans could sleep at night knowing that she has a calm, classy personality that should be emulated by her fans.
But yawn, how boring would that be? Yet another pretty face paired with another perfectly proportional body topped off with a bland personality to match. Watching Tyra crash and burn every now and then is admittedly entertaining.
Image Credit: Screen Capture, UrbanDictionary.com
Tyra rose to the top of the industry with her slim figure and talent for modeling, but why is she still at the top? Because she gives people something to be interested in. Some critique her for rising to the top on the wings of Victoria’s Secret, an industry that values wafer-thin women, and then turning around and advocating for the acceptation of heavier body types. Her recent focus on “inner beauty” and “being your own weight” on “The Tyra Show” leave critics rolling their eyes, because she would never be where she is today without a beautiful face and a slender body:
Sure, she can make confessions about her ample rump or her forehead that is so high that people call her "Fivehead," but no one forgets for a minute that she belongs to an elite group of idealized females who make vulnerable people feel that much more uncomfortable. (Martel, 8)
To these people I would say: you are missing the point. As Tyra stands up on her talk show, she is sending an important message that goes beyond what she is “ostensibly” (Joseph, 238) advocating. In fact, in order to look to Tyra as a role model, her claims must actively be ignored. With her words she is hypocritically urging America to create a new frame of mind when it comes to physical appearances. With no words at all, however, as she is standing in front of millions of viewers screaming, prancing and rolling on the ground while her live audience opens a free box of Vaseline, she is sending the strongest message of all: it’s okay to be you.
Clip Credit: Vaseline Frenzy, Username: Suuhl, Youtube.com
Tyra is so okay with herself that she comes off as conceited and “overdetermined" (Joseph, 238). And who am I to say that she is not? All signs point to the fact that she is fairly full of herself, and her show can be almost unwatchable because of the discomfort that it causes the viewer. She lovingly brings herself up so often that it’s no wonder her critics are feeling a little bit nauseated, but there is a bigger issue here. Beautiful Tyra Banks is crazy, and she is crazy about herself. Her extreme confidence, although sometimes troublesome, is refreshing in a place where the fear of failure reigns. Heidi Klum spoke about this confidence to TIME magazine:
[Tyra] shared her experience and knowledge with me. In this industry there are a lot of people who don't want to help each other, but I guess Tyra was and is secure because she was always willing to share what she had learned—and, trust me, I asked a lot of questions. (Klum, 1)
If Tyra Banks had stayed silent in the pages of a magazine, there is no way that she would have been able to be a true role model for women. She may have been stunning and talented, but she would only be another face in an advertisement, causing women to chase perfection and be disappointed when they can’t catch it.
While flipping through a fashion magazine, if I run across a beautiful model I immediately want to be like her. This model (scantily clad and laying limbs akimbo across some prop) has her life together; she is confident and sexy. She has men asking for her number at night and she is always prim and proper. Never doing anything socially unacceptable, models are only seen being sexy, high fashion, or the girl next door. Nobody will buy your product if you place it on the body of a model rolling on the ground or falling off a chair or bugging her eyes out of her head. But why am I attracted to this particular way of life? This model could have low self esteem, be a smoker, and obsessively diet to keep her job. All she has going for her (that I know of) is this picture.
Image Credit: Screen Capture, gucci.com
A real role model should be someone that inspires women to become the best version of themselves, not to always be reaching for some unattainable standard. Some people think that unscripted Tyra and her crazy antics are “strange for a woman who usually preaches the virtues of dignity, creativity and can't-touch-this fierceness” (Martel, 10). Maybe they are strange, but does that mean that she is not a good role model for women? Women can be unreasonable, have complete breakdowns, and get so excited about little things that they embarrass their loved ones.
Clip Credit: Tyra Banks going crazy, Username: Playa66, Youtube.com
Tyra screams at the unsuspecting model contestant, Tiffany, who did not burst into tears and want to end her life as she got kicked off of the show. Tyra screams at her, “I was rooting for you, we were all rooting for you, how dare you!” and ends with “take responsibility for yourself”(Tyra Banks’ Tantrum, Youtube). Her rage reaches through the television, making even the viewer wish that they were not watching. I can’t decide what is more shocking, that Tyra lost control at all or that they decided to air the cut. Tyra Banks is the executive producer of the show; one word from her and the “incident” never happened. I can only conclude that Tyra was in the editing room watching herself scream at Tiffany and in that moment, using her sweeping confidence, made the decision to keep it. Soon this clip would be aired on television and eventually become a Youtube sensation, complete with multiple videos and over a million views. In this situation, Tyra is once again demonstrating that she can lose professional control but still be okay with herself about it. With these types of actions she is giving the women in her audiences a sense of hope; that if Tyra can love herself through her (many) imperfections, then maybe that’s what they should do as well.
It’s important to look at crazy Tyra Banks as a role model for women because strangely, she is the best role model there is. Looking past her eccentric personality characteristics and her egotistical tendencies, one can see a woman embracing her flaws (probably even loving them) and living her life with passion. If all women’s role models were passionate and a little bit unreasonable instead of fashion models living perfect lives through the pages of a magazine; the world might be full of more happy women. Instead of spending their time running to catch up with the “image of perfection,” they would learn to love themselves and accept love from others, even through their flaws. And the world could really benefit from some more happy, confident women!
Photo Credit: Americas Next Top Model, The CW, h/t: Images.Damncrows.com
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