Talk show host and hostess/creator of the reality series “America’s Next Top Model” Tyra Banks retired from professional modeling in 2005 following a career that spanned nearly two decades. When Banks was featured on the 1997 cover of Sports Illustrated’s annual swimsuit issue, she was the first black model to hold that distinction.
Banks is one of only a handful of former supermodels to have successfully carved out a successful, high-profile career for herself following retirement from the runway. (Other notable superstars who have found success after a modeling career include Heidi Klum, creator and host of “Project Runway”, Iman, whose line of skin care and beauty products are sold worldwide, and perhaps even Janice Dickinson, whose self-proclaimed title of the “world’s first supermodel” may be questionable but was enough to garner her a reality show of her own, “Janice Dickinson’s Modeling Agency.”
Christie Brinkley, when not fending off divorce attorneys representing her idiot husband, also has an established skin care line.) Since retirement, Banks has been the hostess of a fairly successful talk show, much of whose popularity stems from the host’s own antics, controversial topics, and improbable line of guest stars. (One of those shining moments came when Banks had fellow African American model Naomi Campbell on her show. In an effort to diffuse a long-running feud between them, Banks asked Campbell why she had been ‘so mean’ to her when Banks was first starting out as a model.
Campbell, whose own rash of thrown-objects related issues have caused headlines and lawsuits, stared blankly at Banks for what appeared to be an hour, before furrowing her (plucked) brows and mumbling something that no one, to this day, was able to understand. It was a flashback to junior high school days: why were the ‘populars’ so mean to the other kids? I thought it was actually brave of Banks to confront a fellow black model whose professional jealousy towards her had caused a lot of emotional pain.)
If you look at the photo of Banks on the S.I. cover back in 1997, she was a strikingly beautiful young woman who had the body type that was just right for the shoot. Ample bosoms, actual hips, full lips – she really was worthy of grabbing the cover shot. In the ten years since that photo was taken, Banks has taken on many new looks: red and blond wigs, all kinds of hairstyles designed to minimize her rather large forehead, gauzy, see-through tops and racy outfits. The one constant over the past decade was exactly that: she remained pretty much the same. Maybe she did put on a pound, or five; she was still outrageously pretty and certainly always outrageously entertaining. At least, she was, until recently.
Media reports and a story aired by E! have allegedly clocked Banks in at weighing 161 pounds, thirty pounds heavier than her normal, usual weight. Remember, this is not a short, petite woman. Banks has always been blessed with enough height (5’10 1/2″) that she could carry off a couture gown or a subtly slit garbage bag.or a pair of Angel wings with equal aplomb. A very recent photograph of Banks in a one-piece swimsuit, however, made her look…well, not thin. Banks’ weight gain was enough for media pundits to go for the jugular with mean-spirited, personal attacks on her current look, her weight, and her person. In truth, according to current insurance charts, Banks’ weight is right in the low to middle range for someone of her height.
I guess it may be of some consolation to Banks that she shares this same overheightened awareness of her body image with Oprah Winfrey, truly one of the greatest talk-show hosts and personalities ever to grace a television screen. I grew up in Baltimore when a young Winfrey was co-hosting a morning talk show; at the time, I don’t recall her as being particularly thin or slinky, even though that look was already in vogue. What I do remember about the young Oprah was her having a disastrous ‘permanent’ that made her hair puff up and out like a dandelion in bloom. I’m guessing that the show’s producers may have been trying to mold her hair (and her image) into that of a ‘hip’ Afro, but it was an embarrasingly bad experiment.
Other than that hair disaster, I honestly over the years never paid much attention to her weight or to her looks, for that matter. I thought that she was beautiful in spirit and in character even back then. In an era where few black faces were seen on-air, she was a very popular television star who did a great job at her work.
This was no small accomplishment back in the late 50’s and 60’s, especially in a state south of the Mason Dixon line. She really was a bona fide Baltimore television star! It was from her start on WJZ in Baltimore that led her on to truly great things, both professionally and personally. Her kindness and charitable works, as well as her mentoring programs, are legendary.
Yet Winfrey’s weight has drawn more media attention that all of the good that she’s accomplished. While Banks still has a way to go yet in the ‘good’ department, it seems totally unfair that we pass judgment on both of these women based largely on the readings of their scales…since when does physical beauty equate to intelligence, dedication, accomplishment, or, especially, being a good role model for younger generations?
Banks has retired from modeling. Her career now is that of talk show host. While her show may not be everyone’s cup of tea, it does provide interesting, provocative and yes, informative, subject matter. Like Winfrey, she is not seeking approval on her looks in her career. Why would we pass judgement on these women, regardless of the quality of their work, based on their looks?
If even one woman gets an annual breast exam as a result of having watched one of Bank’s most recent shows on which Banks had her own exam, she has done a very good thing indeed. By going undercover as a man, an obese woman, a homeless person, Banks was willing to make herself appear physically ugly to make a point, to get the story, to show us how ‘the other half’ lives. And now we criticize her for having put on some weight? Give me a break, but more importantly, give her (and Winfrey) a break. If we are so shallow as to fall into the media’s mindset trap that ‘thin is what it’s all about’, perhaps it’s time for us to take a good long and hard look into the mirror. Is a person’s weight really a criteria for success in life?