The internet remembers everything and provides plenty of ways to remind us of how incredibly different the early 2000s were, and now we are being reacquainted with how toxic America’s Next Top Model was.
The show, created by Tyra Banks, has aired, with some breaks and channel changes, from 2003 to today. When it started airing, I would watch it every week, trying to see what the new challenges would be, which model would prevail and get the big deal with Cover Girl, and who would be shamed off the show. While there were certainly moments in the series that were uplifting, and it gave platforms to models like Isis King, the show also promoted a lot of anti-Black, sexist, and frankly racist messages that were pure 2000s mess.
One of the most frustrating moments that I remember watching as it aired was the moment where Cycle 3’s Yaya DaCosta, who was of Brazilian and African-American descent, was made to apologize to a fake Kente cloth African hat. What was infuriating, before we even got to that point, was all the anti-African, anti-Black statements from the panel, calling Yaya’s pride in her Africanness “overbearing,” and that it was all allowed to be spoken without interruption. When Tyra talked about Yaya’s superiority and “attitude,” it read as if she wanted to take her down a peg, and it was just gross.
The shaking in Yaya’s voice just brings to memory so many times I’ve felt that frustration.
But even that pales in comparison to the Got Milk? campaign, where the contestants were dressed to look like different ethnicities. This happened in 2005, and it is just very, very embarrassing that something like this was allowed to happen with Black executive producers.
One of the moments that always resonated with me came with Cycle 6’s Danielle “Dani” Evans. Evans was from Little Rock, Arkansas and was notable for both her accent and her lovely gap teeth, both things that Tyra and the judges ended up mocking as the Cycle progressed.
In every Cycle, there is a makeover section that usually includes a hairdo, a bikini wax (the screams are always something), and just small tweaks, but sometimes, it can involve a lot more. In 6, both Dani and another contestant, Joanie, went in to have her snaggletooth removed and porcelain crowns installed, which was major dental surgery and she was still expected to model!
“You have to go through pain to be beautiful,” Joanie says in the clip. Dani however, decided not to get her gap closed, and Tyra’s response to that was “Do you really think you can have a Cover Girl contract with a gap in your mouth?” and that it was “not marketable.”
Now, Dani did go on to win the Cycle, with her gap mostly maintained (she didn’t close it all the way), but in retrospect, this reads super uncomfortable because the famed gap-tooth “London Look,” which was popularized by Rimmel, makes the question of “marketability” ridiculous, and later on in another Cycle, Tyra would widen someone’s existing gap!
This doesn’t even touch the transphobia that was allowed to take place during Isis’s Cycle on the show, as the first trans woman on ANTM, the messy way it handled sexual assault allegations, or how they put their models in uncomfortable situations to get the “perfect shot.”
I was a preteen when the show started and followed it up until my teens. I remember the messages of female beauty standards that it sent out, and watching the internet collectively say “This was not okay” is really invigorating, because those pressures to conform still exist on Instagram and other places. If we can recognize that it’s bad for other people, maybe we can have that same empathy for ourselves.
(image: The CW)
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