If I could do a case study on some of the alarming hypocrisy that characterizes media today, I would centre it on supermodel-turned-media mogul Tyra Banks. She truly embodies the modern rule of television: anyone willing to forego dignity, self-awareness, and all ironic detachments can potentially earn about $30 million a year.
That being said, I have nonetheless derived a perverse pleasure from skipping class and watching Tyra’s latest antics on The Tyra Banks Show. Whether she’s criticizing the media or campaigning for short women as top models, the ironies of this woman’s actions never cease to captivate me. I was therefore quite dismayed when I learned that the show will soon be leaving the air forever. In its memory and honour, I’d like to recount some of my favourite – and by that I mean completely appalling – Tyra moments.
Tyra is, first and foremost, very confused when it comes to questions of body image. She has simultaneously made her career as a supermodel – a job constructed around distorted notions of feminine physical ideals – and as a spokesperson for “everyday” women struggling with their self-esteem. In one memorable episode, Tyra goes undercover as a 350-pound woman in order to discover whether people will treat her differently. Turns out they do. And what does she do to remedy this blaring injustice? She takes off the fat suit (to reveal how hot she thankfully is), and then speaks to actual obese women to discuss how being fat “made them feel.”
In another instance, Tyra appears onstage in the bathing suit that caused a stir in tabloids because it revealed her significant weight gain, telling critics that they could “kiss my fat ass.” The irony: she then explains how the photos were doctored, as she didn’t actually look that fat in the bathing suit. Later in the month, Tyra appeared on the cover of a magazine looking fabulous as usual next to the headline “You call this fat?”
While it’s very altruistic of Tyra to use her own weight gain as a means of addressing the problems with society’s unrealistic standards, her involvement in the modeling industry as well as her zealous fixation on displaying her own perfect body as a statement of “fat” advocacy exposes a women who appears to have issues about what it means to have real body issues.
Perhaps the Tyra crusade that strikes closest to home is the one where she decides to make a “petite edition” of the hit show America’s Next Top Model. The idea behind this revolutionary movement is that she could singularly change the face of the modeling industry by giving short girls a chance. Speaking as a “petite” woman, I feel neither a sense of camaraderie nor comfort from this ploy. Frankly, I like standing in the front of the chorus, I was always great at limbo, and I enjoy not worrying about finding a guy who is taller than me. I really don’t need Tyra to help assure me that I can still be regarded as womanly despite my lacking of Amazonian dimensions.
In yet another investigative exposé, Tyra goes undercover as a homeless woman. We watch the supermodel ironically get her makeup done to look ugly, have ratty shoes placed on her feet, and have camera crews follow her as she uncovers “what it’s like to be homeless.” After discovering crack pipes along skid row and washing herself in a gas station bathroom with the cheap soap she could only afford after panhandling, Tyra breaks down and cries to cheesy background music. The slogan for this episode? “Being homeless can happen to you.” But with her own production company and a status as executive producer of three different shows, I doubt it can happen to her.
As usual, I was left dumbfounded by the level of condescension and imbecility involved in playing dress-up for a day and believing that she now had the right to claim solidarity with a plight that could not be further from her own.
The end of The Tyra Banks Show by no means implies the end of the Tyra empire. Tyra will continue to believe that she is a crusader of social justice. My only question is: who will become America’s next top narcissistic-attention-monger?
Brahna Siegelberg is a Features Editor for the McGill Tribune.