About

This clip is an interview with Tyra Banks conducted by ABC News’ Cynthia McFadden. The lead-in to the interview describes Banks’ rise from a one-bedroom apartment in South Central Los Angeles to her current status as a wealthy “supermogul.” Banks’ two personas are introduced: a supportive “self-esteem queen” on her daytime talk show, and a harsh “princess of pretty” on America’s Next Top Model. Banks’ tells of overcoming racism to break into the modeling industry, and proclaims that her mission in life is to expand the definition of beauty. The video shows her dramatically criticizing journalists who made disparaging marks about her weight and deriding a woman for bleaching her own and her children’s skin. Yet at the same time, Banks admits that she always wears a hair weave or wig, and that she has likely been successful in modeling due to her light-skin and “anglo” features.

Discussion

This clip claims that Tyra sends “mixed messages.” What does this mean? Are there any consequences to Tyra’s mixed messages?

Do you think appearing on TV in her swimsuit was a good way for Tyra to respond to journalists who called her fat? Why or why not? Do you think Tyra is a good person to be talking about the issue of weight?

The video shows a clip from Tyra’s talk show in which a fuss was made over her showing her real hair for the first time. Why do you think this was such a big deal? Why would Tyra want to hide her real hair? Do you think Tyra should stop wearing wigs? Why or why not?

Critique

Arguably the most problematic aspect of this clip is that it frames overcoming racism and prejudice as a matter of personal integrity. When Tyra was told she would never make it as a model due to her skin color, she says it didn’t “crush her spirit”; rather, she got angry and fought that much harder to make it. This makes it seem as though overcoming racism is simply a matter of trying a little harder, while simultaneously denigrating the countless women of color who have been kept down by systemic racism. In this way, Tyra might be seen to function as a “token,” reinforcing existing power structures by perpetuating an “if I can make it, anybody can!” narrative.