Saturday, September 21, 2013

Hi, I'm Tyra Banks and I'm Personally Redefining Real

ANTM Cycle 19 "Fiercely Real"
Contestant, Yvonne
For my 100th blog post, I decided to admit a guilt pleasure: America's Next Top Model. I know, I know - it's pretty much against everything I stand for, but I really get a kick out of watching the competitions.  ANTM has featured "plus-size" models from its origin, probably due to the fact that the show's host and creator, Tyra Banks, has dealt with an enormous amount of body-shaming. The once-Victoria's Secret angels, turned Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover, turned business mogul with more flesh than the modeling industry is used to, sticks her neck out for her "plus-size" models, and one, Whitney Thompson of Cycle 10, even won. 

Quotes Banks, "It's my mission to expand the definition of beauty. To show unique, atypical, fiercely real, quirky, clumsy, five-headed girls through all of my many media projects and businesses. So watch out for what I have in store next!" (For the record, "five-headed" doesn't mean girls with five heads.)

Fiercely real??? Compared to what? Unless this is a competition where a woman, regardless of size, is competing against inanimate objects, I hate to break it to you, Tyra, but everybody's real. Or as real as you can get in the modeling industry, which, as you might surmise, isn't very real at all. 

ANTM Cycle 10 Contestants. Find the "fiercely real" one.

ANTM Cycle 19 "Fiercely Real"
Contestant, Alyssa
Tyra's titling of her "plus-size" models is reflective of the mantra that often oozes from the lips of any woman who isn't naturally skinny: "Real women have curves." Actually, genetically real women were born with female reproductive organs. And, in my opinion, real women have the desire to identify as a woman. LGBRQ implications aside (and there are many), and to reiterate Dance's With Fat blogger, Regan Chastain's idea, from that fat woman perspective, we really can't expect anyone to treat us and our bodies with a modicum of respect if we're turning around and doing the exact same thing. Hypocrisy is ugly, yo. 

Trust me. I understand the temptation. Chastain, among others, notes "thin privilege," the unfortunate but very real fact that thin people are better treated in Western society than fat people just because they're thin. However, thin privilege isn't going to stop just because a bunch of disenfranchised women are shouting, "Real women have curves!"

But I digress-ish. In addition to Banks' fiercely real models having no genetically or identifiably realer qualities than her "industry models," there are a couple of other problematic things with this terminology. 

ANTM Cycle 10 Winner,
Whitney Thompson
First of all, let's look at ANTM winner Whitney Thompson. She's 5'10", and her measurements are 36-32-43 (breasts, waist, hips). Another ANTM fiercely real model was Toccara Jones. She's 5'9" and reports her measurements as 36-30-46.* According to the CDC, the average American woman is 5'3", weighs 166 lbs., and has a waist circumference of 37.5 inches. I'm seeing some substantial differences in the women Banks is representing as "fiercely real" and the average reality of a population. I personally think the term should just be trashed altogether, but in lieu of that, I firmly believe that Tyra should hold a competition for women who fit this criteria. She can call it "America's Next Fiercely Real According to Some More Realistic Standards Top Model."

Beyond that fact that few of us are "fiercely real" enough to meet Banks' standards, despite her assertion that these models represent women who don't look like models, let's figure out why these fiercely real/plus-size/non-industry models need the moniker at all. Why can't they just be models like all the other models that don't need a definition before their job title? What if we did that with all jobs? Here's your teacher, and here's your fiercely real teacher. I'd like to welcome our new plus-size president. Give a warm welcome to the non-industry doctor. 

I want to end this blog on a positive note. It's very easy to be a naysayer when somebody who is fighting for a similar cause as you goes about it in a way that makes you cringe, like Tyra Banks is doing. The truth is, that she's among a very small contingency of individuals in the beauty industry trying to show any diversity at all. And Tyra chooses models of color, models of (somewhat) varying shapes and sizes, "short" models (they were all about 5'7"), and recently male models. It's obviously not an industry that's going to change over night, but I hope Tyra takes bigger risks than she has and rethinks her labeling of models.

*I got these measurements from a sight that makes me want to put a barrel in the mouths of the American public. The site is called "" and it updates their information very regularly and contains links such as "The Perfect Woman Body," "Fake vs. Real Breasts," and "Female Body Shapes," of which there are apparently five, three of which are named after fruit. 

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