Tyra Banks appeared on Tamron Hall Wednesday, Sept. 23rd, to address rumors she’s engaged and discuss the recent backlash from viewers of America’s Next Top Model (ANTM), blaming her critics’ youth for why they were offended.
TLDW: Tyra told Tamron Hall that she isn’t engaged and the press was “bored,” so they altered a paparazzi photo of an opal crab-shaped ring on her left hand to speculate that she is engaged. But that wasn’t the most interesting aspect of the new Dancing With the Stars host’s interview. Last spring, ANTM went viral for all the wrong reasons after viewers began criticizing past controversial scenes from the hit competition show, like the time Tyra challenged the budding models to switch races and/or ethnicities, criticized a gay person for not presenting themselves with femininity, admonished a Black contestant for refusing to chemically straighten her natural hair, and pressured another Black contestant to close the gap in her teeth yet advised a white contestant to undergo dental surgery to widen her small gap cycles later. In May, Tyra responded to the backlash and offered a bit of an apology ahead of making appearances on ABC’s Celebrity Watch Party and hosting Dancing With the Stars, which also air on the same network as Tamron Hall. However, the entrepreneur seemed to walk back her initial response while speaking with Tamron this week.
Tyra tweeted in May, “Been seeing the posts about the insensitivity of some past ANTM moments and I agree with you. Looking back, those were some really off choices. Appreciate your honest feedback and am sending so much love and virtual hugs.”
The response shows Tyra thinks and acts with the expertise of a public relations ace. She took some responsibility for her insensitive actions and also conveyed that she’s going to keep it moving and not get mired down in the muck — with lots of love and hugs of course. And we all could’ve moved on too, but then Tyra virtually appeared on Tamron Hall.
Tamron would’ve been remiss if she hadn’t asked the former supermodel about the ANTM controversy, so revisiting it isn’t the issue. It’s Tyra saying that those who were offended were just too young to have witnessed her apologies and she actually should be credited with pushing beauty inclusivity in modeling.
When Tamron asked Tyra why she thinks negative social media comments tied to beauty inclusivity and racially-charged episodes of ANTM re-emerged this past summer, she said: “I think what happens is, it’s generational so that generation didn’t see me apologize, that generation didn’t see that. Also, the new generation is benefiting from all of the hard work of people even before me that are breaking down the beauty barriers. And so now they’re saying, ‘The world does not exist like that, you know, we are accepting and all-loving.’ And it’s like yeah, well us older people knocked down the doors for you guys.”
But then she seemingly applauded the “younger generation” for using social media to affect change: “What I do love about the younger generation is that they have social media to open their mouths and be heard. I really feel like all of this change that’s happening, when it comes to beauty inclusivity, it’s because of social media.”
Then Tamron credited Tyra with pioneering a push for beauty inclusivity and the former talk show host agreed with the journalist. “Oh yeah, well we opened the door ... I will take the credit ... We burst those doors open,” Tyra responded. “The younger generation doesn’t know that, but now they do.”
Before the airing of the ANTM episode on Nov. 18, 2009, Tyra did offer an explanation and apology for her “Bi-racial photo shoot,” saying, “People read the headlines, but they don't take the time to read the facts… and a lot of the time, those facts are omitted to make a story sound more interesting.”
Tyra said she was inspired by the Hawaiian word “Hapa” and explained its meaning as “when men and women of different cultures come together and they create racially-mixed babies,” reported NBC Washington at the time.
She continued: “I want to be very clear: I, in no way, put my Top Models in blackface. I’m a Black woman. I am proud. I love my people and the struggle that we have gone through continues and the last thing that I would ever do is be a part of something that degraded my race."
She added: "I'm sorry to anybody that [sic] watched Top Model and was offended by the pictures because they didn't understand the real story behind them or even if you did see the whole episode and you were still offended, I truly apologize because that is not my intention. My intention is to spread beauty and break down barriers."
This “apology” and explanation came more than a month after the controversial episode aired on Sept. 30, 2009, and Tyra essentially blamed viewers’ ignorance for being offended. She took the onus off herself and put it on the critics, much like she did when speaking with Tamron this week. More offenses and moments of insensitivity happened on ANTM after this blackface controversy, proving Tyra didn’t learn her lesson. It’s also worth noting that Tyra didn’t mention already apologizing for the transgressions in the response tweet in May.
Although ANTM is no longer airing, the damage of these antics and instances in which Tyra and production chose ratings over inclusion has been done and that’s why the show was criticized again. Like many on social media, I was offended when ANTM made the contestants pose as different races/ethnicities complete with complexion changes. I was the young Black woman with a gap between my teeth and natural locs who witnessed another Black woman degrade those aspects of my natural beauty to millions of viewers worldwide. I also questioned at the time why Tyra would even cast an openly-gay competitor only to criticize them for their gender-neutral style.
A lot of these controversies occurred during the first decade of the 2000s. That was a time when we knew blackface and race/ethnicity as costume were wrong, Lauren Hutton had already paved the way for gap-toothed models, Black women were increasingly celebrating their natural hair texture, and beauty inclusivity also included gender inclusivity. Therefore, Tyra blaming the critics’ hindsight and a generation gap for them being offended is a cop out. She should’ve apologized or doubled-down on her initial tweet when speaking with Tamron.