Recently, America’s Next Top Model (ANTM), a cult-classic television series that dominated the early 2000s, has come back into the spotlight, but for the wrong reasons. The show formerly hosted by supermodel Tyra Banks revolved around models living in a mansion in Los Angeles, participating in various challenges, photoshoots and transformations in hopes of becoming America’s Next Top Model and winning a modeling contract, in addition to a large sum of money.
In the past couple of years, the show lost some of its steam but seems to be regaining it through a lengthy Twitter thread of its most problematic incidents, which all stem from overt racism.
In one episode, Jay Manuel, the former host and creative director of the series tells the models about their new challenge, “We are actually going to switch your ethnicities!” As he further explains what the challenge entails, the video shows the models laughing and looking at each other with shock and confusion. Manuel continues, “The challenge is taking on the persona of that other ethnicity, while in photograph and owning it.”
Y’all…. ANTM was soooo problematic I just- pic.twitter.com/dGW9Qya2HK
— Lethal Homo (@LordeCali) July 6, 2019
Manuel reveals the race assignments to the models—reminiscent of a dystopian film—and one contestant, Brittany (who is a white woman), shrieks out of joy once she hears she will be transformed into an African-American woman.
Blackface and cultural appropriation ensue, leading up to Tyra comparing Brittany’s black girl persona (curly afro, red lipstick and all) “Got milk?” photo to a photo of her and her mother when she was younger. The fact that Tyra Banks, a black woman, would allow any of this on her show is frightening and disgraceful.
Ironically, Noel (a non-black woman) becomes a “traditional African woman, with a headwrap and everything” and is praised for it, while a different model two cycles later (Cycle 6), Yaya DaCasta is repeatedly harassed and criticized for her blackness which judge Rebecca Weinberg calls “overbearing.” DaCasta chose to wear a cowboy hat instead of the show’s provided kente because it is “cliche…the fabric it is made from is very artificial, very cheap, fake kente.”
Tyra owes Yaya an apology for this to this day pic.twitter.com/2uEXPtyNUa
— Lethal Homo (@LordeCali) July 6, 2019
The full video of Yaya’s critique is below.
Besides the blatant racism and insensitivity to others’ cultures, the show sends out a damning message—that blackness is only cool when someone of a different race puts it on like a costume. These episodes send mixed messages and are harmful to the show’s audience.
While Tyra Banks did not sign up to be the poster child for self-love or any type of role model, she cannot deny the impact her projects have on its viewers, young or old. Growing up, I loved watching ANTM. I looked up to Tyra and the series, which were both driving factors in my childhood dreams of wanting to be a model. While #GrowingUpBlack, I was always aware of how the world saw me—pretty but black. I felt like people saw me differently than others in the black community because like Tyra, I am not dark-skinned and have hazel eyes.
However, seeing these clips now brings me back to the “You’re pretty for a black girl.” comments people think it’s okay to tell young black girls. Being proud of your blackness is not overbearing, and is not a “feeling.” Our culture is not a costume, and portraying this narrative to viewers, especially ones with impressionable minds is shameful.
Racism and colorism are already rampant in our children, proven by the Clark Doll experiment where children are asked to pick the nicer or better doll out of two dolls—one white and one black. Most of the time, the white doll is chosen, further proving how deep this issue travels.
America’s Next Top Model’s racist past has left a negative mark and highlights the weaknesses in our perception of beauty, especially when pertaining to those outside of the thin, white box. But with realizing their heinous missteps, we can learn and grow, further diversifying what society sees as beautiful.
Featured image via Creative Commons.