8 Life Lessons We've Learned from America's Next Top Model

Illustrated by Alex Marino
You wanna be on top? As it turns out, it’s about a lot more than learning to “find your light” and not fall in front of Tyra Banks. Since its premiere in 2003, America’s Next Top Model has shown us that you don’t need to fit the cookie-cutter model archetype to make it in the fashion world. A successful modeling career is about way more than your appearance — it’s about your fortitude.
To celebrate the brand-new cycle of America’s Next Top Model — airing Tuesdays at 8/7c on VH1 — as well as Tyra’s triumphant return to the series, we’re taking a look back at the most essential life lessons the show has taught us. Smizing is only the beginning...
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Illustrated by Alex Marino.
Tyra Banks certainly falls in the long tradition of women unafraid to take charge. She’s vocal, unapologetic, and fierce (to use a term she personally coined for the show), and for those reasons, she commands all of the attention she deserves.

In Cycle 21, when one of the contestants refuses to take charge in her role as team captain, Tyra wastes no time in letting her know that she’s made a grave mistake. “Girls feel that when they are in charge and leading, it’s bossy and bitchy,” Tyra tells her in the judging room. “It’s about taking control and standing with pride.” Preach.
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Illustrated by Alex Marino.
There are just a handful moments in ANTM history in which Tyra has lost her cool, and Cycle 4 was perhaps the most infamous. When Tiffany Richardson, a model-to-be that Tyra had developed a particular bond with, appears utterly ambivalent about being eliminated from the show, Tyra can’t help but react.

“Take responsibility for yourself,” she screams. “Because nobody's going to take responsibility for you.” Brimming with equal parts affection and fury, Tyra lets it be known that we are the ones held responsible for the opportunities we dismiss. Whether it’s a particularly tough modeling challenge or running for a senate seat, it all comes down to you.
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Illustrated by Alex Marino.
In Cycle 8, contestant Jael Strauss receives the heartbreaking news that her friend has died of an overdose. When she cries in the judging room, Tyra tells her, “This is one time it’s okay to not be a model. It’s okay to be a human being.” Sure, your game face (or smize) is important, but there are times in life when even the most glamorously stoic women get to be fragile. There’s zero shame in that.
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Illustrated by Alex Marino.
Sometimes models trip. And sometimes they break out, get bad haircuts, and take unflattering selfies. But at the end of the day, those are not the moments that define them. Early on in Cycle 6, contestant Danielle Evans takes a massive fall in front of the judges while attempting a shaky runway walk in 8-inch heels. In her confessional, she shrugs it off, saying, “Well, I didn’t break my ankle.” That’s it. And guess what? She ends up winning the season.
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Illustrated by Alex Marino.
Since day one of ANTM, the show has made strides to shatter the stereotype that models are thin, tall, and classically effeminate. The cast is often made up of girls of all shapes and sizes, with varying sexualities, ethnicities, and racial backgrounds.

More recently, the show has also included two trans contestants, in addition to a full cast of male competitors. The bottom line? Femininity (and masculinity, for that matter) operates on a sliding scale, and while the fashion industry certainly has more work to do, it’s found some space to celebrate that — as we all should.
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Illustrated by Alex Marino.
Tyra may be known for keeping her composure, but even she has her candid moments. In Cycle 8, while trying to get the contestants to embrace their sensual sides for a shoot, Tyra explains, “Modeling is being a ho, but make it fashion,” while shifting into a series of racy poses.

Think what you will about that golden tidbit of modeling wisdom, but when it comes to the grander takeaway, “Make it fashion” is the best roll-with-the-punches-type advice out there. Forgot to change out of your pajamas? Tripped up the stairs at the Broadway-Lafayette subway station? Ran out of underwear and opted for an old bathing-suit bottom? Embrace it, call it a statement, be a little proud. Make it fashion.
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Illustrated by Alex Marino.
ANTM has always been a show about women, and even when a full roster of male models joined the cast for Cycles 21 and 22, Tyra was not about to let that change. In a pep talk right before the first challenge in Cycle 21, Tyra reminded the girls that modeling is one of few industries dominated entirely by women, and she had no plans to let a pack of male models change that.

In spite of the co-ed competitors, there would be just one top model — women and men would be fighting for the same title. The winner was not going to be the best female competitor but, rather, the best competitor. Tyra’s advice here resonates in all fields: Don’t back down.
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Illustrated by Alex Marino.
It’s no secret that women are tired of being told to smile. But ANTM is not about grinning and bearing it. The contestants on the show learn to walk with ferocity — to display anger, intensity, confusion. When Tyra tells her models to smize (again and again and again), she’s not telling them that happy girls are pretty girls. She’s telling them to express themselves without relying on the trope of the relentless grin — a good reminder to us all that beauty need not be void of real, honest emotion.
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