In 2003, the first season of America’s Next Top Model aired on UPN. Hosted by Tyra Banks, the reality competition gathered aspiring models from around the country and endeavored to make them into the next generations of stars to storm the fashion scene. Fans were obsessed with the glitz and glamor of the series, even more so with the drama that unfolded behind the scenes — catfights, emotional meltdowns, and shade from the judges were as central to the show as modeling itself.
With the endless free time we now have courtesy of the global pandemic, many people are rewatching the modeling series. Like many of the projects from the early 2000s, however, ANTM didn't exactly age well. Unfortunately, ANTM just doesn't hit like it used to, and it's because we're realizing how problematic the show and its host were back in the day.
Many of us were just kids when the show first began, so we didn't quite understand the nuance of what we were seeing, but as adults, it's not looking so good. And, if you ask the internet, Banks is the culprit.
ANTM/Tyra Banks’ commentary aged badly & that’s the honest truth. We were kids when we were watching this so we weren’t aware of what was being framed to us. Watching those clips now.... she definitely violated and she did it a lot.— 𝕮𝖔𝖚𝖗𝖙 𝕶𝖎𝖒 💥 (@TheCourtKim) May 5, 2020
It didn't take long for concrete examples of Banks' misdeeds from the show to pop up around Twitter. Season after season provided truly cringeworthy-moments, including a "bi-racial" photoshoot that literally put contestants in black face and asking a contestant to fix the gap in her teeth.
There are Banks defenders who say that the bizarre nature of the show was reflective of the fashion industry at the time, and that's a fair point — the fashion world didn't start making moves to be more representative until very recently. It took years for runways and high fashion campaigns to diversify their ranks with models of various ethnic backgrounds, sizes, and gender expression, and we've still got a long ways to go.
But even when Banks returned for the ANTM reboot in 2018 on VH1, long after television had become more "conscious," the weirdo shit continued. Jeana Turner, a contestant on the show's 24th season, breached her contract with ANTM's production company to reveal her "exploitative" experience at the supermodel's hands. Turner took to YouTube to describe what happened behind the scenes of ANTM, saying that she was traumatized by the fact that Banks and her fellow judges had shamed her for her old photoshoots with Playboy.
"She's Tyra Banks," said Turner in her video. "She knows what she's doing."
Though she has expressed regret for some of her actions on the show (like her viral takedown of Tiffany Richardson) Banks has yet to respond to the new wave of criticism pointed at her ANTM legacy, but fans are hoping that if she does, it will be with the right energy. We can't change what happened in the past — even though it should have never happened in the first place — but as a fashion icon who is dedicated to creating opportunities for others, Banks owes it to the next generation to do better.