Why America’s Next Top Model is Gaining Attention in 2020

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Devin Wilkes, Editorials Editor

Though its first episode aired 17 years ago, “America’s Next Top Model” has recently faced backlash for its problematic commentary on race, body image, and sexual orientation. 

“ANTM”, a reality show that ran for 24 seasons, followed contestants as they went from not to hot under the mentorship of Tyra Banks, the show’s co-creator and host. The competitors battled for a modeling contract and other prizes, enduring challenges and eliminations throughout the course of the season. Being a top model herself, Banks vowed to provide expert advice to the inexperienced hopefuls and prepare them for the cut-throat modeling industry. 

Now that the show is available on Hulu and Amazon Prime and we are stuck in our homes due to a global pandemic, what better time to revisit the early 2000s program than now? And as many rewatched the show for the first time in years, people were shocked at how offensive some of the photoshoots and televised interactions were.

Though the show was in theory supposed to uplift women and encourage them to follow their dreams, some moments proved that it was doing the exact opposite. Viewers went to Twitter to pinpoint the most cringeworthy moments throughout “ANTM” – and many of them involved Banks. 

For example, in cycle 5, the host warned LGBTQ contestant Kim Stolz about being too open about her sexuality. 

“I’m gay, and I’m really proud of it,” Stolz shared with Banks. 

The host replied, “I think there’s a certain thing of being proud. Like, I’m black and proud, you know what I mean? But I’m not walking down the red carpet: ‘I’m black. I’m black.’ “

Danielle Evans, the winner of cycle 6, also gained attention for her moments with Banks, who often criticized her for refusing to close the gap in her teeth. 

“Do you really think you can have a CoverGirl contract with a gap in your mouth?” Banks asked her in front of the judging panel before explaining that the gap wasn’t a “marketable” feature. The irony is that, many of today’s models, including Slick Woods for Fenty Beauty, became famous because of their gap.

Another portion of the controversy revolves around the multiple photoshoots that required the contestants to pose as in a different race. This involved several white girls appearing in blackface.

For example, a cycle 4 photoshoot showed some of the white contestants modeling as black women. As one of them glanced in the mirror at herself in blackface, she stated, “I’m a black woman with a nose job.”

Someone off-camera replied, “You are. You’re a Jackson.”

Also in cycle 4, contestant Keenyah Hill reported that she was touched inappropriately by a male model, but Tyra brushed it off as the contestant not being insistent enough to control the situation. During cycle 7, one girl said that she was paired with a male model who was being racist towards her, but Tyra and the judging panel retorted that it was her job to kiss him and figure out a way to work together. 

As if the show already doesn’t seem bad enough, weight-shaming was also prevalent throughout the program. With contestants also including plus-sized girls, they frequently faced backlash about their size from judges and other modeling experts on the show. 

Again on the problematic cycle 4, judges commented about Keenyah’s diet and encouraged her to eat better to avoid weight gain. In photoshoots, she was told to pose as the deadly sin of gluttony and an elephant, while the show played sound effects and zoomed in on her stomach. Tyra and the judges also schooled her about the amount of retouching necessary on her photos. 

In the midst of the controversy, Banks tweeted that she agreed with people’s commentary: “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.”

“ANTM” producer Ken Mok also wrote his own message in response to Tyra’s tweet: “Want to reiterate what @tyrabanks said. I look at some of those  #ANTM moments and cringe. Just a FYI – the entire creative team made the choices in those shows – not just Tyra.  So please feel free to yell at me  for some of the worst moments in ANTM history! Apologies to all,” he wrote.