As an "America's Next Top Model" stan, I LIVE for the show. From the crazy challenges to the dramatic makeovers to the smizing, the show has given us plenty of amazing moments. But although Tyra Banks has made the most legendary modeling reality show around, there are 10 moments in particular that stand out — and it's not for the best reasons. In fact, they're downright problematic.
Banks going off on contestant Tiffany Richardson about her seeming ungrateful for the show was probably the most infamous moment in "America's Next Top Model" judging history.
"WE WERE ALL ROOTING FOR YOU," Banks yelled at Richardson in Cycle 4, and it's been meme'd to the heavens ever since that episode. Banks even profited off of the now-iconic phrase through her TyTyMoji app.
However, in a BuzzFeed article that came out years after the incident, Richardson revealed the tirade scarred her to some degree, especially a comment that was cut out of the clip. "She was hesitant to elaborate, but when pressed for more details, Richardson said she recalled Banks yelling at her, 'You can go back to your house and sleep on your mattress on the floor with your baby,' in front of the other judges, contestants, and crew members," according to the BuzzFeed article.
Whether Banks actually meant to scar Richardson or if she was simply giving tough love, it definitely didn't achieve the desired outcome, and showed a darker side of Banks to viewers. In fact, even Banks regrets the moment, even recently telling BuzzFeed, "Oh my God totally, I wouldn't have done it... Actually, maybe I wouldn't have aired it." Still, Banks insisted the tirade came from a place of pure love for Richardson.
And then of course there was the time one contestant, Rebecca, fainted, WHICH WAS STILL KEPT IN THE EPISODE.
Look, I get it. At the end of the day it's a reality show, but to keep a rather personal moment in the show felt off-putting. From filming Rebecca down on the floor to cutting to Rebecca being rolled into the ambulance, it all felt a little too intrusive. The Cycle 4 moment seemed like it was kept in purely for television value and not for the betterment of the models.
To make matters worse, in Cycle 6, Banks actually tricked the models by pretending to faint.
Clearly aware of the television gold that came from Rebecca's fainting, Banks pranked the models by "fainting." It felt wrong in soooo many ways, and I'm sure that anyone could convey their acting prowess without having to fake a medical condition.
In Cycle 22, Nyle DiMarco, who is deaf, was forced to model in the dark, which showed that the producers clearly aren't considering the models' needs.
In the challenge, the models had to pose in the woods using a flashlight as a guide. DiMarco stated that he didn't think "it was going to be that big of a deal" since members of the deaf community tend to have better vision at night than others.
But though DiMarco ultimately won that cycle, he was clearly at a disadvantage in comparison to the other models in this particular competition, as communicating in the dark was challenging. I wish that there could've been some type of compromise, maybe just keeping the lights dim, so he could at least get a sense of where the camera was.
Before DiMarco, Amanda Swafford in Cycle 3 had to model on a dimly lit runway even though she was legally blind.
Swafford asked if she could see the runway beforehand, as she's completely blind at night, but they rejected the idea. "I mean I understand they didn't want me to have an unfair advantage, but I'm just trying to get up to the same playing field as everybody else," Swafford explained. Luckily Swafford was able to see some of the runway thanks to the glitter, but it seemed unreasonable to make a model who is completely blind in darkness walk down a runway with no clues.
It's great that the show has been inclusive and included models from the deaf and blind community, but it's a little disheartening for the show to not acknowledge the added difficulties that some models may have to face on certain challenges.
Various forms of blackface and race switching were a regular thing on the show, too.
In Cycle 4, the models were told that their ethnicities would be "switched." In the photo above, you can see they painted a model who was part Black into a dark-skinned "traditionally African woman" (because apparently there's only one way to look Black?). "The challenge here really is taking on the persona of that other ethnicity while in the photograph and owning it," Jay Manuel said. I'm still not really sure what he meant by that.
Later on, a similar challenge happened in Cycle 13 when they had the models portray a "hapa" or a biracial form of themselves.
Yeah, it was as bad as you thought it would be. Think models covered in dark makeup and wearing Native American headdresses AND bindis AT THE SAME TIME. Goodness gracious.
Banks eventually apologized for the shoot on her talk show stating, "[If anyone was offended], I apologize because that was not my intent… It's my number one passion in my life to stretch the definition of beauty. I listen to many heartbreaking stories of women who thought they would be happier if they looked different. I want every girl to appreciate the skin she's in," according to Jezebel.
It's great that Banks finally saw the problem with shoots like those, but I wish it didn't take several seasons to do so.
Of course, there's also the fact that most models were told they'd probably be sent home if they didn't want to participate in nude challenges.
Although this occurred multiple times in the show's duration, the most significant moment was in Cycle 1, when multiple models refused to pose in a "semi-nude" shoot. Robin and Shannon both refused to participate because of religious beliefs and ended up in the bottom two. In the episode, Janice Dickinson said to Shannon, "If you're not willing to do that, you might as well go work at a car factory or a bakery, because that's part of being a model."
What was ironic was that Banks herself stated that she doesn't do nude shoots, but will participate in "simulate[d]" nude shoots where she's wearing a "g-string" that's edited out. Banks insisted she was respectful of Robin and Shannon's religious beliefs, and cited other reasons why Shannon and Robin were in the bottom two. Still, that excuse seemed to ring hollow, and it was strange the judges couldn't be respectful of the model's limits.
Whether it be for religious reasons or simply because they didn't want to, models who weren't willing to shoot nude faced an uphill battle. The show demonstrates how it was once thought that modesty and modeling couldn't ever coexist. Today, supermodel Halima Aden has been featured on several major magazine covers, shattering that modeling myth in the process. I wish Banks had taken the opportunity years before Aden started modeling to show her fellow judges that being successful in the industry without nudity is possible.
Other times, models who were sent to the hospital and couldn't participate in challenges or judging faced disqualification.
In Cycle 1, Adrianne was carried to the hospital for extreme food poisoning. "I would never cut Adrianne for being sick, but unfortunately the judges came to the decision that if she was not present during the judging, she would be eliminated because it wouldn't be fair to the other girls that would be present," Banks explained. Adrianne pretended she was well enough in order to attend the judging, and she ultimately won the season.
When handing Adrianne her picture in the episode, Banks said, "Adrianne, I have to commend you for being here. There is a balance, though. And in your quest for winning this contest, just make sure you know how far to push yourself."
Yeah, no. Banks should've put her foot down and asserted that illness doesn't equal a lack of modeling skills.
In Cycle 6, Danielle went to the hospital due to dehydration, exhaustion, and food poisoning.
"There's no way that I'm missing the competition," she said, despite the doctors wanting her to stay. And although Danielle missed the dancing challenge, she did do the shoot. Of course, during judging, Banks referenced her own illnesses and ability to push through her own pain. "I have a stomach condition and it is the worst pain in the world, but I just have to model through it. And that's what you did, Danielle," Banks gushed.
Hopefully in the upcoming cycle, Banks will have done away with those problems.
"America's Next Top Model" is an AMAZING show that's getting even more size and age-inclusive. It gets so many things right, which is why it's disappointing to see it fail in these ways. I have a lot of hope for the next season that they'll do away with these problematic behaviors for good.
Oh and we love you, Tyra, but please no more "Rosemary's Baby" makeovers. They're awful.