Thursday, October 29, 2009

America's Next Top Role Model

194 pounds
A few weeks ago I heard about Tyra Banks' 2007 refusal to lose weight despite media pressure to do so, and even though this is an old story, it's one that clearly bears repeating.

As I'm sure many of you know, Banks made a name for herself as a model—both on the runway and on the cover of magazines—and for many years she was whippet thin, weighing around 130, which at 5'10" made her BMI 18.7. Considering that anything below 18.5 is underweight, it's clear that Banks' former weight was impossible to maintain over the long haul unless she gave in to industry pressure to all but stop eating and exercise to the point of being obsessed.

At her new weight of 161 pounds, Banks is still well within the healthy range. Her BMI is 23.1, and she could gain another twelve pounds and still not be considered overweight. Let me repeat that: at 5'10", Tyra Banks could weigh 173 pounds and still be healthy! As I said in my "Delusional Girl" post, I think it's important to recognize that just because the number on the scale isn't closing in on one hundred pounds, that doesn't mean it's not a good number.

But Banks has been retired from modeling and has had her own talk show on The CW for years. I've never watched the show, but now that I know about Tyra's unwillingness to conform to social pressure to be super thin, I might just have to catch an episode or two.

Apparently, back in 2007, someone in the media snapped an unflattering photo of Tyra in her bathing suit and splashed it all over the tabloids with nasty headlines like "Tyra Porkchop" and "America's Next Top Waddle." Not one to let others determine her self worth, Banks took matters into her own hands, wearing nothing but that same bathing suit on her daytime show and posing for the pictures you see here in order to prove that she did not need to lose weight.

And in response to all of the media scrutiny, Banks railed against these comments, claiming that she was definitely not fat and admitting that she still "feels hot." I admire the hell out of Banks for criticizing the notion that, with a body like that and a BMI of 23, she's overweight and saying that she's never felt so sexy, but it's her comments about how the media can hurt adult and young women alike that really impresses me. Banks says she gets "so much mail from young girls who say, 'I look up to you … I think you're beautiful. . . So when they say that my body is 'ugly' and 'disgusting,' what does that make those girls feel like?"

Banks raises a very good point: what does happen to the rest of us when someone as stunning as Banks is called ugly? I'll tell you what happens. The next time we look in the mirror, we see someone who is more than ugly, we see someone repulsive, someone we hate. And we start to feel even worse about ourselves than we already did. As Banks rightly points out in the spread below, those of us with lower self-esteem often revert to starving ourselves when we are faced with such impossible standards. Yes, this type of reporting is not only nasty. It's destructive—for me, for you, and for society.

Some people have called Banks a hypocrite. After all, she used to be one of the models who made us think that being thin means being beautiful, but Banks is hardly to blame for an industry that's been making the thin=beautiful equation long before she arrived on the scene. So rather than criticize Banks for any part she plays in the societal notion that all attractive women need to look like runway models, I'll thank her instead for admitting that there is more than one way to be beautiful.

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