Tyra Banks was a skeptical beauty. Growing up, she thought of herself as a “tall beanpole freak.”
But after sending photos to different modeling agents in 11th grade, she received a “yes” from an agency in Paris. She was soon on her way to becoming a runway model. Although the lack of diversity in the U.S. fashion world could have killed her career before it started, designers in Paris were struck by her beauty and booked her for a shocking 25 shows in her first season. She made modeling history as the first Black woman featured on the covers of GQ, the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue and the Victoria’s Secret catalog.
Banks took control of her own future early on. She sought a career beyond modeling. In 2003, she started Bankable Productions (formerly Ty Ty Baby Productions), which launched her reality show, America’s Next Top Model, followed in 2005 by her Emmy-winning talk show, The Tyra Banks Show. Banks also launched the short-lived Stylista and True Beauty in 2008 and 2009, respectively.
Tyra Banks aims to lead by example
In all her shows, Banks came across as a mentor, a big sister, an aunt. In America’s Next Top Model, Banks gave advice to aspiring models and taught them that their intellect, humor and attitude could make—or break—their careers. The Tyra Banks Show often featured themes aimed at helping young women improve their lives and self-esteem. The pageant-like True Beauty judged contestants on their inner beauty. Those who were eliminated were shown the behavior that lost them the competition via surveillance camera footage. Stylista saw fashion-oriented contestants compete to earn an editorial position at Elle magazine.
“I feel I have a responsibility to lead by example and bring attention to the issues facing girls and young women,” Banks says.
Banks has sought to dispel the notion that young women need to fit a certain image to be beautiful. In an interview with TODAY, she said that while her own famously high forehead prompted comments from others, it’s also what made her distinctive as a model.
When some media outlets tried to portray 5-foot-10 Banks as heavy, she came out fighting—in her bathing suit, while talking directly into the cameras on her show. The response? If the cheers from the audience were any indication, it seemed she was the picture of health and beauty.
“I’m passionate about inspiring people to fulfill their own dreams and fantasies through entertainment that is engaging, uplifting and, of course, fun! This is my dream realized,” she says.
This article was updated April 2023. Photo by Kathy Hutchins/Shutterstock