Tyra Banks was a skeptical beauty. Growing up, she thought
of herself as a “tall, beanpole freak.”
But when she was in 11th grade, a modeling agent
discovered her, and soon she was on her way to
Paris for runway modeling. Designers were struck
by her exotic beauty and booked her for an
unprecedented 25 shows. She made modeling
history again as the first African-American
woman featured on the covers of GQ, the
Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue and the
Victoria’s Secret catalog.
Despite her success, the supermodel
remains mindful of the challenges
faced by other girls and young women,
including the same kinds of self-doubt
Banks faced when she was younger.
Her TZone Foundation identifies
and provides resources to community
nonprofits to help young women
grappling with self-esteem, self-respect
and body-image issues.
“TZone is not a place; it is a
commitment to empower girls to
be fierce, focused and in control
of their futures,” Banks says on
the foundation’s Web site.
Banks took control
of her own future early
on. She sought a career
beyond modeling and, in
2003, started Bankable
launched her hit reality
show, America’s Next Top
Model, followed in 2005 by
her Emmy-winning talk show, The Tyra Banks Show. This year,
she launched the reality show True Beauty.
In all her shows, Banks comes across as a mentor, a big sister,
an aunt. In America’s Next Top Model, Banks gives advice to
aspiring models and teaches them that their intellect, humor and
attitude can make—or break—their careers. The Tyra Banks Show
often features themes aimed at helping young women improve
their self-esteem and their lives. The pageant-like True
Beauty judges contestants on their inner beauty.
If they appear on surveillance cameras to be
rude or selfish behind the scenes, they’re
kicked off the show after a little advice
and encouragement on how to become
“I feel I have a responsibility to lead
by example and bring attention to the
issues facing girls and young women,”
Banks has sought to dispel the
notion that young women need to
fit a certain image to be beautiful.
Pointing at herself on an episode
of The Tyra Banks Show, she said her
own famously high forehead makes
her distinctive as a model but that it
prompted teasing from other children
when she was younger.
When some media outlets tried to
portray 5-foot-10-inch Banks as heavy at
161 pounds, she came out fighting—in her
bathing suit. Talking directly into the cameras
on her show, she asked if she looked fat. The
response? If the cheers from the audience
and fan mail were any indication, it seems
she’s 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