Pop Culture
Aug 06, 2008, 06:43AM

Five Foot Three

Good thing no young girls read Harper's Bazaar, otherwise they might further confuse Tyra Banks' ubiquity with Michelle Obama's professional achievement.

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Photo by My Hobo Soul.

I can’t stand Tyra Banks.

It goes against one of my main personal tenets of not hating on other women, but I just can’t help it. She’s one of the most vapid, self-obsessed, irritating people that I have ever encountered on television. So for Harper’s Bazaar to slap a wig and some business-wear on the former model-turned-TV personality and have her pose as the First Lady in an obvious emulation of Michelle Obama (a Barack look-alike and two young “daughters” accompany her in nearly every picture) really gets my blood boiling.

I take issue with this spread for two reasons: First, Michelle Obama is not the First Lady (and for that matter, neither Banks). Had Harper’s Bazaar obtained an interview and photo-shoot with the actual Michelle Obama, I highly doubt that they would have depicted her beaming from behind a desk in the Oval Office as her husband, the President, takes a phone call, or that she would have agreed had they proposed it. To have Banks essentially portray Michelle Obama in this manner is thus both ridiculously stupid and misguided. Second, Banks is not Michelle Obama. Obama is a Harvard-educated lawyer and mother of two who speaks intelligently and eloquently about American politics, campaign issues and the importance of recognizing the difficulty women face when attempting to balance a career with motherhood. Banks, while certainly a successful model and pretty savvy businesswoman—she sure knows how to market herself—is best known for rhetoric like, “Smile with your eyes,” and, in response to an unflattering tabloid swimsuit photo, “Kiss my fat ass!” or my personal favorite, “H2O-No you didn’t, gurl!”

Perhaps I’m letting my personal disdain for Banks to inordinately impact my opinion. I can understand the reasoning behind the Harper’s parallel. Michelle Obama could become the country’s first African American First Lady; Banks was the first commercially successful African American model. Plus the accompanying interview is largely devoted to Banks’ thoughts about both Obamas and what she would do if she were First Lady. It’s this discussion, however, that really irks me and stands as evidence that Banks should never be held in the same esteem as Michelle.

About the potential first lady, Banks says that she was “so warm and so gracious. She’s got that direct-eye-contact, truly-connecting thing.” There’s nothing wrong with that per se, but then she goes on to add, “She’s not a ‘ha, ha, ha’ type…And I love that she’s tall.” And while Banks is correct that “being first lady is not just about being the wife but really taking command and having a true vision,” she later throws out any respect this answer may have earned her by saying that a first lady would “need to know how to take a fierce picture but at the same time be able to eat fried chicken, have grease on her fingers, and be okay with getting photographed like that too.” Obviously Banks means that she wouldn’t want a first lady to take herself too seriously—given that if she became first lady she’d want her Secret Service acronym to be “KMFA: Kiss My Fat Ass,” seriousness is clearly not one of her priorities—but there has to be a better way of expressing that than insisting on a greasy-fingers photo-shoot.

That’s all part of the problem though. For Banks, life is like one big photo-shoot. She can pose as the first lady one day and stand on stage during the taping of her talk show in nothing but a flesh-colored bodysuit the next. Nobody seems to mind the hypocrisy that The Tyra Banks Show acts like a nonstop PSA about how women should feel happy and beautiful no matter what their size, while America’s Next Top Model is all about finding the next up-and-coming young star for an industry that relies on women resembling clothes hangers. Michelle Obama, on the other hand, is subject to real public scrutiny. If she wants to stand beside her husband in the Oval Office, it’s going to take more than a crummy-looking wig, some set design and camera crew. Banks is right that in a way, Barack Obama becoming president will be about Barack and Michelle becoming president—what she says and does can affect his campaign. It’s fine for Banks to be inspired by Michelle Obama, but young girls and women in America need admirable role models and I’d hate to think that they could get these two women confused.

  • My cousin and sister both look up to Tyra Banks because she was the first commercially successful AA model. Both of them aspire(d) to be models like her, and they think of Tyra as "real" because she is from the ghetto and seems to stay true to herself. Obama, on the other hand, appeals to a completely other sensibility: she's smart and is something to aspire to professionally. So I think that the two women represent two different things for young AA girls: girls who look up to Tyra because she is "real" and can move from "TV show talk" to "street talk" in seconds, and girls who want to be politicians. But not everybody wants to be a lawyer or whatever, and not everyone wants to be a model. So I guess all I'm saying is that it's important to have positive role models in all the careers you might be interested in.

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  • PoMo's right. There's a kind of snobbery at work here, although probably not intentional. Is Tyra messing up people's lives? I doubt it, and this dopey magazine spread isn't the worst that'll happen to Michelle in the campaign. Not by a long shot.

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  • @PoMoMad Don't you think its weird though that Tyra promotes staying true to yourself and being proud of your body yet is the head of an extremely popular show that consistently fails to recognize models that aren't paper thin? When they designate 120-130 lb models as "plus size," don't you think they're sending the wrong message to girls and women who have beautiful healthy bodies but can't conform to impossible model standards? I feel like she fails to recognize that models like her don't make it in the industry, and that she is making the situation worse by only selecting very thin models and telling other models that they need to shed 5-10 lbs to fit into the industry? Maybe not, but those are just my thoughts from having watched the show in the past.

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  • You've got a case, dtdowntown, and admittedly I don't watch those shows or read Harper's Bazaar, but is Tyra Banks' message worse than standard-issue rappers?

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  • No, I don't think it is, but it's also coming from a source that is more credible and mainstream. People take Rapper's messages with a grain of salt because of artistic license and because Rapper's don't market themselves as role models nor do they dictate industry policy for being success. Meanwhile, Tyra does all three, and in doing so is acting somewhat hypocritical.

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  • yeah you have a point. but your issue seems to be more an attack on modeling in general and not just with tyra specifically. it's true, ANTM doesnt recognize girls who aren't rail thin. but what modeling show does? not a single one. i hear the point that these types of shows are not good for young girls who are developing their self image. but as far as role models are concerned, tyra is one of two black models that young black girls have to aspire to. i may ruffle a few feathers here, but based off of my own experience, i think that the young AA girls who worship tyra, beyonce, etc, are less likely to think about weight issues and are just be excited to have another AA girl out there to look up to when there are so few already. i think it's more innocent than you think. these girls want to be styled like tyra and beyonce; they want the the same weave. i dont think they all want to starve themselves because tyra looks thin. hell, i always looked up to tyra as a child and though im a boy i don't have no weight issues, nor does anyone else i know who also looked up to her.

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  • Isn't the point here that Tyra just wants to be the everywoman....model, tv host, regular gal, wealthy business woman, heavy gal with no body image issues, health advocate, greasy foods, down and dirty gal, elite, ghetto, black, white, i could be a potential first lady,....enough. you can't be everything. Pick a few, but don't get greedy.

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  • yeah, i think that is the point. you have to be everything to everybody, right?

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  • DTDowntown: Rappers are de facto role models for a huge audience of young men, just like athletes or other entertainers. Maybe you take their lyrics with a grain of salt—I do—but a lot of impressionable kids don't. Rappers and models obviously have the right to do anything they want; I just don't find Tyra Banks and celebs like her, who're following a long tradition of famous models transcending that one claim to fame, in the same league as guys who make a fortune, and following, by singing, rapping, lyrics that advocate violence.

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  • I think that louiebe said it best. Tyra can be a good role model in a way, but she cannot be a role model in the way that Michelle Obama is, so why is she imitating Obama?

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  • @PoMoMad: I didn't know Trya Banks was an alcoholic!

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