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Friday, April 13, 2012

America's Next Top Hypocrite?

This is the second part of a two-part blogging exercise that links to yesterday’s Thursday confession.  For those of you who may have missed yesterday’s entry, my confession post yesterday was this.

THURSDAY CONFESSION #15: When it comes to physical beauty in women, I have this to say. Natural beauty, healthy living, and having a positive attitude about aging gracefully are qualities I find incredibly sexy.

As it so happens, today’s blog topic is based on this confession.  Unfortunately, the subject happens to be about a reality show that seems to go against the confession that I have made.  It happens to be a show that has been on the air for nearly a decade now, and is currently in its eighteenth season (or cycle, as the show refers them as).

The show, of course, happens to be “America’s Next Top Model”, hosted by Tyra Banks (who herself was once known as being a top model). 

When the show debuted its first cycle (opening seen above) on May 20, 2003, nobody knew just how huge the show would eventually become.  Seventeen winners have been crowned in the American version so far, and several international versions of the program have aired (or are currently airing) in countries such as Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Holland, Israel, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, and Poland, just to name a few.

(If you click on each country, you can watch the intro for each version.)

As far as the mechanics of the show go, I’m not necessarily opposed to it.  The only goal for each of the contestants on each of the “Next Top Model” franchises is to become the last one standing.  The person who is chosen as “America’s Next Top Model” often gets a huge assortment of prizes, including modelling contracts, a spread in a national magazine, prize money, and other various goodies on top of that.  And, from my research, I can say that some of the earliest seasons really did give off an accurate portrayal of how brutal the modelling industry really is.  Between countless photo shoots, modelling in rather unusual situations (from underwater modelling to modelling while bouncing on a trampoline), and various other tasks that range from the exhausting to the ridiculous, it really showed just how hard models really did work in the industry. 

I know that I certainly don’t have what it takes to make it big in the modelling world.  Of course, my main goal was never to become a model, so I’m fine with that.  But for those of you who are quite serious about becoming a fashion model, watch some of the early seasons of “America’s Next Top Model” to see what I mean.  It’s not just standing in front of a camera and making sure that you remember to smile.  There’s a lot of work involved, and on that aspect, I have to show some respect to those who are in the industry.

But, that’s about all of the positive comments that I really have to say about the show.

There’s a reason why I have insisted that people watch the earliest seasons of “America’s Next Top Model”.  In my opinion, those seasons give off a more accurate portrayal of what the modelling industry is really like, and the focus was more towards the contestants.

But, now take a look at the cycle 18 opening.  Notice anything different?

If you said that there was a lot more Tyra, and a lot less models, you’d be correct.  In fact, one thing I have noticed about the show’s recent seasons is that Tyra seems to want to be involved in EVERY DETAIL OF THE SHOW! 

Don’t believe me?  Have a look at this.  Last season, the girls were asked to write and perform their own song.  What that exactly has to do with modelling, I have no idea myself, but that’s not the point.  Below is a clip of one of these songs.

The unfortunate thing about it is that the song was good enough without the cut scenes of Tyra and her friend.  And yet, there she was.  Every single one!  It was almost as if Tyra Banks herself was competing for the title of “America’s Next Top Model”, and screw everyone else.

The fact that Tyra has taken over half of the opening credits should be a clear indication that in recent seasons that the show has seemingly become less about the models competing and more about what Tyra wants. 

I mean, heaven forbid that a contestant chooses not to get emotional about being eliminated from the competition, just as a woman named Tiffany from season four did.  For whatever reason, Tiffany had made peace with the fact that she was going home, but somehow, Tyra didn’t quite think that she should be feeling THAT way...

Can you say, brutal?

And, that’s not even the real issue that I have with the show!

The real problem that I have with “America’s Next Top Model” is related to my confession from yesterday.  I find it very difficult to throw my support to a show that basically turns its back on natural beauty.  It almost seems as though the contestants are forced to become someone completely different from who they are in order to even have a shot at winning the top prize, and to me, that isn’t okay.  Even more disgusting to me is the fact that I feel as though some contestants have no chance to win the competition right from the beginning.

I’ll just come right out and say it.  I feel that the show is discriminatory against “plus-sized” models.  And, yes, I did put “plus-size” in quotation marks for a reason.

I looked into how many contestants have competed in “America’s Next Top Model” over the last nine years.  Each season had anywhere from ten to fourteen models competing.  When you add up all the contestants of each cycle, you get a grand total of two hundred and twenty-three contestants. 

Of those 223 “Top Model” hopefuls, do you want to know just how many admitted “plus-size models” have competed in the series?  Let’s see...

We have Robyn Manning, Anna Bradfield, Toccara Jones, Diane Hernandez, Diana Zalewski, Whitney Cunningham, Whitney Thompson, and Kasia Pilewicz.  If my math is correct, that means that of the 223 contestants on America’s Next Top Model, we have only had EIGHT “plus-size” models.  That’s pathetic.

Of the eight “plus-size” models who have competed, how many have won?  Only one.  Whitney Thompson from Cycle 10.  If you’re curious, here’s a photo of the only “plus-size” winner.

Now, I’ll readily admit that Whitney is gorgeous, and given this photo, I can see why she won the competition.  But, is she really considered “plus-size”?  Not according to me.  To me, Whitney looks no different than the average woman you see on the street.  If she is what “America’s Next Top Model” considers to be “plus-sized”, then I give up.

But, hey, at least the show managed to crown ONE “plus-sized” model.  The other seven never even came close. 

If you thought that was shocking, there’s more.

On cycle 12, there was a model named London who competed for the title of “America’s Next Top Model”, and from the beginning, it appeared that she was an early frontrunner.  However, some of the judges noticed that during the competition, London was actually “gaining” weight.  Never mind the fact that the viewing audience couldn’t see it, according to the judges, she was gaining weight, and they told her flat out that the weight gain was the reason behind her eventual elimination from the episode.

Are you kidding me here?

In interviews given by London that I have read online, she readily admits that controlling her weight has always been an issue for her, but as far as she was concerned, she didn’t think that it should have had any impact on her getting cut from the competition.  And, I agree with her.  While I understand the importance of models keeping their weight in check, there was no indication that London’s weight was out of control.  I think looking back on it, the show actually did more harm than good.  Basically, the message that it showed young women was that you can be a model, provided that you NEVER GAIN A SINGLE POUND EVER AGAIN.  Some message.

And, what makes me absolutely angry about this is the fact that Tyra Banks, of all people, should have known better.

Back in the days in which Tyra had her own daytime talk show, she was very hurt by people who commented negatively on a photo of her in a one-piece bathing suit that showed her off in an unflattering light.  She got so upset about it that she felt a need to address it on her talk show approximately five years earlier.  Watch the clip below.

At that moment, I admit that I was completely on her side.  As someone who had been picked on for being fat in high school, I knew and empathized with everything she was saying.  So, for her to turn around, and basically go against the very speech she gave on her talk show to tell a contestant that because she gained weight, she was no longer considered worthy of running for the title of “America’s Next Top Model” is quite hypocritical.  I would have thought that of all people, Tyra would have understood what London was going through.  I mean, in earlier seasons of the show, she actually showed concern and compassion for past contestants who did admit that they suffered from eating disorders!  It just seemed as though she was doing a total 180 between that talk show speech, and London’s elimination.

And, frankly, that makes me feel disgusted.

There was absolutely nothing wrong with London then, and there certainly isn’t anything wrong with London now.  She was, and is a beautiful girl no matter how much she weighed.  I can’t understand why that wasn’t good enough.

I mean, if she was making the same pose every single week, fine.  Get rid of her.  If she had a diva-like attitude where she thought she was better than everyone else, then fine.  Get rid of her.  If she fell asleep while doing a photo shoot, get rid of her.  Getting rid of her because she gained five pounds?  Shameful.  There’s no defending that.

I guess the point that I’m trying to make is that for a show that supposedly decides who will be the next top model, the judging process to me seems incredibly hypocritical, judgmental, and just plain harmful.  And for a host that preaches all about self-esteem in women, it just seems to boggle my mind that some of the decisions she has made seem to go against every word she says about it.

It’s hard to find natural beauty in a show that seems to take the stance that the more natural looking a model is, the less chance they have of succeeding in the industry.  It’s hard to find girls who have positive attitudes when the stress and drama seem to take over.

And, I find it extremely frustrating that a host who knows the pain that can come from being judged unfairly turns around and treats other contestants the exact same way.

I do believe that “America’s Next Top Model” started off with only the best of intentions, but now I feel that the show really doesn’t know what the heck it is doing any more.  I think I can even state that the show no longer promotes healthy attitudes, looking beautiful at any size, or feeling confident about yourself.  Rather it has turned into the Tyra Banks show, where dramatic confrontations, hypocritical eliminations, and piercing verbal attacks are commonplace.

It’s really sad when you stop and think about it.

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