I love Tyra Banks. If I wrote a love letter to Tyra Banks, I would quote Hank Moody: “She’s completely nuts in a way that makes me smile.”
Let’s get the “nuts” part out of the way. From pretending to faint on America’s Next Top Model, to screaming at a contestant for virtually no reason, to her continuously pretending to be British, Tyra has had her share of crazy moments on television. There’s no question that Tyra’s outlandish, loopy personality can be off-putting to some people and may prevent them from taking her seriously. But Tyra Banks is the real deal, and here’s why.
Although Tyra is mostly known as a former supermodel turned TV host, there is much more to admire about her. To quote her Wikipedia page, she is an “American television personality, producer, businesswoman, actress, author, former model and occasional singer.”
Thank you, Wikipedia, for including “occasional singer.” This gem of a music video should never be overlooked.
People are missing the point when they call Tyra “crazy,” though. Tyra’s ridiculous antics are all part of her personal brand and authenticity. She represents the idea of “perfect being boring.”
What has Tyra done?
Tyra was the first black woman to be featured on the covers of GQ and the Sport Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. She was the creator, executive producer, and host of America’s Next Top Model for 12 years, fueled by her own production company, Bankable Productions. Her Emmy-award winning talk show ran for five seasons (a show that dramatically impacted my self-esteem at 10-13 years old). She was recently ranked the No. 1 TV Personality by The Hollywood Reporter as a result of her new hosting gig on America’s Got Talent. She has written two books, created fashion and beauty websites, and started her own cosmetics company, Tyra Beauty. Since August of last year, she has been a personal branding guest lecturer at Stanford University.
What is Tyra all about?
Unlike most celebrities, social media influencers, or stars associated with reality TV, Tyra doesn’t just slap her name on any product and let men in suits do the heavy lifting. Tyra is the mastermind behind her career and she even unnecessarily attended Harvard Business School for the sole purpose of getting people to take her seriously. She does all of this, because she has been vocal about her life mission since 1993: to redefine the standard of beauty.
Early in her career, Tyra was repeatedly told “no” because of her skin color. At 11 years old, she was bullied for being 5’9, 90 pounds, having big eyes, and a huge forehead. As she got older, she was dropped from modeling agencies and designers who no longer wanted to work with her because she was becoming curvy. Rather than starving herself or rejecting her natural appearance, she built an empire off of honesty, imperfection, and natural beauty.
How does Tyra embody her personal brand?
“Martha Stewart…I look up to her so much. I think she has such an attention to detail. When you hear two words: ‘Martha Stewart,’ you understand what that brand is, all the way down to colors. And I hope to one day have a brand that when people hear, whether it’s my name or the name of the brand that I create, that they understand it immediately. That you get it immediately. That you don’t have to explain it. That’s what I aspire to.” – Tyra on personal branding
Tyra’s career has always been about encouraging everyone, especially young girls, to embrace their weight, their weird facial features, their crazy hair, their crooked teeth, and all of their imperfections. Through every project she has ever done, she has intentionally carved a path for herself as a thought leader in women’s empowerment, entrepreneurship, and how to build an impactful brand.
After modeling agencies lost interest in her because of her weight, Tyra went to designers who embraced curvy women. She continued to walk the runway of Victoria’s Secret until she retired as a model in 2005.
She started a talk show where she covered difficult issues facing women. She explored heavy topics like skin bleaching, eating disorders, sexuality, abusive relationships, teenage pregnancy, and self-esteem.
Her media appearances bleed positivity and self-expression. Her first music video appearance was in Michael Jackson’s 1991 Black Or White. When she starred in her first feature film, she played a doll who comes to life and helps people become better versions of themselves (and saves a young Lindsay Lohan from getting hit by a truck). She almost had a comedy series about her awkward teenage years called Fivehead, which, of course, is a nickname for those of us with large foreheads. And, my personal favorite Tyra moment: When she received widespread praise for this iconic and tearful declaration of “KISS. MY. FAT. ASS!” to tabloids who publicly shamed her weight.
Through her Top Model franchise, she developed her own vast, amusing vocabulary of words like “flawsome,” “B.F.O.G. (Big Fierce Outrageous Goal),” and “smize (smiling with your eyes).” These made-up words and acronyms may seem inane and juvenile, but it’s this silliness that gives her a light-hearted approach to building women’s self-esteem and ambition.
Tyra didn’t just get lucky when she became a model and acquired fame. When she earned the opportunity to attend Paris fashion week at 18 years old, she deferred her college enrollment, went to the FIDM library, and asked for every French magazine they could dig up. She studied the different designers’ variations of styling hair and makeup. She analyzed each model’s runway walk. In Paris, she booked 25 shows that season as a no-name. She had the talent, but more importantly she had the work-ethic and the self-awareness to dedicate herself to the work, and not make it about herself.
Tyra doesn’t just tell people to be confident and work hard. She leads by example and provides value to the world through her TV shows, entertainment, books, and businesses. She has strategically forged her own path through each project, media appearance, photoshoot, pose, makeup product, and television show she creates.
Tyra has disrupted our common perception of supermodels as one-dimensional props, and reinvented herself as a media mogul. She not only warped the public’s view of herself as an individual, but flipped our perception of the modeling and fashion industry, reality television, and most importantly how we define “beauty.” She’s accomplished this by being 100% authentic, yet calculated in how she presents her personal brand to the world.