Tyra Banks, the supermodel-turned-media mogul at the helm of popular TV franchise America's Next Top Model, instagrammed a photo of her 'muffin-top' yesterday. (A muffin top being the human hip flesh that invariably bumps out from the side of your tight jeans, unless you are not in possession of human hip flesh and are thereby the envy-object of Tyra Banks.) The caption alongside the picture reads: "Check the juicy muffin-top on my back! #AssMaintainence #PerfectIsBoring."
One look at the photo and some things are immediately clear: Tyra has no muffin-top to speak of; has spent a fair whack of time in hair and makeup; and then softened the picture for extra prettiness. She's also contorted her body into a very specific position for maximum thinness, and her open-mouthed gaze... I don't even know what that is. But it doesn't seem on-theme.
It's just an Instagram photo. But it encapsulates perfectly the contradiction that is Tyra Banks: a hyper critical model-groomer who reinforces the ideals she pretends to fight. "You don't need to be perfect!", she exclaims, as she takes a perfect picture for girls worried they're not perfect enough.
Tyra's journey into faux body-love evangelism took shape when she was photographed in a swimsuit in 2007 looking like a normal human, then ripped apart for it by the press. The ordeal was undeniably foul, and she was was right to contest it. She told the media to "kiss my fat ass", and for all intents and purposes it appeared she might actually put the scandal to good use.
On The Tyra Banks Show, she strode sassily around on stage for her new So What? body-love campaign, shouting: "So what if I am overweight, as long as I am happy? So what if I have cellulite? So what if don't wear makeup or the latest fashion trends?" Her website quoted body-image activist Jessica Weiner: "Give some thought to who you are on the inside," it read. "We live in a world today that is bent on making us carbon copies of each other. And we have the massive influence of advertising and media that tells us our life will begin when we have something, weigh something, and wear something."
Tyra announced she was "put on this earth to instill self-esteem in young girls," and a lot of people probably believed her.
But you can't campaign against messages that fund your success without emerging as a flake. Past themes of Tyra's talk show included Say 'Bye-Bye' to Booty Cellulite; Look Ten Years Younger; Beauty Secrets from the World's Biggest Supermodels!; Hide Those Bags... and I'm NOT Talking About Louis Vuitton or Prada; and other equally worthwhile debates.
Her Next Top Model franchise has exposed time and time again her preoccupation with unrealistic beauty ideals. And the show itself, the sole focus of which is scrutiny of beautiful young women to find the most beautiful young woman of all, would not work in a world sans body fascism.
In turn, body fascism couldn't exist without powerful perpetrators like Tyra: the people who make the shows and support the industries that create the messages. It's an ongoing and very profitable dance that bankrolls fashion, beauty, and entertainment - and Tyra is helping to lead that dance.
Except she pretends to stand in the corner, motioning people to exit the dancehall. But the doors are locked. And she has the key. Because Tyra Banks is not helping young girls - she's betraying them.
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