LOS ANGELES - Tyra Banks, with a lively rush of words, describes a photo session featured in the season debut of her reality show America's Next Top Model.

In the shoot dubbed "Return to Innocence", the show's aspiring models are depicted playing "games that young girls played back in the day - dodge-ball, jacks, double-Dutch jump-rope", Banks said.

But the 13 women are posed to look anything but pure.

"There's a girl smoking. A girl from the wrong side of good," Banks said.

It's part of the TV producer and talk-show host's campaign against what she considers pop culture's harmful messages for girls.

Banks said she created America's Next Top Model, back with a two-hour episode airing in the US on tonight, to counter stereotypes of who and what is considered beautiful.

The show has included minorities and women dubbed "plus-size" by the fashion industry.

Banks, who also leads the show's judging panel, challenged convention herself as one of the few African-American supermodels.

This time around on Top Model, one contestant bears scars on her body from an accidental scalding she suffered as a child and refuses to hide the marks. Another has startlingly large, mesmerising eyes. A third is a street preacher.

"This is a very special group of girls," Banks said.

"I want them to connect with viewers, and not just with their looks, but with their personalities."

Banks is ready to push industry boundaries on the show's next season, due in September.

Women on the comparatively short side will be the focus: Nobody over 5-foot-7 (1.7 metres) need apply for the shot at a modelling contract.

Supermodels usually tower over mere mortals, with only a handful of less-than-statuesque beauties like Kate Moss making the cut.

Banks already has encountered scepticism from industry insiders.

"A couple of designer friends said, 'Look, girl, you better make sure that winner is fierce if it's not going to be a joke. You've got to make sure her face and body photographs like a tall model. She has to be really amazing.'"

Open auditions are being held this month in cities including New York, Dallas, Chicago and Los Angeles.

- AP