Having aired for a whopping 24 seasons since 2003 with no sign of stopping, the America’s Next Top Model franchise is a force to be reckoned with, being shown in 170 countries worldwide. It taught us how to smize, tooch, spot dreckitude, and supply us for life with Miss J reaction GIFs. What I find weird though, is how – despite being created by a strong, independent, black businesswoman (the queen that is Tyra Banks) – the show gave airtime to some pretty shitty people and normalised worrying behaviour, from racism to homophobia. Sometimes it was shut down, other times it was pretty much just aired as if normal – so let’s take a look back and see were it all went wrong.
1. In Cycle 3, where contestant Yaya was basically given shit for standing up for her African heritage
Yaya was an African American contestant who had to put up with so much in her cycle. In one instance two white designers cooed, “Oooh Yaya! What an unusual name,” and she responded “it’s actually a very common name where I come from.” Of course, she was berated for having an ‘attitude.’ In a challenge where models had to choose a different selection of hats to model and Yaya chose a cowboy hat, judge Nigel Barker remarked: “Everyone would have pegged you as going for the African hat,” whilst another white judge criticised her “intensity to prove her African-ness, sometimes it’s over-bearing.” Somehow retaining her cool, Yaya told the judges that she didn’t want to pick the African hat as “It is very cliché, the fabric used is very cheap and artificial.” When she went on to explain how Afrocentricity is misunderstood, she was cut off and told that it wasn’t “fashion” enough. Ok. Why didn’t Tyra stand up for Yaya? We’ll never know.
2. Also in Cycle 3 was Cassie, who clearly had a pretty serious eating disorder and was still allowed to compete
Remember Cassie? The one who went crazy when Eva carved a message into her brownies? Yeah, that one. “I’m obsessed with my weight” Cassie repeatedly said, matter of factly. “I don’t consider myself bulimic because I don’t throw up after everything I eat” she also tells to Tyra Banks, “only at night after a big meal.” *alarm bells start clanging violently* – but they still allow her to continue in the competition. The contestants go out to a restaurant and she only orders a diet coke – and when questioned by the other girls, she quips “I’m starving myself now.” Seemingly a joke – but there’s no trace of humour in her face. Saying “I wouldn’t say I have a disorder, but I worry about what I eat 24/7” doesn’t exactly scream “I’m ready for a modelling competition!” The poor girl wasn’t exactly helped, especially when the contestants went to visit designers, and two different ones told her directly that her hips and thighs were too big
3. A series later, when contestant Keenyah was repeatedly criticised for needing to lose weight…
…and then the producers made her do a photoshoot dressed like an elephant whilst zooming in on her stomach. Cool.
4. The repeated exploitation of the “angry black woman” stereotype
The show’s producers seemed to love this as a tool for drama, and I have a sneaking feeling that they allowed large personalities through to late stages when their modelling ability probably wasn’t up there. Bianca from Cycle 9; Fatima’s comments to other girls at the Cycle 10 casting; more famously, though, this was seen a lot in Cycle 4 contestants Brandy and Tiffany, both of whom had pretty volatile personalities and were put in stressful situations for entertainment. Tiffany, of course, is infamous to ANTM watchers for making Tyra lose her shit.
5. When an openly islamophobic, homophobic and racist contestant was given airtime in Cycle 6
Boy, were we in for a treat with wannabe Cycle 6 model Dani. Her audition tape was all we really needed to see. It started off fine, if annoying – “I cheer at football games, I have so many friends,” she gushed. Then, she made a comment about her casting was “95% black girls, I didn’t realise it was gonna be like that.” Warning signs begin to flash. Oh boy, it gets worse. “I am the most uber conservative, republican, hard core baptist you could ever imagine in your whole life. I don’t like gay people, I don’t like muslims. I don’t like anything liberal. But other than that, I really like to get along with people.” Yes, she said that. OKAYYYYYYYY. She then goes on and on about how affirmative action is “the biggest load of crap she’s heard in her whole life.” Thank god she didn’t hang around for long.
6. When a contestant with asperger’s syndrome and ADHD was mocked and belittled by the other contestants
Cycle 9 welcomed Heather, a contestant with aspergers syndrome and ADHD. Sure, she was a little awkward and inward, but always friendly and a talented model. One time after she shouted at a girls for jumping in the shower before her, they all burst into laughter to her face, joking that “she looked like she waned to do voodoo on me.” Another contestant bitched behind her back that she was “kinda weird” and she didn’t “want to talk to her in case she clings to me.” They said she was on “like, a three second delay” and were utterly closed minded about that fact that she was slightly different to the rest of them. Where did they find these awful girls, seriously?
7. When Hannah was transphobic to Isis in Cycle 11
Cycle 11 was particularly ground-breaking in welcoming a transgender woman, Isis, as a contestant when it was still extremely uncommon to have trans people represented on television. Of course, at least one person had to be shitty about it – notably fellow contestant Hannah. “I come from a small town,” she repeatedly said, lip wobbling. “I wouldn’t normally hang out with characters like Isis because she’s a transgender… I can’t pretend I’m not uncomfortable.” Hannah also PHYSICALLY SHOVED ISIS AWAY FROM HER when she nearly accidentally touched her in the hot tub. She justified her actions saying she was a “stereotypical white person.” No honey, you don’t speak for me! You’re on your own in this one!
8. When Denzel was a fragile homophobe to Will in Cycle 21
Finally we’re at Cycle 21, (at this point men were also allowed to enter the competition). Of course, at least one fragile man was going to be out in full force, trying to prove their manliness. Contestant Denzel criticized fellow contestant Will for being a “feminine, homosexual man” who didn’t belong in the competition. “I want a dude to win, but I don’t want it to be Will. People are always shedding a negative light on male models, saying we’re homosexual. I would like to see a man break that stigma.” Nice attempt at pretending to be woke, honey. Using the word “stigma” isn’t fooling anyone. He then made himself sound even more stupid, saying “if you’re gay then at least be a man about it, like, ain’t no fucking way a man should wear heels. Did I come here to be beaten by a dude who wears heels?” When Will overheard this homophobic rant and clearly became upset, Denzel said that he would only things out with Will “if he would be a man about it, but he wants to be a female about it.” Jokes on you Denzel, Will went on to go way further than you did in the competition.