Fashion

05.15.12

Tyra Banks’s Open Letter to Models: ‘Vogue’ to Ban Images of Anorexia

Vogue’s decision to ban images of women who ‘appear to have an eating disorder’ is a move that should be celebrated, writes Tyra Banks. The supermodel encourages models, girls, and mothers everywhere to spring into action.

To models around the world, I want to celebrate Vogue’s recent groundbreaking announcement. The editors of Vogue’s 19 international editions have pledged to ban models from their pages who “appear to have an eating disorder,” to create healthy backstage working conditions, as well as several other revolutionary initiatives. This calls for a toast over some barbecue and burgers!

When I started modeling, I used to see models who seemed unhealthy backstage at fashion shows. They appeared to be abusing their bodies to maintain a certain weight. These girls were booked over and over again for countless fashion shows and photo shoots. I’m sure many of you today have witnessed this, or even live it. Now, real progress is finally on the horizon. Vogue is stepping up, doing the right thing, and protecting that girl. Perhaps that girl is you!

People get upset with you if you’re a very thin model. What many don’t know is that a certain sample size has been set by the industry, and you’re doing everything in your power to keep working. At times, I feel there’s an unspoken rule that says, “there’s no such thing as being too thin, as long as you don’t pass out.” 

In my early 20s I was a size four. But then I started to get curvy. My agency gave my mom a list of designers that didn’t want to book me in their fashion shows anymore. In order to continue working, I would’ve had to fight Mother Nature and get used to depriving myself of nutrition. As my mom wiped the tears from my face, she said, “Tyra, you know what we’re going to do about this? We’re going to go eat pizza.” We sat in a tiny pizzeria in Milan and strategized about how to turn my curves into a curveball. In a way, it was my decision not to starve myself that turned me into a supermodel, and later on, a businesswoman.

On America’s Next Top Model, I mentor girls on television. When that TV goes off, I actually mentor other girls in the modeling industry—girls that have not been on Top Model, but who appear in Vogue worldwide. On late night calls, I console them as they confide in me about their bodies maturing, and not being able to fit into sample sizes anymore. Now I know you all will still call me for advice, but I don’t think there will be as much of: “I’m hungry, Tyra, and I’m tired. But I still want to do runway and high-fashion work. I want to stay on top.” With Vogue’s new mandates, things, I hope, will now change for the better.

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Tyra Banks addresses criticism about her weight on 'The Tyra Banks Show.'

I would love for models to be protected by a guild. Even when I was a teen model, I didn’t think it was fair that I had to enter the acting world to get insurance. When I went to Paris after graduating high school, I saw a model who was 12 years old without any supervision. That wouldn’t happen in the acting world. There needs to be more industrywide protections for models, and we need to be more consistent with what the acting world does: protect our minors, as well as the health and well-being of models.

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Many of you have graciously said that you want to have the same type of career that I’ve had. But the truth is that if I was just starting to model at age 17 in 2012, I could not have had the career that I did. I would’ve been considered too heavy. In my time, the average model’s size was a four or six.  Today you are expected to be a size zero. When I started out, I didn’t know such a size even existed.

If I was just starting to model at 17 in 2012, I could not have had the career that I did. I would’ve been considered too heavy.

To moms everywhere, we need to educate our girls not to fall prey to thinspirational images of beauty. So where do we start? By being very careful about how we talk about our own bodies in front of our daughters. We can show our daughters diverse images of beautiful women: curvy, tall, short, and everything in-between. Moms, you are the first and most influential role model in your girl’s life. Use that power. Teach her to love herself and everything that makes her unique.

To young girls everywhere, it’s sad that our bodies go in and out of style, just like fashion trends. One season we’re supposed to be a zero, and the next you’re supposed to be a six. Then you’re supposed to have a six-pack, but wait, now you’re supposed to be juicy ... with a booty! It makes us feel crazy. Many of you are saying, “What the heck am i supposed to be?” Exactly who you are right now: that’s who you need to be. 

There are so many models out there with bodies that aren’t stick figures. There’s Lara Stone, who has unique features like the gap between her front teeth, and she’s not a stick. And I love Doutzen Kroes and Kate Upton’s bodies. They’re softer than most girls these days. Kate Dillon is a gorgeous plus-size model, or, as I like to call her, “fiercely real.”

I’ve been using the word "flawsome" a lot. It’s you + your flaws + awesome = Flawsome. I have a big forehead, and I got made fun of all time. When I was a little girl, they used to call me “five-head.” I’ve been teased my whole life, but I continue to rock it with pride. Years ago one of my agents told me that my forehead was what got me signed.

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Tyra Banks discusses her letter on 'Good Morning America.'

Vogue has the power to make and break—whether it’s fashion trends, designers, models, and yes, even industry practices. Their bold stance means that others will follow.

Now it’s up to you. Take your “flaw,” and turn it on its (fore)head. And never forget that you are fabulous, you are fierce, you are flawsome.

As told to Isabel Wilkinson