Tyra Banks isn’t afraid to tell it like it is. And that’s why we love her. Yeah, she’s a supermodel who started America’s Next Top Model (which is on season 17, wtf?) and had her own daytime talk show, but she still keeps it real. Her latest project? Oh, just a best-selling novel. NBD. Actually, huge big deal! Tyra’s book is Modelland. It debuted on the New York Times Best Seller List and some critics are calling it the fashion version of Hunger Games. We caught up with her to talk about the book, her most embarrassing model moment, and that infamous paparazzi photo.
You spent five years working on Modelland. How did you keep yourself motivated?
I was very passionate about the story. When I focus on something, I become obsessed with it and I can’t pull away and that’s what happened with Modelland. One of my friends from middle school came to New York to visit me, but I told her, ‘I’m so sorry but I have to turn Modelland in in two weeks and I still have to write while you’re here.’ So we would go to the Guggenheim Museum and be touring the art, and then I’d have to leave her and go to the café and work on Modelland on my laptop.
In the story, the main character Tookie gets into modeling at age 15. You did too. Would you recommend getting into the industry that early?
Not unless grades and school work are solid. That comes first. My mother always told me that came first. I started modeling in 11th grade and it was something that I did afterschool and on the weekends. Modeling should be treated as an extracurricular activity as opposed to a career until you graduate high school.
You joke about your big forehead. How did you get to such a secure place about it?
When I was younger, I was definitely mocked for my forehead, but I hear it a lot more now. But, the modeling industry told me that it’s what made me more unique and less boring looking. So I always try to tell girls that with things that are quirky or weird or odd, people are going to point them out. But you have to realize that those are the things that make you unique.
How should a gURL deal with being picked on and made fun of about her looks?
When a person is pointing out those things in you, no matter how great you think they look, they are extremely insecure. They are using you as a target so they can suck up your energy and make themselves feel better. The bully is hurting more than you do.
Why did you want to write for teen girls?
I feel like 19-year-old me is still stuck in my body and always will be. I’ll always be connected to that part of myself. It’s that time in your life when you’re going through that crazy transition from little girl to woman and dealing with everything from hormones to wanting to be independent but still having to answer to your parents to beauty and body image issues. I totally relate to it.
Body image plays a big role in Modelland. How have you dealt with that and other weight issues on a personal level?
When I was 11, I grew three inches and lost 30 pounds in three months. I was 98 pounds and 5′ 9,” so I was skinner than the average super skinny model on a runway. Smaller than a size 0, if that’s possible. And there was nothing I could do to gain weight. That was a very painful time in my life because I was so young and there was nothing I could do about my body except try to wear clothes that were baggy to cover it or hide my face in a book so I wouldn’t have to look at the people that were looking at me.
And it didn’t end once you started modeling, right?
When I was model and started to gain weight, the designers said they weren’t going to hire me anymore because I was getting too curvy. And then years later, when I was doing a photoshoot for ANTM in Sydney, Australia and the paparazzi snapped some pictures of me and then the tabloids called me ‘Tyra Pork Chop Banks’ and all this stuff. That time it was hurtful in a bigger way because I had girls coming up to me saying that they were my size or bigger than me. So I felt like I needed to say something and that’s when I did a whole episode on my talk show about it. I told the world to kiss my fat ass.
What’s your most embarrassing moment from modeling or the runway?
I never really tripped on the runway or anything like that. But one time, I was in a fashion show in Los Angeles and I got my shoes put on right before I got on the runway and they were tied together. I don’t know if that was sabotage, but it was crazy. So I was like, ‘You’re not going get me,’ so I ended up taking tiny steps and sashaying and swinging my hips down the runway.
Watch the vid below to learn more about Modelland:
Is Modelland on your must read list? Do you consider Tyra a role model? Do you agree with her take on bullying? Tell us below.