Saturday, January 30, 2010

Tyra Banks announces "fiercely real" plus-size model search

Tyra Banks announced this week that her latest modeling competition will involve plus-sized teens. She calls the competition the first "fiercely real" teen model search, as it is open to any girl between the ages of 13 and 19 who wear a size between 12 and 20, and are between 5'9" and 6'1".

Now I love me some Tyra. I think she's a beautiful woman, a wonderful role model, and that she genuinely cares about girls in America. I also know and love the plus-size world. It's not easy being "plus-size" as an adult and I imagine its even more difficult as a teenager. Thinking about the difficulties, I'm excited about the prospect of young plus-size women having the chance to show off their curves on a national stage.

A few things about this competition jump out at me though. For starters, Tyra's plus-size models will not be competing on a season of her show America's Next Top Model. Instead, contestants will submit an application with photos and finalists will be announced on an episode of The Tyra Show, and the winner will be revealed the following day. The winner of the Fiercely Real Teen Model Search will win a one-year modeling contract and a spread in a major fashion magazine, however, just like the winners of ANTM.

I am a little disappointed that Tyra's search won't result in a season of ANTM. I suppose that there are several reasons for this, including the fact that TV shows are still sponsored by advertisers, some of whom may not share Tyra's appreciation for girls of all sizes. I also suspect that a few of Tyra's modeling gurus who appear on the show -- including runway coaches, photographers, fashion designers, makeup artists, and the like -- may not want to be associated with plus-size girls, or don't believe that high-fashion can be plus-sized. While I certainly think this is wrong, I understand that our society is still driven by the almighty dollar, and an often-impossible standard of beauty.

I've also heard a lot of griping about the fact that the girls must still be between 5'9" and 6'1". This is not a fact that bothers me. While I'm all for elevating young girls' self-esteem and celebrating bodies of all types, models in the industry simply aren't often short. If plus-size girls have to be tall to model in this competition so be it; at least its a start.

The only other thing I hope for is that the winner of the Fiercely Real Teen Model Search ends up somewhere in the middle of range. No offense, but a 6'1" size 12 model is hardly plus-size. I hope a lovely young woman wins because of her unique beauty and curves, not because she's the smallest of the plus-sized contestants.

All negativity aside, I do hope the winner of Tyra's plus-size model search is featured in Glamour, one of my favorite magazines and one of the few glossies that is committed to featuring plus-size (and even "real-size") girls in their magazine. I know that the winner's curves would be appreciated by Glamour's readers and that such exposure to the mainstream media would help boost her career.

In a statement to Us magazine, Tyra said, "I've always felt it was my mission to expand the narrow perceptions of beauty." She went on to talk about "celebrating non-traditional beauty" and expressed her disappointment that the term "plus-sized" has a negative connotation, when it refers to the average American woman.

"That woman is healthy, fit and beautiful," said Banks. "Adolescence is such an impressionable time in a young woman's life, and I hope this contest helps teen girls discover their own beauty from the inside out."

I do too, Tyra. And I can't wait to see the results.

Tune in to The Tyra Show on March 2 to see the winner of the Fiercely Real Teen Model Search.

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