Thoughts on America’s Next Top Model

March 15, 2009 § 18 Comments

I don’t know how many of you watch America’s Next Top Model, but the first episode of the twelfth cycle premiered last Wednesday and has sparked some controversy over the first official photo shoot. It involved the girls (all of whom are 18+ years old) being dressed up as and posing as little girls. As Tyra described it:

This issue is really important to me, the issue of teen girls and being what I call ‘out of control.’ I did a survey on my talk-show website, and I found that one in five girls that are teens that we surveyed actually want to be a teen mom. Purity and innocence is something that’s being lost and as you Top Models are doing this photo shoot, you guys are role models, too. The assignment was for you all to embody different little games that little girls play on the playground. (Emphasis mine.)

Silvia and I both watched this episode and cringed. Our thoughts below the jump, including pictures from the photo shoot.

Fo (ring around the rosie)

Celia (hula hoop)

London (tug-o-war)

Nijah (musical chairs)

PHOEBE: America’s Next Top Model is (as feministing likes to put it) one of my unfeminist guilty pleasures. With the beginning of every cycle I swear to myself that I won’t watch it because of the ridiculousness the show itself has escalated to in the last years. But then I remember that my DVR is set to record it and in a weak moment on Friday night, I’ll watch an episode or two. Or three. Okay, so it’s an addiction. I can’t stop.

ANYWAY, I get where Tyra’s going with this photo shoot. Oh, the youth these days are sooo crazy! Sex, drugs, rock n’ roll! Let’s make a statement! However, I think it encourages and sparks the ever-growing fear of so-called “hook-up culture” without actually getting a definitive point across. It was messy. Putting fully grown and fully developed women in clothing meant to inspire thoughts of little girls actually communicates the opposite point of what I presume Tyra wants to make. I would even make the argument that it fetishizes little girls to an extent.

I also don’t like the way she bemoans how innocence and purity is lost at such a young age. However, that may just be a knee-jerk reaction on my part, because usually when I hear the word “purity” it’s used in a way that I find offensive. (Think purity balls, people in support of purity balls, and people who define any girl who’s open about her sexuality as a skank impure) I guess what bugs me here is that in Tyra’s world, it appears to be all-or-nothing. Either the girl is entirely “innocent and pure” (in that she’s a child), or she’s a hobag. I think Rich (at fourfour) expresses my feelings precisely:

Does she really think that condoning the modeling industry, with its barely-as-in-not-at-all legal undercurrents is preserving purity and innocence?…Also, does she really think that having women dress up as pre-schoolers is going to inspire anything but chiding and a chorus of, “That bitch crazy!”

Oh, how I love you, Rich.

Another issue I have with this photo shoot is the “bad girls” that were used. One of them is knocked up (and, in some shots, drinking), one of them smokes, and the other one… is black? I’ve looked through all the photos and can’t for the life of me figure out why the black girl is a “bad girl.” The other two girls have a defining bad characteristic. One of them has a cigarette with her in most shots and the other one is pregnant. What, they ran out of bad things the girls could be doing, and just told the black girl to look menacing? I’m not trying to say that ANTM and Tyra Banks are overtly racist. But come on. You can do better, TyTy.

Wow. I haven’t analyzed an episode of America’s Next Top Model this much since Nicole won.

SILVIA: Like Phoebe, I told myself I wasn’t going to watch this cycle of ANTM. However, come Wednesday night and my unfinished homework is sitting next to me and I’m wrapped up in Tyra’s intense crazy. Like Phoebe, I took major issue with the “bad girls” in the background. What is Tyra trying to say by including them? I guess if you hook-up, you lose your purity and you become a sketchy, prego, drunk girl…or black (?). P.S. apparently the only reason we slutty teenagers hook-up is because our fathers failed us or because we have self-esteem issues. And why do we have self-esteem issues?

Besides the “bad girls” in the background, I had a huge issue with the fact that women were being dressed up like little girls, told to act like little girls, but be sexy at the same time. This confused me the most, it’s a little paradoxical, no? This photo shoot was being conducted in the name of purity and innocence, right? Then why are all the “little girls” wearing hot pants and stilettos? This photo shoot fetishized little girls. Hmm…kind of like how Tyra and our society in general are fetishizing purity. Talk about mixed messages. So we’re supposed to be pure and innocent girls, but look hot and sexy while doing it (cough, virgin/whore complex, cough).

The reason why we’re putting so much energy into analyzing and drawing attention to this photo shoot is because it represents a larger trend in our society that is super disturbing. Think about all of the magazine covers, advertisements, etc. that send this same mixed message. That’s what’s hurting young women the most, not the perceived sluttiness and hook-up culture that has come to define our generation.

P.S. Jessica Valenti’s latest book, The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity Is Hurting Young Women, is out now. I haven’t read it yet, but Jessica Valenti has never failed me.

§ 18 Responses to Thoughts on America’s Next Top Model

  • gingerlady says:

    You’re absolutely right- this shoot is conceptually confusing, debasing, and just…odd. Not only does it work against itself by fetishizing minors, but it offers no positive solutions to the problems it is trying to combat. It essentially says that the only way to be pure it to act like a child. That’s not maturity. Messages of sunshine, jump rope, and hula hoops will help NO ONE navigate the complicated world that is maturation. Peer pressure and society’s unfair expectations cannot be staved off with these weak images and some idyllic image of childhood. People DO grow up, people DO have sex and experiment with things that are unfit for children. Teaching girls to think that childhood has all the answers is just wrong.
    If Tyra were to ever address the issue of risky teen behavior again, I would hope that she would pick REAL role-models for her teen viewers. Real women who successfully navigated the world of ‘growing-up’, not just beautiful women dressed up in bright dresses playing some game.

  • mirandanyc says:

    This is a fantastic post, ladies.

  • Luvvie says:

    YESSSS!! I concur about everything. I wrote about this episode on my blog by writing Tyra Banks a sternly-worded letter. Check it out. http://www.awesomelyluvvie.com/2009/03/dear-tyra.html

    P.S. Sandra is my archnemesis. She is the pits!

  • “This photo shoot was being conducted in the name of purity and innocence, right? Then why are all the “little girls” wearing hot pants and stilettos?”

    Isn’t that the question of the century? Why, indeed? Tyra *must* get what she’s doing. How could she not?

    I will admit to having watched a couple episodes of Tyra’s talk show, and I was overall impressed by the non-judgemental way she handled female sexuality.

    Then again, the fashion industry has never been accused of having complex thoughts. So I have to wonder if someone else is coming up with these ideas, because it’s such a total disconnect.

  • Sonya says:

    This is disgusting! When did it become sexy to act like a little girl. Talk about sending the wrong message to men and little girls! And we have the nerve to wonder why grown men pray on little girls!

  • Mr. Kedi says:

    I always thought people who keep stressing on the idea of “purity and innocence are an essential virtue of a young female” and event like the purity ball are either for perverts and/or prostituting a girl’s sexuality.

  • dragonmage06 says:

    How hypocritical! Seriously, I’d like to know how many of those models are “pure” or “innocent?” It’s not like reality shows or advertisements or, I dunno, modeling in general serve to make girls think that being what men want is how to be successful and happy.

    None of these pictures showed innocence or purity to me. If anything, I thought they were grotesque caricatures of what purity and innocence would look like.

  • chambermade says:

    This worries me too much. My daughter, now 17, has watched this series from cycle one and has been influenced somewhat by the content. To see Tyra Banks blatantly promoting underage sex this way, I won’t dress it up as anything else, she is feeding the ugly side of teen modelling that has up to now, remained just below the surface. I’m sorry America, but you need to take a long hard look at your values and start to be a little more honest before you can tackle the issues.
    Here in the U.K. we have one of the highest rates of teen pregnancies in Europe and this sort of picture would cause uproar if newspaper printed it,even as an advertisement. This encourages the lower elements of society.
    Bad girl Tyra!!!

  • praddict1 says:

    I tend to always look at the pictures first before I read a blog and when I saw the photos I was disturbed. I lost interest in America’s Next Top Model after Jaslene won because it was getting old and they ideas for photo shoots were dry and dull. I personally feel this shoot was done to spark controversy to increase the ratings of the show. Stilettos and short dresses does not give a positive image of young girls. It actually fuels the rapid maturation of young girls. The producers of the show had to have another motive for this episode.

  • Ed says:

    All women should be disturbed when these see pictures like these. As long as we continue to dress up little girls like women (think about children’s beauty pageants) and dress up our women like little girls, is it any wonder that pedophilia continues to rise in this country?

  • These photos do nothing but sexualize childhood associations – like skipping in the park, hula hooping, etc. I think Tara received back lash and tried to rationalize a completely irrational concept..

  • yeppoyo says:

    That’s just wrong and disturbing. They don’t even look like little girls. I haven’t watched all seasons of ANTM (I’ve only watched a total of 2 or 3 lol), but when I saw a preview of this season, it looked a bit ridiculous. That girl that has a fetish for blood really creeps me out.

  • Sam says:

    I think it would of been better if the models were to look absolutely ridiculous in the youthful clothing.

    Then they could add a punch line, like: Adults look stupid when they try to look young. So do you when you try to be older… or something along those lines.

    Just a thought.

  • [...] My abiding interest has resulted in reviews of books about sex research, banned books that discuss sexual issues for young people, and books that question traditional definitions of family. I just finished a book all about first periods, and I’m currently reading one about America’s obsession with virginity.  If that sounds interesting to you (and/or if you like trashy TV and Tyra Banks…or you just can’t look away), check out this post. [...]

  • [...] 21, 2009 · No Comments I seem to be an ad/product lady (and I’m not alone). I don’t plan to stop anytime [...]

  • [...] There is constant pressure to be flawless. But what does that even mean? Sorry if this sounds like a whiny self-pity session, but it’s true, and it’s true for all of us. There are these unattainable standards that all women are expected to live up to, that just don’t make sense. I’m supposed to be smart, but not too smart or else boys won’t like me. I’m supposed to be pretty, but not too pretty, or else girls won’t like me. I’m supposed to be innocent, but naughty. [...]

  • Love says:

    The show is not only degrading to vulnerable and naive women but also a violation of their constitutional rights. One can say the same about any hyped-up, taboo-based reality TV show (i.e. “Real World”, “Real World/Road Rules Challenge”, “America’s Next Top Model”). Ratings are so important to the networks, thus allowing controversial ideas to be displayed. Many young people are into the latest inhumane reality TV shows for the reason it appeals to their cultural interests: alcohol, drugs, recklessly-caused fights, deceit, sexual experimentation, continuous moral conflict….the list is longer. For them they are reminded of how “fake” reality TV is. There are provided plots, character casting, daily/weekly interviews and instigation by the producers. People don’t know this nor do they care to pick up a well-researched article on the falsehood and dangers of reality television because for them on some level it is real. A woman crying over a broken, bloody ankle or a man screaming for help as he is beaten by a stranger. The camera crew catches all of this because it is their job. To elaborate, the purpose of having a cameraman on set 24/7 is to record every second of each contestant to provide ample material for editing. It is why reality television appears to be a world of its own that can be viewed by the real world for free (depends on the network).

    Another issue that bothers me is the criminal aspect of the contract a contestant on a reality TV competition has to sign. Such contract is (as far as I know) excluding rights that are given to normal people (with the hidden purpose of being able to control the contestants physically and mentally). If a contestant were to call the police after being starved for a few days she would be eliminated since the network doesn’t tolerate any civil rights that could threaten their profits. Why do people join reality TV, then? It is because they are ignorant of and/or confused with the entire us constitution and the civil rights provided to citizens of the state the show is filmed in. These are people who don’t see reality TV as a hazard to their physical and mental health. For them it is a heavily edited genre that gives the illusion of danger. People want to experience new things and learn about the world. Reality TV provides this with the cost of an individual’s safety. I recommend to anyone who is considering going on a reality TV show like ANTM to do the research on the police department’s investigations of the shows vandalism and abuse (refer to the NYC stampede of April ’09 and the vandalism of Michael Marvisi’s loft in 2008). In both events the ones who filed charges apparently forgot all about what they were mad about because Bankable productions was never taken to court! What if a girl were to be hospitalized on ANTM? Would she take Bankable, Inc. to court? Adrianne Curry, Danielle Evans, CariDee English, Heather Kuzmich and Lauren Utter have all been injured and/or hospitalized but never filed a lawsuit against bankable productions. Are they scared of losing because Banks is financially, socially and culturally very powerful? I assume they are due to the possibility of losing their modeling profession. Banks is at the top of the rank of models. She is a supermodel-powerhouse with a multi-faceted product. No normal person can serve Banks a lawsuit and win. It is impossible.

    It’s horrible Banks has been able to get this far in popular culture, especially since college students and little girls idolize her for feminine strength and self-appreciation. Whatever happened to idolizing people like the civil rights leaders, the female Supreme Court judges, female governors, female scientists and female professors? What happened to the respect for women in American society? I miss the 90’s since ANTM didn’t exist back then. Now a whole new generation of little girls obsessed with Tyra Banks think she is healthier than Hillary Clinton for their personal growth.

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