Words Annabel McLeod
On the runway for Chanel, Valentino, Yves Saint Laurent, and Fendi as a teen. One of the original Victoria Secret’s angels. The creator of world-renowned TV series America’s Next Top Model, which has been syndicated to countries around the world. Tyra Banks is arguably the first lady of fashion and its business.
She's also added some fierce words to the English lexicon, with entries include 'smize' (smile with your eyes), 'booty tooch' (giving the booty a playful lift) and 'H to T' (head to toe), and is the outspoken and stunning cheerleader for women with and without curves – everyone’s watched ‘kiss my fat ass’ right?
ARISE online had a quick natter with the fashion mogul just before she swapped the make-up room backstage for the set of our shoot and her cover-story interview. In person she appears shy, sweet and unassuming but it’s clear that when the attention’s on you she’s all yours.
What are most people surprised about you?
That I don't have the personality I have on America’s Next Top Model [AMTM]. I don't say 'Your pictures are not fierce, you're not smizing and hello nice to meet you'. It's a character that I created, but it's not really me. I'm more like I am on my talk show, that's not me trying to be a thing. On Top Model it's a character… it just so happens the character’s named Tyra Banks, but she's not me.
It's easy to get into character now, so I don't have to think about it. I don't do it as much as I used to – I have a lot more me now. [But on AMTM] you sit behind a desk and she just appears.
Driving my car on the weekends... far. Washing my make-up off at the end of the day... it just feels damn good, it's really me when I look at the mirror. I'm like 'That’s who she is, they don't know her'. [And] making young girls feel good, having a young girl coming up to me and me complimenting her on something physically and see her face light up, that just makes me happy.
Favourite time of day?
I'm an early riser, I'm up by 7am. I used to have this one best friend in LA years ago that I'd wake up and call. I’d look at the clock and I'd call at 8am. She'd pick up the phone and she knew it was me and she was like ‘Hell, no!’ And that's me waiting since 6.57am and I'm thinking ‘Ooh, is she going to be up at eight?’ 8am is a good hour. I call NY to LA for my mum and she always says 'I'm just resting my eyes', she's dead sweet, she's always there for me.
Smize. It was an accident so that's why I like it. I created this word because for years on Top Model I'd say smile with your eyes, smile with your eyes. I’m always watching myself, because I watch it [the show] more than the average person as I’m in the editing bay, and I'd be like ‘This is so long’ and one day I was like ‘smize!’
What gives me satisfaction is I've been in a restaurant totally incognito in the corner and there's a group of girls who don't know I'm there and they’re like 'Let’s take a group picture... smize!' And I'm like 'Oh my gosh'. I'm proud of that word.
Second favourite word?
[Waggles fingers] Fierce!
Least favourite word?
Plus-size. I find that it doesn't sound positive so I like 'fiercely real' because it's not plus-size, it's the average body. To say plus-size it's like 'plus what?' Plus-size for a fashion skinny model? I like fiercely real and that's what I say on Top Model and what I say in life to my mum and friends.
Earliest fashion memory?
Me sitting on the edge of the bath tub while my mother beats her face [i.e. puts on a tonne of make-up]. That's where I learnt to be a drag queen – from my mother. She likes a lot of make-up and I like a lot.
Have tunnel vision but do not forget your personal life. I'm all about teaching people to go for your goals, work extra hard, tunnel vision, tunnel vision. Now I say have tunnel vision but don't forget your personal life. Now I talk to them about not forgetting your friends; yes you have to sacrifice but don't forget your family, don’t forget if you want to have children. I waited too late for all of that. So I feel it's important to have the balance, and I'm learning that now.
What advice would you give to a stranger who doubted themselves?
I'd tell them to do something my mum says: look to the other side, and that this moment of self-doubt and not feeling good about yourself is fleeting and it’s not gonna last.
Write down what you’re feeling bad about and then write down some solutions to get out of it. And even if you don’t have a solution, even just writing down what's bad will help as it gets out of your system. Close your eyes and lie down and imagine a month or tomorrow or a year from now when you’re past this. Imagine what it looks like and what does that feel like. Now work backwards to make that a reality.