The former supermodel opens up about fat talk
It’s hard to imagine that the uber-successful supermodel, actress, and America’s Next Top Model judge Tyra Banks ever feels insecure. But the truth is, she’s not entirely immune to the self-doubt we all feel from time to time.
Tyra Banks Wants Women Everywhere To Stop Doing This
So Tyra teamed up with Special K on their quest to stomp out fat talk—those awful things you say about your body but would never dream of saying to someone else (i.e., “my thighs are disgusting” or “my arms are so gross”).
Why exactly is fat talk so prevalent? Many women use it as a form of self-defense, says Tyra, who explains we think we’ll feel less vulnerable if we point out our own flaws before other people do. But the strategy almost always backfires: When you focus on your shortcomings, it’s all too easy to lose sight of the things that make you awesome.
We touched base with Tyra to find out more about the topic and how she deals with her own insecurities:
When did the idea of “fat talk” first become an important issue to you?
This is something that I’ve naturally just always been shutting down with friends and with girls that I mentor, like “Stop that! Stop saying these negative things about yourself. Look in the mirror and find something about yourself that’s positive and celebrate that!” I’ve been saying that for years with my TZONE Foundation and just with friends on a daily basis. And then Special K called me and they were like, “We’re interested in this and we have missions that align.” And I’m like, “Oh my God, yes!” So this felt organic.
Have you ever struggled with fat talk?
Mine wasn’t fat talk—mine was skinny talk. When I was a young girl, I lost a lot of weight over one summer—involuntarily—and was just really depressed and sad. There was nothing I could do to gain weight. I would look in the mirror and call myself disgusting every day.
At what point did you realize that all of this skinny talk was affecting your self-esteem?
I’d become antisocial. I had fewer friends. I went from being very popular and the head of the clique in the sixth grade to having, like, kid depression in the seventh grade. Not leaving the house. Not looking people in the eye… My body made me feel bad at everything. … I just was so depressed that I just focused on my studies and had a 4.0. And I really tried to be proud of that because that was the only thing I was excelling in. Luckily, I started to gain weight a couple of years later, and my young-adult self started to see that [skinny talk] was really bad.
Do you ever feel insecure about your body now?
Most definitely. I’m very human. My body is more [like] a woman that’s not a model than it is [like] a model. I know how to dress [for my body] to give off illusions, and I like to teach women about it—it’s important for women to have that power and that arsenal… tricks that make you feel good when you walk outside. Of course, there are certain things that I don’t love about myself. But I don’t harp on them. I don’t beat myself up about it.
How do you overcome the impulse to harp on what you might see as imperfections?
A lot of it has to do with what my mother instilled in me. … When modeling agencies were saying that I was too big and gaining weight, my mom said, “OK, we’re going to discuss what they’re saying over pizza, and we’re going to plan the future of your career which doesn’t involve you having to be skinny.” … I didn’t want to be unhealthy, but I still was a model. I had to fit some kind of specification and be strong and healthy—even now. … But I was lucky to have [my mom as a role model]. It made me strong. Now I’m taking my mom’s messages and using my platform to spread that to millions of women.
The 21st cycle of America’s Next Top Model is scheduled to air this summer. How do you think it affects this culture of fat talk?
With America’s Next Top Model, I’ve always cast girls who the industry might call “plus size” but I like to call “fiercely real.” That was always important to me. The unfortunate thing is that even though I cast girls who are sizes 4, 6, and 8 and they may even win America’s Next Top Model, I send them out into the world and I see them three or four months later, and they’ve lost 10 or 15 pounds. I’m like, “What are you doing?” And they’re like, “Tyra, on Top Model, you didn’t say anything about my body. But when I go to the modeling agency, they’re saying, I have to drop 10 pounds to work. So I can’t work unless I lose that weight.” It’s interesting that [America’s Next Top Model] creates this great world for these girls to eat and do their thing and have a good time. But when they get to the real world of modeling, I can’t control that. It kind of breaks my heart a bit.
When people think about fat talk, they tend to focus on what they’re saying to themselves. How does hearing other people engage in fat talk affect women?
I think one of the biggest things that affects young women is when they hear their mothers using fat talk. … It’s like, “If my thin mom is calling herself fat, what does she think I am? What am I?” Or say your mom is bigger than you. And she’s saying this, and you’re like, “Whoa, I have her genetics. Am I going to be disgusting because my mother is calling herself disgusting?” Try to quiet it and make a pact to yourself that you’re not going to say that in front of your daughters. You’re not realizing just how detrimental that can be for her.