She was one of the industry pioneers for the supermodels of colour in the 90s. At the time when she emerged, there were not many supermodels of colour. However, she was one of few who managed to make a name for herself and to become one of the faces of the minority community.
In 1990, while still in high school, Tyra Banks landed a contract with Elite Model Management, the largest modeling agency in the world. Later that year, she shot her first print piece for Seventeen magazine. After graduating from high school in 1991, Tyra enrolled at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, but decided to forego college when Elite offered to send her to Paris for high-fashion runway modeling.
She rose swiftly through the ranks of fashion modeling to become one of the world’s top supermodels. She booked 25 runway shows while in Paris in 1991, an unprecedented feat for a newcomer to the industry. But by the mid-1990s, Tyra began to gain weight, a forbidden sin in the world of rail-thin clothing models. Unwilling to starve herself to achieve the desired physique for high-fashion models, she decided to return to the United States and switch to swimwear and lingerie modeling, where curvier models are more welcome.
In 1996, Tyra became the first black woman to appear on the cover of GQ. A year later, she became the first African American woman to appear on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, as well as the first black woman to be featured in Victoria’s Secret lingerie catalogue. She signed lucrative contracts with Cover Girl and Victoria’s Secret, becoming a staple of both companies’ advertising campaigns and runway shows.
“I made my living being 20 or 30 pounds heavier than the average model. And that’s where I became famous. Victoria’s Secret said I sold more bras and panties than anybody else, and I was traipsing down that runway with 30 pounds more booty than the other girls,” says Tyra.
She was listed People magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People numerous times. Tyra received the prestigious Michael Award for Supermodel of the Year in 1997, and also won two Teen Choice Awards for Favourite Supermodel.
In addition to her modeling, Banks began pursuing an acting career in the 1990s. She made her debut in 1993 with a seven-episode stint on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and enjoyed a prominent role in the 1995 drama Higher Learning. In 2000 Banks appeared in a trio of popular films: Love & Basketball, Coyote Ugly and the made-for-television movie Life Size. Later TV work included appearances in Gossip Girl and Glee.
A Game Changer – An Icon of note!
She later turned her runway success into a multimedia brand and worked at the helm of two successful TV series simultaneously, ‘America’s Next Top Model,’ and ‘The Tyra Banks Show’, for which she won two Emmy Awards. She has continued to expand her business interests, launching her own cosmetics line in 2014 and hosting America’s Got Talent in 2017.
In January 2016, Tyra and her long-time boyfriend, Norwegian photographer Erik Asla, welcomed a baby boy, York Banks Asla via a surrogate mother. However, a year later, Tyra and Asla called off their five-year relationship on amicable terms.
Banks is active in a number of social and charitable causes. One of her personal missions has been to help young women deal with self-esteem issues. As early as 1992, when she was only 19 years old, she funded a scholarship to help young black women attend her alma mater, the private Immaculate Heart High School in Los Angeles. In 1998, she wrote Tyra’s Beauty Inside & Out, a book aimed at inspiring young women, and a year later she founded TZONE, a foundation aimed at developing teenage girls’ independence and self-esteem.
“Girls of all kinds can be beautiful- from the thin, plus-sized, short, very tall, ebony to porcelain-skinned; the quirky, clumsy, shy, outgoing and all in between. It’s not easy, though, because many people still put beauty into a confining, narrow box. Think outside of the box. Pledge that you will look in the mirror and find the unique beauty in you,” says Tyra.
This year, the 45-year-old came out of modelling retirement and was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue after 22 years. Tyra wants to “change the world’s perceptions” of beauty and re-define it so she can make a difference in the industry.
And now, Tyra – who has changed her