I bet you know this woman. She’s coined the words “smizing,” to smile with your eyes (as opposed to, you know, your ears), “pot ledom,” top model spelled backwards and “booty tooching,” to arch your back in order to pop your butt out.
It is the fierce, unforgettable Tyra Banks: model, media mogul and of course, host of America’s Next Top Model.
Generally speaking, Tyra seems to be pretty a pretty empowering role-model for women. She’s talked about not being a size two model, critiqued certain representations of African American women and previously had a “plus-sized model” (a gargantuan size eight) on the show.
It’s on this cycle’s sixth episode of ANTM that the controversy set in. Azmarie Livington, an openly gay model had been the star of the show up until the tooch incident. Tyra told all the models to don a butt pad for her booty-tooching seminar, Azmarie said no and was later eliminated from the competition.
The judges, including Tyra, called Azmarie’s refusal egotistical, a big no-no for a top model. Other models quickly became resentful, saying Azmarie was disrespecting everything Tyra had done for them. But that doesn’t hold up. Azmarie was still willing to do the tooching seminar, just not with the butt-pad. It was Tyra who gave Azmarie the ultimatum: Put the pad on, or you can’t do the seminar. Additionally, Azmarie later apologized to Tyra for her refusal. Too little, too late obviously, but it was still an apology.
Now, there are other reasons why Azmarie could have been eliminated. Her performance in the top models’ music video wasn’t the best and neither was her contribution to the top models’ song (to be fair though, she’s a model, not a singer).
Yet, these were not the reasons the judges gave for eliminating Azmarie. She was eliminated for asserting her right to say, no, I’m not going to do this, it makes me uncomfortable.
That is a problem. It’s a problem because that message mirrors what society tells women everyday: conform to these standards, or be cast aside. If you want to be seen as beautiful wear makeup, but only makeup that a columnist for Maxim says drives the men wild. If you want to be desired wear something sexy, but not too sexy because then you are a slut and no one will want you. If you want A, do B.
This trade-off mindset that we instill in women is detrimental to everyone. It’s sexist, heteronormative and denies self-expression in hopes of pleasing a select group of men. Yes, a select group. It’s absurd to say that all men desire a size six woman, with smoky-eye makeup and a penchant for miniskirts. Attraction is pluralistic, multifaceted and denies categorization for men and women alike.
Furthermore, desire is not entirely physical. Personality plays a huge part. Once again, what one person finds attractive, another person might not. There is no universal personality trait that everyone finds attractive, and everyone must strive towards (except maybe a lack of douchebag tendencies). Yet, once again we have this “if, then” mindset towards women. If you are a nice girl, then you will get a good boy. If you act alluring, then people will desire you. If you flip the bird to this trade-off mindset, then people will think you are uppity and egotistical.
Therein lies my problem with this episode of America’s Next Top Model. Azmarie refused to acquiesce to this “if, then” mindset and was punished for it. This only reinforces that women’s individuality is second to society’s standards. That is a message that we need to change.