Supermodel and TV host Tyra Banks is currently one of the most influential figures in fashion and TV. Born in Inglewood, California on December 4, 1973, the young Tyra was constantly made fun of in school because of her tall and skinny frame. When she turned 17 and her looks started to develop, Tyra made the rounds of modeling agencies. After having difficulties with the agents because of her “too ethnic looks,” a French modeling scout gave her the chance to fly to Paris and model in couture shows.
It was on the European catwalks that Tyra became known among fashion circles. Designers took notice of the 5’11 beauty’s strong presence and distinctive walk on the runway. She was booked for 25 shows, a first for someone who just started on the business. Soon she was gracing the pages and covers of the world’s leading fashion magazines such as Vogue, Elle and Harper’s Bazaar. She worked with the world’s best designers, including Oscar de la Renta, Yves Saint Laurent, Richard Tyler and Tommy Hilfiger.
Tyra also started to appear in TV and movies. She played Will Smith’s girlfriend on the NBC show The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and landed a role in the film Higher Learning, directed by her then boyfriend John Singleton.
In 1996, Tyra made history by appearing in the cover of Sports Illustrated with model Valeria Mazza. This made her the magazine’s first African-American cover girl. The following year, Tyra posed for the cover again, this time by herself. The same year, she was chosen to pose for the cover of the Victoria’s Secret catalog. Again, she was the first cover girl of her race to grace the famous catalog. This started her long relationship with the lingerie giant. In 2005, Tyra announced that she will retire from professional modeling. She chose the 2005 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show as her final runway appearance.
After retiring from modeling, Tyra focused her energies on TV. She became the host of the reality show America’s Next Top Model, where models compete with each other for a modeling contract. It was also in 2005 that Tyra premiered her own show The Tyra Banks Show, which has a format very much like The Oprah Winfrey Show. In 2008, she won an Emmy award for Outstanding Informative Talk Show.
Tyra’s life and career is not without its share of controversies. In 2007, the host became the center of ridicule for her noticeable weight gain. Tyra gained 30 pounds since she retired from modeling. She fired back to her critics, defended her weight and encouraged other women not to feel bad about their bodies. In retaliation, she appeared on the cover of People magazine wearing the one-piece swimsuit that she wore on her first Sports Illustrated cover.