Today’s remarkable woman is beautiful, a multimillionaire, only 37 years old, and has become a household name in America. Most women know Tyra Banks as the TV host of America’s Next Top Model or of the past program The Tyra Banks Show, while most men remember her as the first African-American model to be chosen as a Cover Girl for Sports Illustrated Magazine.
Banks was born in Southern California in 1973, to a mother who worked as a medical photographer and a father who worked in the computer industry, but her parents divorced when she was only six years old (1: No Paternal Safety Net). Carolyn London-Johnson has always been exceptionally close to her daughter, and has been there with love, advice and guidance ever since she became a single mother, three decades ago. Banks openly acknowledges that her mother was a great example of an independent woman (4: Supportive Someone). Tyra Banks graduated from L.A.’s Immaculate Heart High School, and was accepted by both USC and UCLA, but decided—instead—to pursue a modeling career.
She began modeling in the eleventh grade (2: An Early Sense Of Direction), but was told by many agencies that she “wasn’t photogenic.” Fortunately, she had a good runway walk and scored a great victory when she was chosen for extensive work as soon as she landed in Paris. She broke the record by being booked for an unprecedented 25 shows as a newcomer, and modeled for (among others) Badgley Mischka, Chanel, Christian Dior, Dolce & Gabbana and Donna Karan (8: Turning No Into Yes.) Soon, however, as she began to mature she also began to gain weight, and (very upsetting for Tyra) her mother was told that Banks needed to slim down in order to get work.
Instead of trying to please the high-fashion agencies, they began to explore different job possibilities where her curves were not considered a liability (5: Life Is Not A Popularity Contest). To this day, Banks considers the day that she landed the contract to pose for Sports Illustrated as a professional turning point. After succeeding as a cover model for GQ and Victoria’s Secret catalog, Banks expanded into film and music work. She made a number of TV, music video (remember George Michaels' "Too Funky" with the supermodels?) and movie appearances (11: Risk Addiction), and started her own production company, Bankable Productions. The time had come where she knew that her future would have more to do with other forms of media, and less to do with modeling (14: Selective Disassociation).
In 2008, she won a daytime Emmy Award for The Tyra’s Bank Show, which ran from 2005 to 2010. America’s Next Top Model started in 2003 and remains popular today: Banks serves as the show’s hostess, judge and executive producer. In addition, she is credited with performing the theme song for the program (9: Music).
Tyra Banks openly admits that in grammar school she was a true “mean girl,” who taunted her classmates in the worst way. But when - at eleven years old - she grew three inches and lost 30 pounds in a single year the tables turned and she became the one being bullied. Ever since that experience she has tried to help girls and young women to make good choices and live wisely. In 1999, she established the TZONE program, which became a public charity (The Tyra Banks TZONE Foundation) in 2005 (7: Magnificent Obsession).
Banks, who is 37 years old, has never married and has no children. Today, the woman who was once told that a) she wasn’t photogenic enough to be successful and that b) she weighed too much to make it as a model is attending Harvard Business School’s Owner/President Management Program.
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