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Top 10 Dark Truths About America's Next Top Model

Top 10 Dark Truths About America's Next Top Model
VOICE OVER: Sophia Franklin WRITTEN BY: Joe Shetina
There are a lot of dark truths on the runway. Welcome to MsMojo, and today we're counting down our picks for the most disturbing and shocking things about Tyra Banks' modeling competition. Our countdown includes dangerous runways, no time for grief, transphobia on the set, and more!

#10: Racially Insensitive Photoshoots

Over the past few years, “Top Model” has seen a resurgence through its online discourse, but not always for the right reasons. For instance, photoshoots from early seasons have sparked controversy due to their insensitivity, tone-deafness, and just general bigotry. Contestants in cycle 10 were tasked with posing as unhoused people, while real people experiencing homelessness were made to wear high fashion and model next to them. Even worse, though, were the photoshoots from cycle 4 and 13, where the models had to don varying degrees of brown, black, and yellowface in order to portray a different race than their own. It’s horrible to watch, especially as the models who dared to question the task were shut down.

#9: Perpetuating the Worst Things About the Fashion Industry

Be it supermodels like Twiggy and Paulina Porizkova, photographers like Nigel Barker, or fashion legends like André Leon Talley, the “Top Model” panel was full of heavy hitters. But that came with a price for the aspiring models. The judges often got away with saying some of the most insensitive and callous things under the guise of it being the status quo in the fashion industry. Comments about models’ looks, weight, and willingness to do anything that was asked of them was chalked up to a crash course in learning the business. Longtime judge Janice Dickinson was especially infamous for making these kinds of comments. Maybe the semi-finalist who stomped out of the judging panel on cycle 3 had the right idea all along.

#8: Transphobia on the Set

On cycle 11, Isis King made history as the first openly transgender contestant on the series. However, her status as a trailblazer was hard-fought. In both of her appearances on the show, King was misgendered and met with skepticism, as well as downright hostility by her fellow competitors. King has since looked back on the behavior and stressed how queer representation has evolved in media, but also expressed that no one ever came to her rescue on the show at the time. If we ever needed a startling reality check about the discrimination trans people faced then and continue to face, it’s this.

#7: No Time for Grief

Cycle 8 saw the contestants taking part in a lurid photoshoot where they posed as murder victims. We don’t need to say how messed up this is, but the challenge was especially difficult for Jael Strauss, whose friend had recently passed away as a result of substance use disorder. Something similar happened to cycle 4’s Kahlen Rondot when her cast was asked to do a photoshoot in an open grave after she’d also just lost a friend. Yes, it’s a competition, but in scenarios like this we would have liked to see some grace afforded to the girls and their mental well-being. In fact, Strauss was criticized for thinking of it during the shoot, and Rondot knew her place in the competition would be in jeopardy if she didn’t participate.

#6: Uncomfortable Photoshoots

Everyone shows up to a photoshoot with one goal in mind: getting the perfect picture. The models’ comfort, then, is at the bottom of the priority list. In fact, any sign of discomfort, weakness, or hesitation is seen as the height of disrespect to the competition, to Tyra Banks, and to the entire modeling profession in general. Never mind that these photoshoots routinely expose the models to freezing temperatures, extreme heat, or otherwise painful situations. Cycle 4’s Keenyah Hill was harassed on set, and then treated like a problem for stopping the shoot. Her fellow contestants, creative director Jay Manuel, and even Banks didn’t take her seriously. The host just ended up giving some vague and ridiculous advice about how to playfully combat that kind of harassment on a set.

#5: Contestants Aren’t Paid Well

Let’s face it, competition reality TV doesn’t pay well. If it did, there wouldn’t be nearly as much of it. But fans were shocked when Cycle 9-contestant Sarah Hartshorne revealed just how dire the situation was. According to her, contestants on her season were given $40 a day and had to pay for their own food. For a show where participants didn’t get a cut of the residuals or even appearance fees, it’s a total slap in the face. When you consider the millions of dollars a year Banks was rumored to be making as host and executive producer, she's really just rubbing salt in the wound.

#4: Dangerous Runways

Some of the runway challenges on “America’s Next Top Model” were clearly designed by sadists. Treadmills and getting sprayed with silly string is actually some of the tamest stuff Banks’s made her contestants deal with. The swinging pendulums of cycle 14 almost sent Alexandra Underwood flying into the audience. Cycle 6 winner Danielle Evans’ time in the competition was nearly cut short when an ill-advised runway walk with 10-inch heels made her sprain her toe. While some real fashion shows may ask something extra of its models, these twists seemed way out of proportion. Apparently, it’s not enough to walk a runway. No, these models have to be put through the ringer!

#3: A Winner Was Once Stripped of Her Crown

The “All Stars” cycle of “America’s Next Top Model” came down to Angelea Preston, Allison Harvard, and Lisa D’Amato. In the final episode, Preston was disqualified and D’Amato was declared the winner. However, fans would later find out that Preston had originally been crowned the winner, but was disqualified due to her past as a sex worker. She would later sue over the ordeal, alleging underpayment and exploitative working conditions. Preston’s story was shocking, and illustrated much of the unfairness that makes producing a season of the show possible. Her disqualification remains a blight on the series’ already spotty record.

#2: The Makeovers Are Often Painful & Unwanted

Each season, Banks and her team of gurus would subject the cast to a round of makeovers. Some models underwent truly painful and often scarring transformations. Cycle 8’s Jael Strauss was made to undergo a painful weave installation that didn’t take, and left her in both physical and emotional distress. Chopping off hair is one thing, but body modification is another. Cycle 6’s Joanie Dodds had to sit in for hours of corrective dental surgery and still compete against the others in a challenge the next day. Apparent double standards made these potentially life-damaging alterations seem all the more unnecessary. For example, Banks wanted cycle 6 winner Danielle Evans to have her tooth gap closed, only to recommend cycle 15’s Chelsey Hersley have her gap widened.

#1: Winning Doesn’t Equal a Modeling Career

For everything these models had to go through, surely winning the show had to be worth it. Unfortunately, for a show that purports to find the next top supermodel, very few winners have achieved the status. Modeling is a notoriously difficult career to break into. For every Eva Marcille or Nyle Demarco, there are a whole host of winners who never got to make their mark. Some have even been surpassed by contestants who didn’t win, like Winnie Harlow, Lio Tipton, or Yaya DaCosta. Hearing the words directly from Harlow was all the truth we needed.

How has your opinion of “Top Model” changed over the years? Let us know in the comments.