Tyra Banks has done it all. She made history as America’s first Black top model, then stayed on top by taking her skills outside the fashion world. She’s known as an actress, host, and producer, but who is Tyra Banks truly, and what has made her the woman she is today? Let’s catwalk down the runway and find out some sensational facts about the supermodel who gave us the gift of “smizing.”
Tyra Banks Facts
1. Her Parents Split
Tyra Lynne Banks was born in 1973, in Inglewood California. Her mother was a medical photographer and her father was a computer analyst. Banks was six when her parents got divorced and has no sad memories of the event. She liked splitting her time between both of her parents because she got “double the presents and double the love.”
2. She Was Tormented
In middle school, Banks admits that she was a bit of a mean girl. However, she had a change of heart when a sudden growth spurt left her three inches taller and 30 pounds lighter in just three months. Once Banks’ peers started body-shaming her, she learned the value of kindness. Either way, Banks’ haters wouldn’t be laughing for very long…
3. She Faced Rejection
Tyra started modeling at the age of 15 while she was still in high school. However, Banks didn’t have an easy time finding an agency willing to represent her. As many as four agencies rejected her, citing her “ethnic” looks as a reason. Shameful. What does that even mean? Hurray for L.A. Models, who finally decided to take a chance on her when she turned 16.
4. She Dropped Out
Banks’ big break was in 1990 though, when top modeling agency Elite Model Management offered her a contract. She jumped at the opportunity and obviously had no second thoughts on giving up her spot at Loyola Marymount University when Elite gave her the option of going to Europe for high fashion modeling. I bet living in Milan sure beats living in a college dorm!
5. She Broke Through
Not only did Tyra Banks go to Europe straight out of high school, she also took the fashion world by storm there. In her very first season, she managed to book 25 shows on the Paris runway. This was an absolutely unheard-of feat for someone so new to the modeling world. Another clue that Tyra had made it? People started calling her “the new Naomi Campbell.”
6. Paris Loved Her
Naturally, such success meant Banks was modeling for the biggest and best designers. She walked on the runway for the likes of Chanel, Dior, Oscar de la Renta, and Ralph Lauren, among many others. Tyra also posed for all the top magazines, such as Vogue, Elle, and Harper’s Bazaar. However, Banks learned that fortune can be fickle when a heartbreaking event put an end to her European modeling days.
7. She Made A Powerful Enemy
Although she was a hit on the Paris runway, Banks claimed that her early modeling days were tough because of one person: fellow model Naomi Campbell. According to Banks, Campbell absolutely hated her and even used her clout to “throw her off fashion shows.” It took over a decade for the supermodels to finally end their feud.
Meanwhile, back in 1990s Paris, Naomi Campbell was far from the only thing making Banks’ life miserable.
8. She Struggled
At the height of her modeling career, Banks committed the ultimate sin: She put on weight. In a world where only skinny girls could pursue a career as a high-fashion model on the ramp, the choice was clear for Tyra. She could either lose weight or bid her European modeling days goodbye. Banks chose the latter. Content with her decision, she returned to America in the mid-90s.
9. Victoria’s Secret Rejected Her
Banks was a woman with a plan. She wanted to find work in the swimsuit and lingerie modeling industry, where curves were an advantage rather than a problem. While Tyra was already well-known in the modeling world, her fame didn’t guarantee her a spot with the brand of her dreams. We all remember Banks as a Victoria’s Secret Angel, but did you know that at first, the company turned her down?
10. She Fought Back
Banks’ weight wasn’t the thing that offended the powers-that-be at Victoria’s Secret. Instead, it was her hair. When Banks auditioned for the lingerie brand, their on-staff hairstylist didn’t know how to work with a Black woman’s hair. After the employee mangled Tyra’s mane, Victoria’s Secret undeservedly sent her home. Not one to back down without a fight, Banks begged her agent to get her one more chance with the brand.
The next time she went in, she brought her own hairstylist. After that, Banks got a ten-year contract.
11. She Broke Barriers
Size matters in the best way possible for Tyra Banks. During her days as a Victoria’s Secret Angel, Banks was 20-30 pounds heavier and more curvaceous than the typical supermodel, but she brought in the sales like no one else. She sold more lingerie than any of the other skinnier models. In this case, Banks’ booty, ahem, beauty, worked wonders.
12. She Nearly Didn’t Make It
Tyra Banks’ acting debut on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air almost didn’t happen. She showed up to the audition dressed as a basketball-playing girl from Philadelphia, in tracks and a loose sweatshirt, only to realize that all the other actresses had worn glamorous black dresses. Even though Banks wanted to give up, she decided to stay and audition. In the end, she got the part.
13. She Had A Fresh Fling
Did Banks have a short fling with Will Smith while filming Fresh Prince? Nobody knows for sure, but the two were seen spending quite a lot of time together off set. Despite their potential romance, the two didn’t stay together and Banks quickly departed from the show. While that might sound like they had a dramatic breakup, Smith and Banks appear to have put the past behind them. They recently got together to virtually recreate a famous scene from the show.
14. She Made Her Big Screen Debut
Once he saw her on the cover of Essence, the film director John Singleton knew he wanted Banks to play a character in his new film, Higher Learning. She got the role, but one memory from the movie makes Banks uncomfortable to this day. Banks had to shoot an intimate scene with her co-star Omar Epps on the very first day of filming. However, that might not even be the worst memory Banks has from this time in her life.
15. She Ruled The Screen
Despite her uneven experiences on the set of Higher Learning, it seems like Banks caught the acting bug. She appeared in movies like Love Stinks, Love and Basketball, Halloween: Resurrection, and Coyote Ugly. She also had a lead role in the made-for-television film, Life-Size. Having conquered acting, Banks set her eyes on an even more ambitious goal.
16. She Paid It Forward
Banks clearly believes that all young girls should have the opportunities she herself enjoyed. In 1994, just a few years after graduating from Immaculate Heart, an all-girls’ Catholic high school in Los Angeles, Banks set up a scholarship fund titled The Tyra Banks Scholarship. The award gives other African American girls a chance to study at Banks’ alma mater.
17. She Has A Strange Phobia
Banks is allergic to dogs, though she likes beagles. An animal she’s really scared of though, are dolphins!
18. She Became A Mogul
It didn’t take long for Banks to start her own production company, first called “Ty Ty Baby Productions” but then wisely renamed to to “Bankable Productions.” Banks created the company so she could move from model/actress to media mogul. She quickly began reality shows like the modeling competition America’s Next Top Model and the talk show, The Tyra Banks Show. While both shows were extremely popular, they quickly courted controversy.
19. Her Show Was Controversial
America’s Next Top Model started out with the aim of helping fresh young girls noticed so they could find work in the modeling industry without any previous experience. Banks wanted to create a show like American Idol, but with models instead of singers. She based it on her own experience when she shared an apartment with a few models in Paris.
However, for a lot of viewers, ANTM didn’t really “help” its contestants. Instead, it seemed to hurt them.
20. She Caused A Scandal
For a show that hoped to break stereotypes, ANTM was often accused of upholding them. The participants were supposed to be conventionally beautiful (read: thin and blemish-free). If the judges felt like the contestants weren’t delivering their best work, they would shame the girls on national TV. Once, the show even suggested that a contestant had a flesh-eating disease when really, she just had some acne. And that wasn’t even the worst part…
21. She Made Questionable Choices
“Empowering” isn’t the word you’d used for a show if it begins objectifying women in the worst way possible. An episode of ANTM’s cycle 12 shows two contestants wrestling in the mud while wearing such skimpy bikinis that certain body parts had to be blurred out. Not sure if the producers had the same definition of “empowering” as the rest of the world!
22. She Could Be Harsh
Banks’ own behavior as a judge and executive producer on the show came under fire several times as well. There was a time when she completely lost her cool at one of the models being eliminated because she felt the contestant did not seem upset enough. Ever seen the “We were rooting for you! We were all rooting for you!” reaction gif? This is the controversial moment that started it.
23. The Fans Weren’t Happy
That wasn’t the only time that Tyra’s controversial behavior raised eyebrows. Many fans were put off by her insistence that one of the models pose nude even though the girl said she didn’t want to because of religious reasons. Viewers were also unamused when Banks fainted on a show, freaked the contestants out, then coolly got up, and revealed the whole thing was an act.
24. People Wanted To Cancel Her
The show may have ended in 2018, but certain clips from ANTM resurfaced recently, leading to a huge backlash on Twitter and even a call to “cancel” Tyra Banks. Viewers were outraged that Banks insulted a model with a gap between her teeth, made the contestants do a “biracial” photoshoot, and pressured another model to pose in a casket just a week after her close friend passed. Really Tyra, what were you thinking?!
25. She Had To Walk It Back
She didn’t come right out and apologize, but Banks did take to social media to send love and virtual hugs to the people calling her out. Tyra agreed that there had been some insensitivity and some very “off choices” over the course of ANTM. Is it too little, too late? Or will the people forget and forgive and move on? In either case, here’s to hoping Banks’ next work is not as tone-deaf as this one was.
26. She Wanted More
Bankable Productions wasn’t just going to produce one show, even if it was a monster hit. A year or two after ANTM started, Banks began hosting The Tyra Banks Show. A daytime talk show aimed at young girls, it quickly developed a more tabloid-like format and became immensely popular among its audience. So much so, that the show actually won two Daytime Emmys.
27. She Got Caught In A Lie
Once, on her own talk show, Tyra Banks was strapped to a lie detector machine, with embarrassing results. When questioned if she was jealous of Oprah, the model responded with a resounding “No.” However, the machine said otherwise. And to be fair, I think we’re all at least a little jealous of Oprah, aren’t we?
28. She Clapped Back
A life in media can be brutal at times, and Banks felt it keenly when tabloids started publishing some unattractive pictures of her in a bathing suit. This was around the time when she was riding high, as both her shows had been around for a couple of years and were doing well. Her sassy response was instantly iconic. She marched on stage on The Tyra Banks Show, clad in the same swimsuit and yelled, “Kiss my fat a***!”
29. She Got The Boot
Banks is one sought after judge on reality shows. In addition to ANTM, she joined the panel on America’s Got Talent in 2012 and stayed on the show for around six seasons. After that time, when the studio announced that Banks wouldn’t be returning, there was lots of speculation over whether Banks had actually been fired. While Tyra announced that she’d left to focus on a bigger and better project, people still wonder.
30. She Nearly Got Sued
A performer on America’s Got Talent reportedly sued Banks for “physically manipulating and verbally abusing” her daughter. The case was filed by “Jane Doe” against the production company but was later dismissed. While the producers claimed Banks was a beloved part of the team and had been a “positive influence” on the show, it, uh, doesn’t sound like everyone agreed.
31. She Sealed The Deal
Models Heidi Klum and Tyra Banks have more in common than fashion campaigns and America’s Got Talent. The ladies were both romantically involved with singer Seal. Banks dated him some years before his marriage to Klum and the relationship ended with “no drama.” However, when it comes to Banks’ love life, amicable splits aren’t exactly common…
32. She Thought She Found The One
For a time, two years to be exact, it seemed like Banks had found Mr. Right in NBA player, Chris Webber. She attended his games and the couple were often seen together despite their busy schedules. Webber himself admitted it was a serious relationship and said that he would love to have kids with Tyra. Unfortunately, their romance was doomed to a heartbreaking end.
33. Her Boyfriend Cheated
At one moment the rumor mill had everyone convinced that Webber and Banks were engaged, but the next piece of news was that they’d broken up! What caused trouble in paradise, you ask? Groupies, according to Banks. She tearfully likened video vixen Karrine Steffans to the groupies that caused a rift in her relationship. She also did a segment on her talk show in which she slammed groupies as homewreckers.
34. She Invented A New Word
Tyra Banks has brought us more than one meme-able TV moment, but the most iconic of all simply must be her invention of the “smize.” In plain speak, this is Banks’ short-form version for smiling with your eyes, instead of baring your teeth and grinning with your mouth. Used several times in ANTM, the term is now a part of everyday slang, especially in the modeling industry.
35. A Romance Went Wrong
After spitting from Webber, Banks had a serious relationship with a handsome investment banker named John Utendahl. The couple were together for four years, and Banks was openly appreciative of Utendahl and their relationship. She even spoke of their desire to have kids together, but sadly, this was not meant to be. Out of nowhere, the couple split in 2011, and to this day, no one knows what happened between them.
36. She Changed Her Ways
Tyra Banks is vocal about body-positivity, and the importance of self-esteem in young girls. To further this and to provide girls from ages 8-23 with the opportunity to learn leadership and life skills, she started a program called the TZONE. The idea is to engage girls from the Lower East Side in activities that will empower them and equip them to navigate through their lives successfully. You go girl!
37. She Has Beauty And Brains
No, Tyra Banks isn’t a Harvard graduate, but she did enroll in Harvard Business School to do a nine-week course for CEOs and other top executives. She may have implied that she was a graduate from the Ivy League school though, for which she was criticized quite widely. Hey, graduate or not, at least she went to Harvard for a bit. How many people do you know who did that?
38. She Wrote A Book With Her Mom
Tyra Banks has credited her mom as being her mentor, role model, and one of the biggest influences in her life. In fact, she taught her so many life lessons that Tyra and her mother literally wrote a whole book about them. The book is called Perfect is Boring, though the additional title spells things out more clearly. It reads: Tyra and Her Mama: 10 Things my Crazy, Fierce Mama Taught Me about Beauty, Booty, and Being a Boss.
39. Her Book Got Panned
Before she co-wrote a book with her mom, Tyra also tried her hand at writing fiction. She wrote Modelland, based her own experiences and adventure as a model. It was supposed to be part of a trilogy, but there’s no news on a second part so far. The book is part fantasy, part YA fiction. Though it made it onto The New York Times Best Seller list, reviewers weren’t shy about how much they hated the book. Most critics agreed that it was a “train wreck.” Yikes!
40. Her Next Endeavour Is A Little Odd
Not content with just writing about it, Banks wanted to see her vision for “ModelLand” come to life. Inspired by Disneyland, where she loved to go as a child, her plan was to have something like a modeling-based amusement park in Santa Monica, California, starting sometime this year. Sounds… interesting?
41. She Refused To Back Down
Tyra Banks spent a lot of time and energy on this project, however, investors made things tough. It took ages for them to come on board and support the theme park. Because of this, alongside many other challenges, we still don’t have an opening date for the attraction. Whenever it does open, though, Banks hopes to give people a true model-life experience, with makeovers at hair and makeup stations, pictures taken by high-tech cameras, and stylists to give tips on smizing and styling.
With tickets starting at $59 and going up to $1495, this might very well be the experience of a lifetime!
42. She Branched Out
Tyra Banks is in the business of looking pretty and helping others with their style too. To further this end, she also co-created a fashion and beauty website called typeF.com and a cosmetics line named Tyra Beauty. Less admirably, Tyra Beauty is a multi-level marketing scheme. If anyone’s looking to become a salesperson (in Tyra-speak, a “beautytainer”), go in with your eyes wide open.
43. She Is A True Trailblazer
Banks is a trailblazer in many ways. She was America’s first Black supermodel, the first African American model on the cover of GQ and the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, the first Black model to be featured in a Victoria’s Secret lingerie collection, and the first African American woman to sign a contract with CoverGirl Cosmetics. Phew!
44. She Had A Bad Romance
It hasn’t been all sunshine and roses for Banks in the past. She opened up about being emotionally abused by an ex-boyfriend when she was at the peak of her modeling career. She suffered from low esteem because her boyfriend would constantly berate her and tell her that she was worthless. Tyra found it hard to leave him until she finally realized how much he’d destroyed her self-confidence.
45. The Mystery Continues
Was the bad boyfriend in question John Singleton, the man who directed Tyra in her first film role? Banks never named any names, but Singleton was charged with domestic abuse by another ex-girlfriend, and the timeline seems to point towards him. However, it seems like one of those things we will never know for sure, especially since Singleton passed last year.
46. She Rebounded
In the 2010s, with some dramatic relationships under her belt, Banks seemed to have found love when she started dating the hunky Norwegian photographer, Eric Asla. The happy couple were so content that they decided to add another person to their life: A baby. Sadly, though, Banks had so much trouble conceiving that she eventually turned to IVF—with heartbreaking results.
47. She Underwent A Tragedy
Tyra Banks went through a year of IVF treatment, hoping it would end happily with her holding her child in her arms. Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be. She was devastated when she discovered the IVF had failed, particularly as she’d been so optimistic it would succeed that she’d even set up a nursery, and child’s bathroom with a tile that said “Mommy Already Loves You.” I’m not crying, you’re crying!
48. She’s A Proud Momma
After the failed IVF, Banks and Asla decided to go down the route of getting a surrogate to carry their baby to term. Thankfully, this worked out, even though Banks felt terrified that something would go wrong. She loves spending time with her son, York, and happily humble-brags about how he can speak three languages and could count to 20 long before his peers.
49. Her Family Fell Apart
Although they managed to fulfill their dream of having a baby together, sadly, Banks and Asla’s long term love flamed out. The couple split after five years together, and by all accounts, the separation was amicable and “drama-free.” These days, the ex-couple is committed to co-parenting their little son York and giving him the happiest childhood possible.
50. She Has Some Strange Nicknames
Tyra Banks has some very strange nicknames. One of them is BBQ. Nope, we have no idea why… maybe because she likes eating barbecued food? Another one is Black Widow, and we do know why her friends gave her that title: It’s apparently because Banks always broke up with the men she dated before they had the chance to break up with her.