Note: This is a guest post written by my little sister Julia, a first-year student at Missouri State University. She doesn’t know what she wants to study, but we accept her as a member of our family anyway. Go visit her Twitter @yooliakovach.
I am obsessed with America’s Next Top Model. I also received top scores on my International Baccalureate diploma, a high ACT score, and an I.Q. that my parents never officially told me because as a child I had a tendency to brag. This last sentence was not written with the intention of bragging, but of proving a point: I am an academic who eats up shallow reality television.
I also openly admit to loving pop music and being materialistic to an embarrassing extent. Although I understand the social implications and problems of a show like America’s Next Top Model, I still cannot get enough of Tyra Banks, the show’s host. Perhaps it is because I completely separate myself from the girls on the show because I could never live with myself if I chose to be a model, but perhaps I just love the show. I love seeing high fashion designers and model coaches like Mr. and Miss Jay interact with the girls. The show makes me laugh and cry, and it appeals to all of what some academics call “shallow emotions.”
Intellectuals have surrounded me the last four years of my life. My high school was something of a private school within a public school. There were a few people who rolled their eyes at the academic value of the International Baccalureate program, but most people in the program took education very seriously. Even though I do read the classics and am a strong academic, I admit to loving media that my high school classmates would look at twice. Many classmates felt the pressure to impress one another with bits of knowledge or their reading lists, and this attitude persists among academic social circles.
Perhaps this is from where the term “guilty pleasure” emerges. I used to believe that I had to impress people with my intelligence, so I called many things that I truly liked my “guilty pleasures.” My guilty pleasure list was so long that it could wrap around the Earth twice. It wasn’t until I realized that it was okay to like “shallow” things that I learned to be more comfortable with myself. I dance to Ke$ha at parties and I have the most fun out of anyone there, because I’m not pretending to hate the music. I watch America’s Next Top Model, and I am able to simply be a girl and embrace what makes girls amazing. I do, however, still feel the need to defend my love of the show because of some of issues that arise around it.
I am a feminist, because if those who are living, breathing humans are not feminists, then they are also a living, breathing problem. Some might say it is not very empowering of me to watch ANTM, but I disagree. The women on the show are thin, but many of them choose to be this way because they yearn to be in the modeling industry, where they know this is how they must look. The show addresses eating disorders, with Tyra constantly making sure the girls’ eating habits are healthy. Tyra is very defensive of the “plus size” models that are, in actuality, perfectly healthy sized girls. Some judges are too engulfed by the modeling industry to accept the larger girls by constantly claiming that “they’re not high fashion,” but Tyra always retaliates aggressively.
This show may be saying to girls who are healthy sizes that they are “plus size,” but that is also what the media constantly bombards girls with in the first place. The viewer must separate herself from the show and say, “these girls are not reality, the modeling industry is not reality, and they are choosing the modeling industry.” I also love that Tyra promotes women of color on the show–by the third cycle the top two contestants were both African American women. There are Indian, Hispanic, and Asian women represented as well. I do not view the show as harmful to women, but actually more empowering to them, as long as they separate themselves from the women who are driving themselves for the prize. This is not to mention that the show is not just for girls, because this is another stereotype set by society: only girls can like shows about modeling, fashion, and makeup. My boyfriend watches the show with me and cannot get enough. He thinks the girls are hilarious and loves Tyra to pieces.
Perhaps my bias for the show comes from the confidence it has given me. I know I could never be a part of the modeling industry even if I lost weight, because I am 5’2” (although rumor has it that in upcoming cycles there are petite models – I’m only on cycle four) but the show has truly made me feel beautiful. Tyra picks girls with unique features, with faces in which you might not expect to see a top model. However, she teaches them to love the way they look. I learned from this show that beauty is not just high cheekbones and a cute button nose. In fact, the girls who are more stereotypically beautiful often get eliminated first. Living in the Midwest, I find this important to remember. I have a very unique face, and because of ANTM, I know it is beautiful. I stand out, and girls who stand out, who are unique, must realize that they truly are as beautiful as the supposedly “picture perfect” girls who the common public love. Unique girls have something to them, even beyond their faces–perhaps their past insecurities have helped them build character.
There is still a lot of criticism about ANTM (who just recently introduced male models to the running – I am dying of excitement) and the modeling industry in general. I do believe that the modeling industry should change completely; that girls of a healthy size should be used to represent females, and that many of the photos that are taken are extremely misogynistic. ANTM does not represent this side of the world of modeling, and is simply there for our entertainment. I also believe that Tyra teaches the girls on the show how to be strong and healthy women and to respect themselves. The moment I see a hint of misogyny on the show, I will stop watching. I have not yet and at this point I do not feel guilty for enjoying it.