Born on 4th December 1973, Tyra Banks‘ iconic rise to fame has seen her transform from one of America’s first supermodels into an actor, producer, singer, talk show host, author, television personality and astute businesswoman.

Perhaps more importantly, she has become a role model for ordinary people everywhere as a result of being ridiculed by the media amid criticism that she had gained weight.

Rather than feeling upset by the cruel taunts, she came out fighting, facing the criticisms head on and becoming an active body positive campaigner, reassuring people who lacked self confidence that it was OK to be larger, smaller or different.

Tyra Banks (centre) in the press room at the 35th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards. Kodak Theatre, Hollywood.

Tyra Banks (centre) in the press room at the 35th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards. Kodak Theatre, Hollywood.
Photio: s_bukley

Difficult schooldays

Born in Inglewood, California, to medical photographer Carolyn London and computer consultant Donald Banks, Tyra has an older brother, Devin. She attended John Burroughs Middle School, followed by Immaculate Heart High School, Los Angeles, graduating in 1991.

She has spoken frankly of how she was teased as a child because of her appearance, being labelled, “an ugly duckling“. She opened up about her childhood unhappiness in 2014, when she admitted her weight had played a major role in her life.

At the age of 11, she suddenly grew three inches taller and lost 30 pounds. This led her parents to fear she had an eating disorder and Tyra Banks was subjected to hospital tests to find out why she had suddenly gone from slightly overweight to super-skinny. In fact, it was nothing more than a growth spurt.

Her weight problems went full circle when unflattering photos of her in a swimsuit appeared in the media in 2006, taken without her knowledge by the paparazzi.

Weight issues

These weight difficulties led Tyra to muse about being, “forced to go to hospital for being too skinny”, at one time, while later being called, “too fat”. She confided that she knew the, “pain”, of being labelled too thin, but also the pain of being deemed too big. These experiences gave her a balanced view on the issues that people of all shapes and sizes encounter.

Tyra hit back at the critics by appearing on her television talk show, The Tyra Banks Show, wearing the same much-maligned swimsuit, ridiculing those who had ridiculed her. On live TV, she strutted, turned, stooped and posed, mocking the columnists who had speculated about her waist.

She said afterwards, “I could easily have said ‘forget about it’, but something made me think this was ridiculous. That 11-year-old girl always lives inside me. I want every girl to find her own beauty.”

Modelling success

There’s certainly much more to Tyra Banks than her undeniable beauty. Her African, British and Native American heritage gave her the stunning good looks that saw her sign for LA Models at 15, after being rejected by four modelling agencies, and Elite Model Management at 16.

After moving to Milan when she was given the chance to model in Europe. She was booked for 25 shows at Paris Fashion Week 1991 in her first catwalk season. Her career reached unparalleled heights when she was featured in editorials in the French, American, Spanish and Italian Vogue, in the French, Spanish, German and American Elle, in Vanity Fair and in the American, Malaysian and German Harper’s Bazaar.

Catwalk shows

Later, she appeared on the cover of all the top fashion magazines and completed catwalk shows for some of the world’s most renowned designers, such as Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Oscar de la Renta, Christian Dior, Marc Jacobs, Donna Karan, Givenchy, Calvin Klein, Valentino, Armani, Fendi and Michael Kors, to name but a few.

She has also featured in advertising campaigns for fashion houses such as Escada, Yves Saint Laurent, Ralph Lauren and Victoria’s Secret. In 1993, Tyra signed a contract with Cover Girl cosmetics, returning to America in the mid-1990s to do more commercial modelling.

In 1997, she was awarded the VH1 Supermodel of the Year Award. At the start of the new millennium, she was one of the highest-earning models in the world.

FABLife Cast (left), Tyra Banks (second from left) at the ABC TCA Summer Press Tour Party at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, CA

FABLife Cast (left), Tyra Banks (second from left) at the ABC TCA Summer Press Tour Party at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, CA
Photo: Helga Esteb

Television and film

Alongside her modelling career, she also began acting in 1993, when she played lead character of Will Smith’s friend, Jackie Ames, in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, making seven appearances in the comedy series. She made her film debut in 1995 in Higher Learning, she also had roles as Zoe in the film Coyote Ugly and as Eve in the Disney Channel’s Life-Size.

She also had minor roles in the TV series Gossip Girl, in which she played Ursula Nyquist, the romantic film Love and Basketball and the horror movie Halloween: Resurrection.

In 2003, she created and presented the long-running reality TV series, America’s Next Top Model, for which she became executive producer for 22 seasons, giving young hopefuls a chance at modelling fame. She also launched her own talk show that ran for five seasons, winning two Emmy awards for Outstanding Talk Show Informative.

Writing and music

Tyra published a novel in 2010, Modelland, based on her own life as a model. The book ranked number one in the New York Times Best Seller list in 2011. She is one of only seven women who have ranked repeatedly in Time Magazine as one of the world’s most influential people.

Tyra has also been involved in the music industry, appearing in many music videos, such as Michael Jackson’s epic hit, Black or White, Lionel Richie’s Don’t Wanna Lose You and Tina Turner’s Love Thing. She recorded the single Shake Ya Body in 2004, later recording a second single, called Kobe, with NBA player Kobe Bryant.

Business skills

Tyra has enjoyed success with her own cosmetics brand, Tyra Beauty, which she launched in 2014, after completing a Harvard Business School Executive Education Training Program in February 2012. The company uses multi-level marketing to recruit sales distributors, who are known as, “beautytainers”.

She also has two websites, the fashion and beauty enterprise typeF.com and an interactive cosmetics e-commerce site, tyra.com.

Victoria's Secret Fashion models walks the runway finale during the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show

Victoria’s Secret Fashion models walks the runway finale during the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show at the Lexington Armory in New York City. photo: FashionStock.com

Personal struggles

In her personal life, Tyra has become a champion for abused women after suffering an abusive relationship herself. She co-hosted an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2009 that was dedicated to highlighting the issues of domestic violence against women.

Speaking of her own past relationship, she said, “It was really bad, but it made me strong.”

Tyra has now found happiness in a relationship with Erik Asla. The couple had their first child, a son, York Banks-Asla, on 27th January 2016, born through surrogacy after what the couple described as a, “traumatic IVF struggle”. Prior to York’s birth, Tyra had spoken of the social media bullies who had plagued her, demanding to know, “Why don’t you have kids?” 

Speaking in a television interview, she responded, “You don’t know what I’m going through. You have no idea.”

Yet despite her struggles, Tyra has come out smiling as she and Erik enjoy life with the baby whom she calls their, “little miracle”.

Tyra Banks’ Future plans

With her long and illustrious career showing no signs of slowing down, Tyra’s future plans include combining her career and parenthood, as she has signed up to record a sequel to the Disney TV movie, Life-Size, when she will reprise her role of Eve.

As a role model for thousands of women everywhere, Tyra Banks is proving that it’s possible to triumph over adversity, never giving up on her dreams and achieving a spectacular, multifaceted career, while making every effort to encourage other women to believe in themselves. Unspoilt by her fame, she is a true icon of her generation.

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