American supermodel Tyra (Lynne) Banks was born on December 4, 1973 in Los Angeles, California. Since her debut on the Paris runways, she has finagled for herself a promising media empire and strong reputation as a business woman. Even more, she is an aspiring actress with impressive movie credentials behind her, a television personality, talk-show host and television producer.
Raised in Inglewood, she attended the Catholic, all-girls Immaculate Heart High School. Growing up, Tyra took time to bloom from the awkward, “ugly duckling” of her class, into someone considered to be one of the most desirable women in the world.
As child and adolescent, she was often teased because of her very thin frame. Banks later acknowledged that these were difficult years for her and greatly contributed to a lack of self-esteem. However, towards the end of her high school years, Tyra’s physical appearance literally changed and transformed her into an exotic beauty.
Having been an excellent student and graduating with honors, Tyra Banks enrolled at Loyola Marymount University in 1991. Shortly afterwards, Elite Model Management gave the then17-year-old aspiring model her first modeling job.
Prior to her entry into Elite and the world of high fashion, Banks had been rejected by four other modeling agencies. Her first experiences after Elite did not hint to the future that awaited her until one fateful day…
“An agent saw pictures of me and said that I was the only girl she wanted to take back to Paris… I didn’t leave thinking I was going to be some big fashion model. I just wanted to make money for college.”
Seizing upon this chance, Banks packed her bags and headed off to Paris to work with quality photographers and to prepare for the upcoming runway shows. It was during that time that she met internationally famed runway instructor, Jay Alexander. This meeting would prove an important one for both in later years…
International fame would not be long in coming Tyra’s way. In Milan, she walked the catwalks for Versace and Dolce & Gabbana; and in Paris for Yves Saint Laurent, Carven, etc. Tyra’s rapid rise in the ranks also soon proved to be a thorn in the side of her future rival – none other than the queen of the international catwalks, Naomi Campbell herself!
Legendary is the strife that ran amuck in the industry between the two. Naomi was already established as the reigning star of all things runway and as one of the original five, modern-day, superstar supermodels. Though other black women including Roshumba Williams, Karen Alexander, Gail O’Neil, Veronica Webb and Beverly Peele had achieved the status of supermodel, Naomi wanted to preserve her rank as the leading black supermodel. Her reign was thusly threatened by the American Tyra Banks, who many positioned as a younger, version of Campbell. Things for Tyra did not get any better when Naomi became outraged upon learning that some editors were having Tyra made up to resemble her during photo shoots for magazine fashion spreads.
It has been frequently and publicly said that Naomi went so far as to having Tyra expelled from Elite, which represented the two. Not being satisfied, Naomi also had Tyra kicked out of top shows including Chanel in Paris and Fendi in Milan. According to sources, Naomi and Tyra even came to blows backstage at Fendi.
Many were those who fueled the flames of the rivalry. For her part, Banks took the moral high road refusing the notion that there could only be one black supermodel, while no limit as to the number of white supermodels.
Being homesick and having an unwanted feud on her hands with one of the most powerful and famous models in the history of the industry, Tyra called in the big guns to have her back. Her mother came to Paris to join her homesick daughter and to manage her career.
Realizing that greener pastures awaited her, Banks left the ranks of high-fashion supermodel after several years and made a smooth transition to the commercial end of the market. Then her career really took off as she became the first African-American to be featured on the cover of Gentlemen’s Quarterly. Showing a little ingenuity, she prompted her agents at IMG to contact Sports Illustrated and Victoria’s Secrets on her behalf. She went on to become the first black model to get the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and of the Victoria’s Secrets catalogue
She also was a longtime spokesperson for Cover Girl Cosmetics, a feat that her main rival, Naomi Campbell, has never been able to duplicate at Cover Girl or at any other cosmetics company.
During her years as an international high fashion model, Banks walked the catwalks of Paris, Milan, Tokyo, U.S., and London. She has been featured in an impressive array of magazines, commercials, and billboards.
Her face has graced the covers of international fashion magazines and publications including 20Ans, Vogue, Elle, Essence, Amica, ELLE Girl, L’Officiel, Harper’s Bazaar, Photo, Cosmopolitan, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, etc.
In addition to her Cover Girl Cosmetics contract, she also scored other lucrative deals to represent Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Victoria’s Secret, Swatch, XOXO, Lenscrafters, Dolce & Gabbana, Pepsi, McDonald’s and Nike.
Banks was invited to appear in Michael Jackson’s “Black or White”. She, along of Nadja Auermann and senior supermodel, Linda Evangelista also starred in George Michael’s “Too Funky” video. These appearances reinforced her already established status as one of the world’s leading supermodels, and too as one of its sexiest.
Tyra is never shy to speak about her voluptuous body even going so far as to comment, “Some models are quite flat-chested so they can run around without bouncing. I can’t […] Black women don’t have the same body image problems as white women. They are proud of their bodies. Black men love big butts.” Tyra even went so far as to have her breasts examined on the set of her talk show by an expert who declared her breasts 100% real!
In an interview with The Sun, she set the record straight on rumors regarding her physique saying, “I am totally against plastic surgery – My doctor was Dr. K Roxanne Grawe – A lot of people think I have breast implants because I have the biggest boobs in the business. But I was a 34C when I was 17… They stay up when I wear a push-up bra. But if people could see me when I come home and take off my bra, how could they think these are fake?”
Desiring to take full advantage of her famous face and name, Tyra Banks began branching out into other industries, most notably film and television. She appeared in the 1992 British television movie, Inferno. Then returning full-time to the USA, she appeared in Felicity and co-starred opposite of Will Smith in numerous episodes of the international smash hit comedy series, the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
In 1995 she made her big screen debut starring in John Singleton’s critically acclaimed drama Higher Learning. She then went on to co-star with future superstar, Lindsay Lohan, in the Disney movie Life-Size. She also co-starred in 1999’s Love Stinks, and in 2000’s sexy girl-flick, Coyote Ugly.
In 2005, the now supermodel, actress and television personality recorded her first hit single, “Shake Ya Body,” with the producer Darkchild, and made her first music video to the same tune. She and NBA star Kobe Bryant recorded together the song, “K.O.B.E.” Tyra also recorded “Be A Star” as part of Disney’s soundtrack for the movie Life Size.
Tyra Banks created her own production company, Bankable Productions. Her first major program that she created is America’s Next Top Model. She is not only the shows host, but she is too it’s executive producer.
In the fall of 2005, Tyra inked a deal for her newest creation, the self-titled, Tyra Banks Show. On this show, Tyra seeks to help teens and young woman cope with the world in which we live and have some fun along the way. To prepare for this, she called upon Oprah Winfrey for some advice. Tyra has also been a guest co-host and contributor on the Oprah Winfrey Show, with her most notable appearance coming in the fall of 2004 when the talk show queen sent each of her guests home with a new car.
A moment of great satisfaction came for Tyra Banks in the first year of her talk show. Naomi Campbell accepted to be her special guest and speak about their troubled common history. The two spoke in detail about their rivalry and officially ended their feud in front of Tyra’s millions of viewers. The two divas even exchanged telephone numbers and made promises to call each other.
Tyra officially ended her career as a supermodel in the same year. On December 6, 2005, she walked the runway for the last time during the televised presentation of the Victoria’s Secret fashion show.
Today with a reported $53.5 million Tyra Banks currently ranks 4th among the highest earning supermodel. She has been twice listed by People Magazine as one of the “World’s 50 Most Beautiful People”. And in 1997, received the prestigious Michael Award for Supermodel of the Year! She is the author of Tyra’s Beauty Inside & Out.
Not bad at all for a woman who as an adolescent would run home in tears because of being teased about her awkward appearance.
Giving back, she established the Tyra Banks Scholarship, which provides African-American girls the opportunity to attend her alma mater, Immaculate Heart High School. She also created the TZONE leadership program for young girls to help “reinforces core values of trust and support, challenges teen girls to resist negative social pressures, and enhances self-empowerment—inspiring girls to become confident leaders in their communities.”
5′ 10½” tall