america’s next top “high fashion” model is…not diverse

posted by jroselkim

This is what high fashion looks like, according to Tyra Banks.

It feels like that time when I was a bit full but still insisted on an all-you-can-eat option at a Japanese-Korean food restaurant (which I just knew wasn’t going to be good but couldn’t resist), the restaurant would be controlling my meal by giving it to me in portions and refused to actually let me eat the promised menu unless I finished every course.

In other words – I feel a complicated mix of self-loathing and outrage after watching the premier of America’s Next Top Model, Cycle 15. Self-loathing because I am a) constantly sucked into this hysterical and cringe-worthy “reality” and b) admitting that I have watched all of the freaking 14 previous cycles (wow, how many hours of my life is that where I could’ve enriched my brain with, say, foreign language learning?) The outrage, however, stems from how the idea of “high-fashion” (though, this is still Tyra’s version so it probably means nothing to someone like Karl Lagerfeld) still being so exclusionary and exclusive.

So, America’s Next Top Model is like, totally changed, you guys. Instead of a fashion spread in Seventeen magazine, the winner now gets a fashion spread in Italian Vogue, which apparently is the mecca of all models and launches high-fashion model careers all the time. This means nothing to the plebians like me who can’t even sift through American Vogue on a regular basis.

But what does this REALLY mean for the show? So far, it means:

1) no more body diversity: there has been at least one plus-sized girl that gets picked every season, and Tyra gives some mandatory spiel about how all body sizes are beautiful. The plus-sized girl would stick around for a while, only to be booted off after the judges would start making comments about them looking too ordinary, commercial, old, or all of the above. Except for that one time when that plus-sized girl won, because I guess they needed to pay lip service or something. But there is NONE of that – not even the superficial lip-service part – this season.

2) no Asian girls: I admit, Asian contestants are pretty rare on the show to begin with, but there’s been a smattering of them. April in season 1 was half-Japanese and went pretty far in the competition. I remember Gina from Season 6, who was a textbook bimbo case and said she only liked dating white guys, and was generally embarrassing to watch. Then there was Sheena in Season 11 who was Japanese and Korea, who eventually got booted off because she was too “sexual.” This cycle, I did not see a single Asian face even in the “semi-final” stage.

Granted, ethnic diversity is hard to come by in the fashion world. But Asian-Americans are so rarely represented as potential for top models. Not that I look to this show as some kind of an anchor for American culture. But from the continuation of the show and the frenzy some of the contestants display, it certainly serves as some kind of a cultural milestone for some. So where the azns at, Tyra??

Reality TV, I wish I could quit you.

[Photo from realitytvmagazine.sheknows.com]

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