It wasn’t all sunshine and smizes on America’s Next Top Model. According to an exposé from Insider published on Monday, the environment fostered by Top Model host and executive producer Tyra Banks and her fellow producers was, in the words of one contestant, tantamount to “psychological warfare.”
The Insider story, written by Kate Taylor, recounted that Banks and fellow producers, including ANTM creator Ken Mok, exploited contestants emotionally and physically on the extremely popular reality competition series—which ran for 24 seasons from 2003 to 2018. The abuse, as reported by Insider, included but was not limited to producers bringing up contestants’ past traumas in order to play on their emotions, as well as intentionally creating dangerous work environments to add to the drama. One contestant, season seven’s Eugenia Washington, recalls walking a runway that consisted of a path of wooden planks seesawing in a pool while wearing 6-inch heels, a pencil skirt, and two corsets. According to the story, Washington fell and cracked her knee to avoid falling into the water. Sixteen years later, she said she still has visible scars from the incident.
“I felt like my life was being put on the line for ratings,” Washington told Insider. Contestants on ANTM signed contracts saying that the show was not responsible for any injuries sustained while on the program.
The Insider story goes on to recount more horror stories about injuries models incurred while on the show, many of which happened while undergoing “Ty-Overs”—mandatory makeovers orchestrated by Banks—that sometimes left contestants with welts, burns, and bald spots. One contestant, season 12’s Aminat Ayinde, made her stylist aware that she was allergic to relaxers, salon-grade chemicals used to straighten curly hair; she was forced to continue with the makeover anyway. “This is what Tyra wants—this is how we have to do it,” Ayinde recalled the stylist saying. After she came in third place, Ayinde says she removed her extensions and found a 2-inch bald spot. She said it took three years for her hair to grow back.
“This is when I understood: Tyra doesn’t give a fuck,” Ayinde told Insider. “The whole thing really left the most disgusting taste in my mouth,” Ayinde said. “And honestly, I lost all respect [for Banks].”
Taylor’s Insider story paints Banks as a deeply engaged host and executive producer who had a 25% stake in America’s Next Top Model and often worked overtime to get a final product that was up to her standards. “She wanted to be the next Oprah,” recalled one producer who worked on America’s Next Top Model in its early years.
But, per Insider‘s story, Banks’s dedication to the show was often to the detriment of its contestants. Banks obsession with the show led to increasingly dangerous and outlandish challenges, Insider posits, noting that producers said that the supermodel “abhorred repetition” and was constantly trying to outdo the previous season. In an anecdote from ANTM creative director Andrew Patterson, Banks allegedly struck a deal with the Greek tourism board to take the contestants to Crete and have them pose in a “Greek Salad” inspired photo shoot covered in oil. “They looked pretty good,” Patterson recalled. “Except I think we used oil, and the girls ended up frying a little in the sun.”
Renewed scrutiny of the series began in the pandemic and erupted when a viral tweet from former contestant Sarah Hartshorne revealed that contestants received only a daily per diem of $40 dollars and were not paid to appear on the program and did not receive any residuals. Before Harstshorne’s tweet, Banks tweeted a blanket apology for what transpired on America’s Next Top Model in May 2020. “Been seeing the posts about the insensitivity of some past ANTM moments and I agree with you,” Banks tweeted. “Looking back, those were some really off choices.”