Last week, America’s Next Top Model brought an All Star Season of previous ANTM contenders onto the catwalk in the season premier. Ratings of ANTM having been sinking for a while now, this is clearly a pull-out-all-the-gimics twist on the series infused with all types of contradiction. Tyra persists with her usual persona, self-mocking and overdramatic, and enforcing the lot of female stereotypes under a superficial premise of empowerment. The opener is equipped with blindingly inflated caricatures of models and celebrity, embracing the frivolousness of it all.
The season features Isis, the only transgendered to have been on the show. (Tyra actually paid for her sex reassignment surgery since the season she was first on the show). And Kayla, the only lesbian to be a finalist on Top Model and who posed wearing a rainbow flag in the first episode. To it’s credit the group is quite diverse. What all of the girls do have are big personalities, many of them former “mean girls” of their respective seasons and each bringing some level of personal drama to the table.
I quote Tyra in what was probably her most eloquent moment ever in that “with representation comes opportunity.” This is the premise for the show as a whole she says and she is striving to change the industry and ‘make dreams come true’ for women who would likely not have a heel in the door of the fashion industry otherwise. Sure, making an industry laced with sexism, narrowness about beauty, and superficiality more fair makes the industry better, but I would argue that it isn’t good.
For example, the message about transgenders projected by the show is NOT that you can choose to place yourself in whatever body you like even if that is a little bit different, but it glorifies the stereotype of a skinny, hyper sexual, model stereotype that naturally-born women have been fighting to deconstruct for decades. Pride in body image no matter how unconventional is good for an individual. When a celebritized transgender stands on a stage in New York City in front of a live audience of thousands and has them cheer for how good she looks, transgenders have an enormous increase in confidence and opportunity within the context of a very narrow industry. However, it encourages stereotype. This tells people: You don’t have to be an emotionally-stunted football lover just because you were born with a penis. You also have the option of wearing short skirts and makeup and being overly sensitive about your age. It says you have to pick one, and it must correspond with the way you look and if possible what’s in you pants. This does not break stereotypes. It feeds into them.
The same case can be made for the opportunities the show provides for the girls ‘from the hood’ on the show.
Bringing diversity and difference to something narrow, may make it less narrow, but it does not make it better, or eradicate it’s history of narrowness or make things better for the populations represented by the token diversity.