Is it wrong to laugh at the dimwits of Americaâ’s Next Top Model?
by Hillari Dowdle
Wednesday night is pizza night at my house, and Iâ’ve turned it into a weekly TV-viewing ritual. I order a large pie with all the toppings, set out an array of snacks on my coffee table, and then snuggle back onto my ever-widening ass to view with equal parts supercilious cynicism and voyeuristic delight what must surely be the most entertaining hour of television currently playing: Americaâ’s Next Top Model on the CW.
If youâ’re not familiar with this little slice of reality TV heaven, let me bring you up to speed: Supermodel Tyra Banks hand-selects 14 model-material girls from around the country, puts them up in a house in Los Angeles, runs them through a series of photo shoots and silly challenges, eliminates one each week, and at the end of the season declares the last woman standingâ"you guessed itâ"Americaâ’s Next Top Model!
The girls are, as you might suspect, genetically gifted freaks of natureâ"whippet-thin, fine-boned, impossibly tall, very young (generally 18 to 22), living marionettes. They arrive on set with nothing but their hopes and dreams (and suitcases full of skeezy size 1 clothes). Tyra and her panel of fashion judgesâ"which includes â“fashion iconâ” Twiggy, â“runway divaâ” J. Alexander, and â“noted fashion photographerâ” Nigel Barkerâ"proceed to build them up and break them down, week after week after week.
The girls will undergo dramatic makeovers in which blondes mostly go blonder and extensions mostly get longerâ"but in which someoneâ’s hair will also inevitably get completely chopped off, resulting in high drama and lots of tears. They will be made to hang from wires or dangle from the side of a building or kiss a tarantula. They will participate in an arty concept shoot that only Tyra will understand, such as donning an elephant nose or portraying a neck wound. They will be subjected to ridicule, abandonment, and extreme heat and/or cold. They will be forced to work while sick (the sicker the better), and be told to like it. They will be treated like soulless mannequins.
Oh, wait. Thatâ’s the job theyâ’re signing up for, which makes all their ditzy teeth-gnashing deliciously funny. The show is in its ninth season and, with very few exceptions, the girls are just as slow and shallow as youâ’d expect. Theyâ’re doing their best to take it all seriously, but itâ’s just so lightweightâ"they are just so lightweightâ"that itâ’s hard not to mock them and gleefully throw Cheetos at the screen.
In personal interviews, theyâ’ll earnestly face the camera (sometimes tearfully) and say, â“I know I was born to be Americaâ’s Next Top Model! Iâ’ve wanted this my whole life. Iâ’ll work hard, Iâ’ll do whatever it takes.â”
This makes me giggle, but it makes me sad, too. Somehow, I think, such a statement is what you might expect to hear from a young person who wants to be an astronaut some day, or maybe president. But these girls are basically talking about lining up to have their picture taken, throwing on some clothes and taking a short walk. It ainâ’t rocket science.
But Tyra seems hell-bent on making sure that everybody knows that modeling is hard work. The American dream dictates that you can be anything when you grow up if you work hard enough, and Tyra likes to cast herself as the realization of that very up-by-the-boot-straps work ethic. And she likes to reward hard work on her showâ"for a while. But watch for more than a few weeksâ"as the competition gets tighter, the hard workers inevitably fall by the wayside. In the end, good genes are what makes a model, and effort has little, if anything, to do with it.
Whatâ’s left are the beautiful girls who will cluelessly dictate what our cultural body image should be for the next five to 10 years (before theyâ’re replaced). As a woman whoâ’s dealt with a lifetime of relative dumpiness, Iâ’d always felt a certain antipathy toward modelsâ"I thought of them as these evil creatures, conspiring to make average women feel bad about themselves. Americaâ’s Next Top Model has revealed them for what they are: very silly, vapid girls with very little life experience or perspective. Seeing them caught up in such vanity, makes me feel better about myself somehow. It makes me want to order my pizza with extra cheese.
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