On this day in 1973, Tyra Banks was born in Inglewood, California.
She attended Immaculate Heart High School in Los Angeles. When she turned 17, she began trying to find a modeling agency to sign her. However, she was met with rejection and discrimination. One agency told her she looked “too ethnic” and another said that it “already had a black woman and didn’t want another.”
In 1990, Banks successfully landed a contract with the largest modeling agency in the world, Elite Model Management. That same year, her first print piece was released by Seventeen magazine. Upon graduating high school in 1991, Banks chose to continue her education at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, but when Elite offered her the opportunity to travel to France high-fashion runway modeling, she chose to forgo college.
Banks quickly became one of the world’s most successful supermodels, booking 25 runway shows while in Paris. However, by the mid 1990’s, she began gaining weight and was criticized by the industry. Unwilling to starve herself to meet the beauty industry’s unrealistic expectations, she chose to return to the United States to switch to lingerie and swimwear modeling, where curvier models are more accepted and welcomed.
“I made my living being 20 or 30 pounds heavier than the average model,” Banks says. “And that’s where I got famous. Victoria’s Secret said I sold more bras and panties than anybody else, and I was traipsing down that runway with 30 pounds more booty than the other girls.”
In 1996, Banks became the first black woman to ever appear on the cover of GQ. Just one year later, she appeared on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, making her the first black woman to do so. She signed contracts with both Victoria’s Secret and Cover Girl, which led to her being named one of People magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People. She has additionally received the Michael Award for Supermodel and two Teen Choice Awards for Favorite Supermodel.
In 2003, Banks created and hosted the reality TV show America’s Next Top Model. Throughout the show’s first six seasons, it was UPN’s highest rated show. Now, with over 20 seasons under its belt, Top Model continues to receive high ratings on the CW television network.
Two years after the creation of Top Model, Banks began hosting her own daytime talk show, The Tyra Show. In 2010, she chose to say goodbye to her talk show, telling People magazine that she would rather focus on “bringing positive images of women to the big screen.”
Currently, Banks is active in several charitable causes, particularly helping young women cope with self-esteem issues. In 1998, her book, titled Beauty Inside & Out, was published. One year later, she developed TZONE, a foundation aimed at developing teenage girls’ self-confidence and independence.