Tyra Banks (here in 1997) says a size 4 would be too big for modeling today. (Rose Hartman/WireImage)
Current Victoria’s Secret model Chanel Iman, 21, at a recent fashion show. (Mike Coppola/FilmMagic)
Tyra Banks has created a multi-million-dollar empire with her own production company, her hit reality series "America's Next Top Model," her own syndicated daytime talk show that had a five year run, and a book franchise. But none of it would have ever happened had the 5' 10" beauty not landed her first modeling contract as a teenager more than 20 years ago.
Had the timing been different, however, Banks now says wouldn't have been able to become a model in the first place. Why? In an "open letter to models" published in The Daily Beast on Tuesday, the 38-year-old says the size 4 figure she flaunted when she first kicked off her career wouldn't have flown in today's fashion industry. "The truth is that if I was just starting to model at age 17 in 2012, I could not have had the career that I did. I would've been considered too heavy," Banks writes. "In my time, the average model's size was a four or six. Today you are expected to be a size zero. When I started out, I didn't know such a size even existed."
In fact, she reveals she began dealing with rejection midway through her modeling career as her body began to change. "In my early 20s I was a size four. But then I started to get curvy. My agency gave my mom a list of designers that didn't want to book me in their fashion shows anymore," Banks shares. "In order to continue working, I would've had to fight Mother Nature and get used to depriving myself of nutrition."
The real goal of the letter, however, was to "celebrate" Vogue's recent decision to ban models who "appear to have an eating disorder" from all 19 of its editions worldwide. "When I started modeling, I used to see models who seemed unhealthy backstage at fashion shows. They appeared to be abusing their bodies to maintain a certain weight," Banks continues in the letter. "These girls were booked over and over again for countless fashion shows and photo shoots. I'm sure many of you today have witnessed this, or even live it. Now, real progress is finally on the horizon. Vogue is stepping up, doing the right thing, and protecting that girl. Perhaps that girl is you!"
The former Victoria's Secret model isn't alone in her fight to get the industry to focus on featuring healthy bodies rather than those with eating disorders.
Prior to this year's New York Fashion Week in February, designer and president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, Diane von Furstenberg, sent out guidelines to participating designers on how to best handle suspicions that a model is suffering from an eating disorder, and required them to provide models with healthy meals and snacks backstage. Around the same time, Israeli lawmakers essentially banned skinny models from catwalks, ads, and billboards, passing legislation that says that modeling jobs cannot be given to anyone with a body mass index under 18.5.
Still, some models believe that it's not the industry that's to blame. "I never suffered this problem because I had a very strong family base," supermodel Gisele Bundchen told Brazilian newspaper Globo in 2007. "The parents are responsible, not fashion."
But Banks believes that Vogue's decision is a very fashionable step in the right direction … and she knows just how to mark the occasion, writing: "This calls for a toast over some barbecue and burgers!"
Well, Tyra, you might have to make it grilled chicken over greens to get any actual models to join you.