"I think I was put on this earth to instill self-esteem in young girls," Tyra Banks tells Lynn Hirschberg, who wrote this Sunday's New York Times Magazine cover story on the model turned mogul. And that's what she's been telling the rest of us for the past five years since ANTM debuted. Throughout the lengthy article, Tyra - who named her company Bankable Productions - seems to be justifying her crossover success and subsequent mega-wealth. ("Banks makes an estimated $18 million a year, and her net worth is around $75 million.") She'd have you believe that, ultimately, she's in this media game to help out 18 - 34-year-old women. How fitting then, that that happens to be the exact demographic coveted by advertisers! It's not so weird that we question whether someone is only interested in"instilling self-esteem in young women" when that someone built her empire on a competition-based reality show about modeling. What is weird is that Tyra feels the need to couch her seemingly endless career goals in humanitarianism, as though her ambition needs to have a heart as big as her weave. The answer is that she knows if she doesn't say that shit, she'll look like a money-grubbing asshole. The question, however, is: Why aren't women allowed to be as shamelessly mercenary as men?
Tyra is obviously a quick study, and in her quest for branding "Tyra" as what she refers to as "attainable fantasy," TyTy has no doubt closely watched her idol Martha Stewart, and has learned from her mistakes as coming off too cold or business-y. Bu it's hard to believe that Tyra's first concern isn't money, particularly because she continually talks about it in the article. Normally cartoonish, she actually comes off like Montgomery Burns.
"I'm frugal," she said. "I've always been this way. When I was young, my mom would give me my allowance, and I'd peel off a little each week and have some to spare." She looked around the room, which had cream industrial carpeting and walls painted in a shade somewhere between cantaloupe and terra cotta. "When we moved into these offices, I didn't like the carpet," she continued. "But do you know what carpeting costs? It's really expensive. So, I picked out a color palette that would go with this carpet, and I painted the walls instead. Painting is much less expensive than carpet." She considered this decision for a moment. "One of the first things I ask when I hire someone who deals with the financials of the company is about their spending habits. How you spend money reveals a lot about you."
Only people who super care about money say they're frugal. She also writes in very small print so that she doesn't have to go through notebooks as quickly. And you know that has nothing to do with being green.
Hirschberg remarks on Tyra's weird, yet winning, combination of deliberate details and chaotic improvisation when it comes to her shows and producing projects. But even Tyra herself talks about how her current success was a longtime in the making, a plan she and her mother (her best friend, manager, and onetime stage mother to a child star, although the two would deny that) had carefully mapped out years ago when she first got into modeling.
"My mom said, 'You will not go to Paris without studying the industry first,'" Banks said. "I went to the fashion library in Los Angeles and looked at all the French magazines from the past. My mom explained that I should study the names of the hairdressers, the stylists, the makeup artists, the photographers, the editors and, of course, the designers. I watched videotapes of models walking. My mom said, 'This is not just glamour - it is a business.' So when I arrived in Paris, I was ready.'"
Um, except she never bothered to learn French. LOL!
Once she got to Paris, she "saw that the girls with cosmetic and swimsuit calendars made more money than the high-fashion girls," so when she began to gain too much weight for runway, she looked at it as an opportunity to really cash in with Victoria's Secret contracts and Sports Illustrated covers. She even viewed her skin color as a lucrative opportunity rather than a setback, because at the time, there was no "black Cindy Crawford." as she puts it.
At the end of the day, Tyra-who points out that she doesn't drink and is not into the latest fashions - is just like any other success story: She's a geek who made good. And like most embittered geeks, she wishes to inherit the earth. Or at least to rule it.
"I want power," she said. "The power to make change. I have never been interested in being ‘hot' or ‘cool.' I'm not interested in walking down a bunch of red carpets, dating someone famous, being in a big movie. I've done those things, and it never felt right. But I do want power and not for financial reasons."
But it's kinda hard to believe that someone so calculating isn't all about the numbers. Not that there's anything wrong with that!
Banksable [NYT Magazine]