It’s been a rough year for Tyra Banks. The opening of Modelland, her Santa Monica-based “story-driven attraction where you can come and celebrate your own beauty,” was delayed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, which means the public will have to wait to see for themselves what the hell she’s been talking about for the past year and a half. The postponement inspired a wave of despondent content from Banks, including a poem (“ModelLand is so ready/But just holding steady/While heroes protect us to thrive”).
Around the same time as Banks was grieving the delay of her dream mall, many on social media began to question the ethics of her long-running reality competition America’s Next Top Model, and a clip of Banks telling contestant Dani Evans that the gap in her teeth made her unmarketable circulated widely. Of course, ruthless critique of its contestants was baked into the show’s very premise (and marveling at how fucked up it could be was part of the morbid joy of ANTM watching), which means those decrying the show were merely catching up. Nonetheless, the backlash was so widespread that Banks addressed it and apologized.
Additionally, former ANTM judge/creative director Jay Manuel announced that he would be releasing a novel based on his experience on the show called The Wig, The Bitch & The Meltdown on August 3. The book includes a scene based on Banks’s infamous Cycle 4 tirade (“I was rooting for you! We were all rooting for you!”) at contestant Tiffany Richardson.
In sum, not even a supermodel with an existence as charmed as Banks’s is could escape 2020's wrath.
But! There exists potential vindication, a chance to see that perhaps not all of Banks’s teachings were toxic. Summer is upon us, and with the opportunity for outdoor congregation comes the imperative to wear face masks while socializing. But cutting off roughly half of your face, masks severely diminish a person’s expressive abilities, which means the part of the face that is uncovered—the top—must do the heavy emotional lifting. Enter the smize.
To smize is to smile with one’s eyes. Banks coined the term officially (to my recollection) during Cycle 13 of ANTM in an episode in which she and her henchpeople said “smize” and its verb form “smizing” some four dozen times, though she had (again, to my recollection) been preaching the virtues of smiling with your eyes and not your mouth for years at that point. She just finally had a word for it.
Now more than ever, the smize is crucial. Although you could, of course, cheat by smiling with your mouth and your eyes since your mask will ensure that no one is the wiser, smizing is worth attempting because it is more difficult than simply smiling and nothing easy is worth doing. Smizing is an active process, something like facial core work that requires activation and concentration (move this not that) though the benefits of it, to my knowledge, haven’t been studied. It probably won’t give your face a six pack. Regardless, the smize’s emphasis on the eyes is useful in a time when the eyes are pretty much all we have to project wordless feeling. It’s time to develop an emotional palate with your eyes alone.
There are several smizing tutorials online, as Banks is nothing if not a dead-horse beater. Here is one:
Naturally if you, like the New York Times’ Jessica Bennett, believe that not having to smile is a silver lining to the mask mandate, I am not recommending that you take up smizing. I can only imagine what it’s like, as a woman, to be told routinely by strangers to smile. My own limited experience of receiving that directive from people with whom I’d really rather not communicate in any manner has annoyed the shit out of me. Why should anyone want me to do something I’m not inclined to and display a false emotion for them? I’m communicating just fine on my own! Believe people when they show you who they are! If I’m not smiling, it’s not a coincidence.
The suggestion to smize is also irrelevant if you are wearing sunglasses, which I often am when I encounter people at whom I would actually like to smize, like a peaceful-looking person tending their garden or someone walking a charismatic dog. In fact, there’s sometimes a whole range of emotions flashing on my face that remain entirely obscured these days. Of course, speaking pleasantries and salutations would properly convey some of them, but ugh, who wants to talk to strangers? Friends are a different story. Talk to your friends. Tell them that you’re smizing underneath your sunglasses.
Anyway. Smizing: something maybe to look into and perhaps proof of prosocial content in the Book of Tyra. Speaking of that, I always thought something she said during Cycle 3 was also very wise: After Norelle recounted a spat from the night before, Banks cut through the complaining by noting, simply, that, “Everybody talks about everybody.” In the age of social media, understanding that, too, is crucial. Now more than ever.