The Problem with Tyra Banks

Between 2005 and 2011, Tyra Banks, former model and judge of America’s Next Top Model (ANTM) hosted her talk-show: The Tyra Banks Show.

Throughout the series, episodes centred on bullying, drug abuse, sex work and racial inequalities. Amongst these were less groundbreaking instalments of extreme makeovers, dating disasters, Tyra Banks wearing a fat suit for a week, and “ANTM Graduation Parties”.

In 2007, The Tyra Banks Show aired “Teens in the Sex Trade”. Banks spoke with a fourteen-year-old sex worker, an older woman who had once worked in the pornographic film industry but ultimately regretted her decision and Sasha Grey, adult film actress at that time. On the surface, one can only assume this episode aimed to shed light on the dark side of the easy money however this intention is quickly juxtaposed when we are introduced to Sasha Grey.

Banks (Left), Grey (Right)

A pre-taped segment describes Grey as a “fresh-faced” teenager who was “bombarded by pornographic materials” growing up and now “struggles with the trappings of her pornographic life”. With Banks continuously drawing attention to her youthful looks and placing emphasis on the scenes she has worked on, Grey discusses the reasoning behind her decision making and how it has helped to empower her.

When asked if she was sexually abused, Grey confirms that she was not and that her work allows exploration of sexuality in a sex-positive way. Unfortunately, we see an ongoing narrative pushed that there is a deeper meaning to her decision making with Banks even advising “I hope you sit down with yourself one-day and really do some soul searching to find out why you’re in this industry”.

source: Syndication via Youtube

In discussing their relationship, Ian, Grey’s partner, describes it as progressive. Banks goes on to ask what his mother would think about him dating a sex worker to which Ian notes as she too is progressive and would find no issue. To this, Banks interjects stating “… my mother is progressive too but if I were a porn star she wouldn’t be so happy with that”.

Throughout the interview, we see Sasha Grey shamed for her decision to enter into the pornographic industry. Dr Drew Pinsky, an additional guest, goes on to compare Grey’s choice to an addict — someone who is making these self-destructive choices and cannot stop despite saying otherwise.

In a 2020 podcast with Holly Randall, Sasha Grey discussed the narrative the show was trying to portray and the psychological process of the entire experience. From the hair, makeup, and wardrobe Grey was put in to make her look younger, Banks coming out looking like a “school madame”, and finally how she was chastised by a non-sex positive woman who only appeared in four porn scenes.

Fortunately for Grey, she had Peter Warren attended the show; he would go on to write Commentary: Sasha Grey Goes on ‘The Tyra Banks Show’. In this, Warren recounts a speech Grey made comparing the porn industry to The Tyra Banks Show, both of which can be argued as “exploitative”, whether that be for ratings or money.

This scene was removed from the episode when aired.

source: Holly Randall via Sasha Grey

Although retired from the adult film industry in 2009, Grey continued her career into the mainstream; being featured in Eminem’s Space Bound music video, starring in films, guest-starring in television shows such as Entourage, and reaching 1.6 million Instagram followers in 2020.

In 2019, Jeana Turner, who appears on America’s Next Top Model’s 24th Cycle, uploaded a YouTube video discusses her experience on ANTM. Turner addresses her interview with the judges, including Banks, where she is asked about a Playboy shoot she posed for at eighteen. Explaining that she wanted to get ahead in her modelling career and believed that “sex sells”. Turner described Banks’ reaction where she crossed her arms and said: “I don’t like that. You sound like a fucking prostitute”. Contrary to this, Banks has had ANTM contestants eliminated for not participating in nude and topless photoshoots.

In Cycle 1 of ANTM, when asked why she did not want to participate in a shoot, Robin Manning explained: “I didn’t want to feel uncomfortable. My body is mine”. In that same episode, Shannon Stewart also refused to take part in the shoot. Banks told Stewart “I don’t pose nude but I will simulate it” meaning she will wear a g-string which will later be photoshopped out of the image “… and to me, that’s not nudity”. Both Manning and Steward were in the bottom two during elimination, with Manning being sent home.

In the first episode of Cycle 7, Ginger Wells was also uncomfortable posing nude but after discussing this with other models and the photographer, she was able to take two photos. When judging, Jay Manuel referring to Ginger as “someone who is unwilling to cooperate”.

Regardless of her participation, she was still eliminated.

Left to Right: Jeana Turner, Robin Manning, Shannon Stewart, Ginger Wells.

What can best be taken away from this is the acknowledgement of subjectivity. In this instance, not only has an individual has determined what they deem to be appropriate when it comes to nudity on camera, these personal beliefs have been extended to others.

One can argue that pornography is immoral, wrong, and that sex should not be sold however as supply and demand have taught us, if there is a market for something and make money off of it. If someone is uncomfortable with exposing themself on camera, that choice is theirs to make and shouldn’t dictate how others behave or are treated.

To elaborate on Sasha Grey point regarding exploitation; there is no difference between selling your time, profiting off of ideas, skills, and education and selling your body.

At the end of the day, we are all whores in one way or another that is ok.

Sydney based writer taking a look into culture, media and mental health. For business enquiries please contact via linkedin.com/in/lidya-saliba/

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store