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WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BE ON TOP?

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THE POPULAR MODELING SHOW IS BACK IN THE SPOTLIGHT BUT FOR ALL THE WRONG REASONS.

It’s 2006. You’ve just gotten home from school and run straight to the television to turn on America’s Next Top Model; at the time it was on it’s 7th cycle. Today’s episode is titled “The Girl Who Marks Her Territory.” For this shoot, they were to pose as common stereotypes given to models.

Cycle 7 Winner, Caridee English, posing as the “Dumb Blonde” stereotype. (Credit: Oliver Bronson/Dylan Don)

You watch in awe as the amateur models pose ferociously, yet gracefully, in front of the camera. One girl dressed as a bearded lady and another as an elephant girl. The images captured are shocking and unique, so much so that you find yourself copying the poses of each girl and envision yourself on set. 

America’s Next Top Model shelled out cycle after cycle, even creating cycles that included shorter female models and co-ed cycles with male models. From the viewer’s perspective, the show was launching these models into their careers, giving them the opportunity to showcase if they have what it takes to “be on top.” 

In recent years, past viewers have come to realize that the widely loved reality show displayed a lot of problematic things. For example, for Cycle 4 the models participated in a “different ethnicities” shoot that involved some brown and blackface and, later in Cycle 13, repeated the same mistake by doing a “biracial” shoot where they crossed models with other races. 

Cycle 13’s Erin Wagner wearing brown-face while portraying a “Tibetan/Egyptian” mixed woman for the “biracial shoot.” (Credit: The CW)

Another issue with the series was the many times it criticized a model for being themselves, stating that it could negatively affect their modeling career. A prime example of this is the instance regarding Cycle 6 contestant Danielle Evans. Tyra ridiculed the model for the gap between her two front teeth and disliked the fact that she didn’t want it closed. Fortunately for Evans, she went on to win that cycle. One cycle later, contestant Jaeda Young was scolded for her “lack of professionalism”, so to speak, because she was uncomfortable working with a racist male model, so much so that it caused her to breakdown while they were on set. 

In addition to that, the show was notorious for using the model’s recent or past traumas against them. During Cycle 4, contestant Kahlen Rondot found out one of her friends had passed away. To much of her dismay, the next day, Rondot was instructed to pose in an open grave while portraying one of the Seven Deadly Sins, “Wrath.” Similar to this, Jael Strauss from Cycle 8, who unfortunately passed away in late 2018, was prompted to pose as a corpse just a week after one of her friends died of an overdose.

Lisa D’Amato, who placed sixth in Cycle 5 but took the crown in Cycle 17, recently spoke out on Instagram against the show. In the post, D’Amato first shares that, though she knew it was a breach of contract, it felt as if it were her duty to “warn other girls that were going to audition” about the traumatizing experience she endured during production. She said:

“…what you guys do and the way that you guys would poke me and use my childhood trauma against me (on the screen, she writes: sexual abuse, physical abuse, mental abuse) day in and day out.” 

Lisa D’Amato posing in Cycle 5, Episode 5 “The Girl Who Gets a Boob Job.” (Credit: Janice Dickenson/ANTM)

Though the show has now closed production, the negative impact it has had on its contestants simply hasn’t gone away. These women had big dreams of getting the opportunity to leave their mark on the modeling world, fully believing that this competition could give them that chance. While this show has helped kickstart some contestants’ careers, one example being Cycle 11’s second runner-up Analeigh Tipton, who is now an actress with multiple movies and television shows under her belt, it has broken many people and given them worse than the harsh reality of the industry.