America's Next Top Model and Their Problem with Plus Sized Models

The modeling industry has always been known for having issues with providing a healthy body image for young women, but considering America’s Next Top Model praises itself for its diversity you would think it would be the same. At least one aspect of the show is problematic and that is the way it portrays a certain body image. America’s Next Top Model has had 22 seasons, with its 23rd airing now, and out of those seasons only 6 girls were plus sized contestants. America’s Next Top Model also has a different definition of plus sized than I think a lot of people do.

On the 10th cycle of America’s Next Top Model Whitney Thompson broke the mold by becoming the first ever plus sized model to win. She is 5’10 and currently a size 16. Despite the fact that the average woman is about a size 12-14, this doesn’t really seem that plus sized. Throughout the competition she always seemed confident with her body until there was an incident at a photoshoot. During one of the photoshoots the contestants compete in, there wasn’t anything provided to fit Whitney’s size. Instead she was forced into something that was too small for her. After she expressed her concern with the judges, Tyra explained that that was something she would always have to deal with in the modeling industry.

Despite the show possibly being seen as progressive for women, this is not the kind of attitude the modeling world should have if they are expecting it to change. This also wasn’t the first time a contestant on ANTM was forced to wear something she couldn’t fit in. Toccara Jones was a contestant on the third cycle and during one of the photoshoots she expressed her anger over not having any size 14 outfits for her to wear. A woman working with the fashion of the photoshoot replied back, “Do you think I’m going to be able to get a rack of clothing filled with your size?”

On one of the more problematic episodes, London Levi was shamed for having gained ten pounds while competing. London admitted to be a recovering bulimic before she started the show, and during her time there she started to gain some weight overall affecting they way she saw herself. She wasn’t performing as well because of her self-esteem lowering and soon it became a hot topic between the other contestants. On one episode, the girls were asked to pose in a bathing suit while being wrapped up in cords. During her photoshoot she felt uncomfortable and out of touch with her body. Jay, the creative director most known for helping the contestants during their photoshoots, pulled her aside and talked to her about her body image. Instead of providing encouraging words for her, he called her unprofessional for gaining weight and shamed her for her weight gain. That very same episode she was voted off and sent home.

Considering the problems with body image, it may have been a surprise for some when Ashley Graham came into the modeling world. Graham, calling herself a plus sized model, was mostly recognized from her photoshoot with Sports Illustrated. Since then she has graced the covers of Cosmopolitan, Elle, Maxim, Self and even Vogue. She is also apart of the campaign by Lane Bryant called #ImNoAngel; a celebration of plus sized women that they describe as redefining sexy. She is also collaborating with a brand titled swimsuits hoping to end the notion that curvy girls can’t wear bikinis.

Ashley Graham is an inspiration to plus sized women all over. She redefines what is means to be a model and has possibly started to change the game in the fashion industry. Too much excitement as well she was even announced as a judge for Cycle 23 of America’s Next Top Model. I was excited to see her judge considering she could bring a new opinion to the fashion world that seems to try to fight the change of what it means to be a model. When the show first aired it was to my disappointment that there was not a single contestant that was plus sized competing on the show. You would think that if Ashley Graham, a model known for her body positive attitude, would be able to help other plus sized girls make it in the industry. Except those girls were not given a shot at all.

Tyra Banks, executive producer of ANTM, always encourages the contestants to be role models for young girls out there. She says a model isn’t just able to take great photographs; she should have a great personality too. She needs to be the entire package. If America’s Next Top Model wants to pride itself on being able to literally find America’s next top model but also a role model, they should start looking at all women in any shape and size. They might actually surprise themselves.