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Tyra Banks is the Mistress of Babble. She’s usurped the word “fierce” from drag queens and publicly abused it to the point that it’s been emptied of all meaning and packs the same linguistic punch as clearing one’s throat. Her biggest contribution to the English language, “smizing,” or “smiling with your eyes,” is a made-up modeling term that’s also a paradox, something she’s defined in the past as “squinting with your eyes open” (and something that I happen to really suck at).
Her crazy talk extends beyond modeling to the “social” ideas she explores on both her talk show and America’s Next Top Model. Remember when she put on a fat suit for a day to understand what it was like to be the victim of what she called the “last form of open discrimination that’s okay”? Or when she had the Cycle 10 ANTM contestants “do” homeless, posing with real-life homeless youth, and told the models she understood what it was like to live on the streets because she (again) did it for a day on her talk show?
Filed under: America's Next Top Model, America's Next Top Model Cycle 13, ANTM, Blackface, Essentialism Is So Fun, Paradoxes, Portraying Races, Racial Drag, Smiling With Your Eyes, Smizing, The Tyra Banks Show, Tyra Banks
America’s Next Top Model Cycle 12 starts tonight, and we’ll be watching even though it doesn’t appear there are any Asian sistas on the show this season, which is weird, since the fashion world is supposedly embracing more of our peeps. (I was holding out hopes for “Fo”–did someone say noodles?–until I watched her audition tape.) But we all know ANTM isn’t about fashion or diversity, it’s about hissy fits, drrrama, and smiling with your eyes.
At least the promo images for the show have the contestants looking like us. And when I say “like us” I mean they’re in full geisha maquillage, an orgy of origami flying all over the place.
Alas, alack, we’ll have to wait ’til next year for an Asian-American Top Model. Sheena Sakai was eliminated from ANTM last night after turning in another boring photo, which seemed to be her only way of responding to the judges’ constant criticism that girlfriend was too hoochie. Despite my enthusiasm for Sheena in the beginning, she was starting to work my last nerve, always picking fights in the house and getting on her soapbox, spoken word-style, about things that were really none of her beeswax, like Marjorie’s shyness or Elina’s control issues (both tired subjects, admittedly). She did handle her exit with restraint, however, without tears or drrrrrrama or uttering that horribly cliché but now de rigueur reality TV closing line, “This isn’t the last you’ve seen of (me in the third person).” Okay, she offered up a version of that–”I’m not going to be forgotten”–but then contradicted herself immediately with “and hopefully, I won’t be,” as though she had finally seen the bullshit in her own bluster. Was this a farewell to fakery for Sheena Sakai, i.e. what is she going to do about those boobs? Tits not for me to say, really.
For those of you unfamiliar with the makeover episode of America’s Next Top Model, know that it typically brings out tears, and I’m talking Niagara-like lacrimation. When Cycle 11′s aired last week, the person who did the most crying over her new look was Elina Ivanova, a 19 year-old originally from Ukraine, to whom the show inexplicably gave the hair of the creepy, ‘roided-out comic Carrot Top. Elina hated her fiery weave–which was heralded as a first in “Top Model History,” undoubtedly for its aggressive fugginess–but she managed to move past that and win the swimsuit photo shoot in the end anyway.
As a rule, the previous week’s winning shot goes up in the contestants’ house the following week to motivate the other girls. Elina’s photo was shown several times over the course of last night’s episode, with some flattering quotes from the judges captioning it, one of which was “ethnically ambiguous.” Tyra had told the aspiring model the week before that that was how the new hair made Elina look, and she meant it as a compliment.
The phrase “ethnically ambiguous,” however, strikes me as praise of the backhanded variety. Often, it’s really just a gentrified way of saying “not too ethnic.” Or “not too dark.” Or “not too slanty-eyed.” Or “not too flat-nosed.” In August, before New York Fashism Week, a top casting director for the shows told Models.com that one thing the fashion world is embracing right now is precisely that imprecise look:
“Another thing this season is trying to discern from all the girls out there the ones that are ethnically ambiguous. Girls and boys that have faces that you can’t just put in a certain place or race or geography. I think it’s very helpful to see those types of faces in our conflicted world because you can see that we’re still evolving as humans and they are the results of people willing to go beyond the socially constructed notions around race…“
And, you know, he may be onto something, in terms of “socially constructed notions around race,” but what about our socially constructed notions around beauty? Is this latest notion of beauty a reflection of globalization and the world getting smaller or is it spin on an old idea, that “ethnic” faces are beautiful so long as they still conform somewhat to Western standards of beauty (i.e. so long as they still look kinda white). If faces that can’t be put in a certain place, race, or geography are desirable right now, what about faces like mine that most certainly can? Are they yesterday’s news? Are they a bit played? Should I stow my face for a few seasons like all those smock dresses I wore in 2006 until ethnic specificity makes a comeback? This comment about ethnic ambiguity was cited as the second key fall trend; the first was “the tomboy look.” Now it’s easy to go out and get a bowl cut and boyfriend jeans and copy Katie Holmes, but it’s not quite so simple to change your ethnic makeup. And since ethnic ambiguity is considered a “trend,” that means it’s only a matter of time before people tire of it and it will be replaced by something else. What will the “ethnically ambiguous” do then? Make themselves “more ethnic”? Play up the racial drag–kink that hair, chink that make-up? Go into hiding?
I think I have some space for the ethnically ambiguous in the back of my closet when that time comes, somewhere alongside all of my pointy-toed flats, boot-cut jeans, knee-length A-line skirts, those smock dresses that made me look preggo, and that pair of purple McQueen corset boots that would look killer on a pirate moonlighting as a hooker. In the meantime, it’s here in the dark, cluttered recesses of my closet where you’ll find me and my ethnically unambiguous face, as we wait for everything old to become new again.
Filed under: America's Next Top Model, ANTM, Elina Ivanova, Ethnically Ambiguous, Ethnically Unambiguous, Fashism, Mixed People, People as Accessories, Stupid Fashion Trends, Trends, Tyra Banks, Ugly Weaves
Duuude. I love Sheena Sakai, the lone Asian-American contestant on America’s Next Top Model Cycle 11, which premiered last night. Even though she does have, as our friend Ty pointed out and this Newsday story seems to imply, a man-face:
And despite the fact that the judges have already compared the native Hawaiian to DISGRASIAN Hall-of-Shamer Kimora and are calling her “Kisheena,” and that she didn’t backhand the dumb sow who told her she had an advantage in the competition because she was the “only Oriental girl” (around the 1:11 mark of this video). Still. Love. Tha. Bitch.
Work it, Sheena.
MAJOR SPOILER ALERT: If you want to know who the finalists will be this season on ANTM, click here.
Filed under: America's Next Top Model, ANTM, Hawaiians, Kimora Lee Simmons, Kisheena, Man-Faces, Reality TV Contestants, Sheena Sakai, Trannies, Tyra Banks, Using the Word Oriental Makes You Sound Like a Dumbass