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Tyra Banks culls real from fake in fab life Phase 2

The supermodel says she just wants to laugh and cry with us as she goes from runway to media empire.

November 08, 2005|Maria Elena Fernandez | Times Staff Writer

When Tyra Banks sashays down the Victoria's Secret catwalk in trademark Angel wings for the last time Wednesday, she'll be trading in her image as a glamorous supermodel in favor of her new calling: a down-home, just-one-of-the-girls media star.

Banks, who turns 32 next month and probably could pose in $10-million diamond-jeweled bras for a few more years, is quitting modeling, she says, while "the phone is still ringing." But that's not the only reason the first African American woman to land the covers of GQ, the Victoria's Secret catalog and the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue is stepping off the runway now. Banks is busy trying to build the media empire she has been dreaming about since she began her modeling career in Paris as a teenager.

"Phase two" is what she likes to call this new career chapter, which includes her hit UPN reality show franchise, "America's Next Top Model," and her 2-month-old -- and so far, modestly successful -- syndicated talk show, "The Tyra Banks Show," which airs twice daily here, at 10 a.m. on KTTV Channel 11 and at 5 p.m. on KCOP Channel 13.

It's an ambitious and in some ways unlikely transformation for Banks, who became a celebrity based on her almost unreal beauty and who now promotes herself as a real woman who's not afraid to confess her own flaws (cellulite!) and insecurities. Forget the past, Banks says that what we're seeing now is the true Tyra Banks.

\f7"The beginning of my modeling career was about myself," the Inglewood-born Banks said, recently cuddled in a blanket on her dressing room sofa. "It was about how many covers can I get, or how many doors can I knock down -- because so many people were telling me as a black model I wouldn't be able to accomplish certain things and I wouldn't be successful in the fashion industry -- so it was all about me, me, me, me!

"And now with the young girls that write me about their insecurities and how they say that me being open and honest helps them has brought me here to this place. So instead of me, me, me -- of course, it's still my show, it's still my name on the show -- now with the success I've had, I have the power to change. It's using all of that to give back."

The way that Banks goes about it, with her hey-girlfriend style and confessional approach, appeals to the multicultural women who laugh and cry with her on her show when she reveals what a romantic breakup felt like, makes fun of her cellulite and removes all of her makeup on camera.

"I saw her walk onto the stage and she was so much skinnier than I expected," said Malinda Eubanks of San Diego, who celebrated her 22nd birthday with her mother and sister by attending a talk-show taping. "But then she sits down and starts to interview someone and she leans over and she has this fat roll over her pants, and I'm like, 'She's human.' "

But Banks' keeping-it-real manner does not sit well with many critics who have wondered if Banks' talk show has become a narcissistic forum for working out her personal issues: Banks has undergone an on-stage sonogram to prove that she does not have breast implants and confronted a porn actress who goes by the name of Tyra Banxxx. And she has invited longtime rival Naomi Campbell to air out their differences on the Nov. 18 show.

"I've done that throughout my whole entire career, actually, as a model," Banks said. "I would do a Victoria's Secret interview and I might tell the interviewer about my cellulite. But I think on the talk show, because it's my show, it's standing out a lot more. When I show photos before and after retouching, I still like the after. I'm still a victim of this society and what's considered beautiful. So if I have control over a photo, I will clean that up, fix that up. But I feel it's my responsibility to say this ain't real, this is entertainment. This is an image, but this ain't me."

To that end, Banks readily points out "my fake hair, my fake eyelashes" and on a recent episode lifted her dress to show her girdle to a young man in the audience who admitted to fantasizing sexually about her. Banks went so far as to tell the stunned man that she has cellulite on her buttocks, a main topic on an upcoming episode.

Her breasts, however, are another matter, and Banks admits it's one rumor she has not been able to shake. (Indeed, a Google search for "Tyra Banks breasts" brings up 491,000 entries.)

"It was about feeling frustrated that people thought this and I'm selling bras to little girls and women and I didn't do this! I didn't do this! This is what nature gave me," she said. "It's easy to say to myself, 'I don't care.' But whenever I hear it, it really gets to me. And it's not because I have something against implants. If you want to buy it, go ahead. This hair? It ain't mine. No big deal."

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