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Here's the skinny on `Next Top Model'

Host Tyra Banks makes good on her plus-size pledge, but make no mistake -- thin's still in.

March 02, 2007|Ann Donahue | Special to The Times

Here's what I've learned in recent weeks about Tyra Banks: She's 5 feet 10 and 161 pounds. That's 30 pounds more than her model fighting weight. She's been teased about her gain, especially after a paparazzi shot of her on a beach showed (cover the children's ears, now) cellulite. For the most recent Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, Banks tried to fit into a 10-year-old bikini. Fabric had to be added so she wouldn't "hang out."

The reason why I'm suddenly a Wikipedia on Banks' figure is thanks to the savvy marketing run-up to Wednesday night's premiere of the eighth psycho -- sorry, cycle -- of Banks' reality show, "America's Next Top Model." From the cover of People to her own daytime talk show, Banks has encouraged women to accept their shapes and dismiss those who would make them feel lesser for not being stick-thin. Lovely sentiments, true, but Banks runs a modeling show. Models are coat hangers for beautiful garments and are meant to weigh about as much. (The recent spate of news about models dying from anorexia and fashion shows instituting a body-mass index minimum would suggest that the industry has finally started to realize that their workhorses can be too rich and too thin, but let's face it, skinny is still the norm.) Would Banks put her money where her mouth is and pick some gals who weren't all elbows, jaws and knees among the show's 13 finalists?

Lo and behold, she came through. For the first time in the contest, two of the models in the final running are "plus-sized" -- generally wearing clothes of size 12 or 14, Sarah, the know-it-all "Model" contestant informed us. Diana, 21, is a striking college student from Garfield, N.J., and managed to pull off an Angelina Jolie "Tomb Raider" homage without looking like a tank.

Charismatic Whitney, 21 and a student at Dartmouth, posed in a spread purporting to support gay marriage, in an all-white suit -- without looking like a linebacker. This is progress, people. Milan wasn't built in a day.

Wednesday's two-hour lead-up to these two women being selected was classic "Top Model" theater of the absurd -- featuring the women in an ersatz fashion boot camp (because getting your hair and makeup done by professionals is like going to war? I don't know, and I sense service people in Iraq might beg to differ) and the annual real estate porn of the finalists moving into a palace in the Hollywood Hills. (The house features a to-die-for view of the city; the interior is decorated with photos and quotes of past "Top Model" winners. There's a runway in the living room for the models to practice their fierce struts -- where your legs are seemingly controlled from your abdomen.)

The first photo shoot of the contest featured the women in high-fashion public-service announcements for causes ranging from pro-life (a model chained to a clinic door) to pro-meat -- a model rolling around near-nude in roasted chicken still made it look tasty, if a touch unhygienic. Squealy hairstylist Kathleen, 20, was requested to pose on a stack of fur with red paint in a classic PETA protest -- and, sadly, was eliminated after she couldn't get into the appropriate ragey groove for the photos because she apparently had never heard of fur, or protesting, or, actually, red paint.

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