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“I Didn't Feel As Beautiful As Them”: TV Celebrity Tyra Banks' Childhood Hair And Beauty Torment
TYRA'S HERITAGE: Is Tyra Banks, presenter of America's Next Top Model, black, mixed race, part-Native American? The facts about the African American supermodel and TV celebrity’s ethnicity, nationality and her parent’s heritage are the subject of much Internet search activity around the globe.
NO ONE WOULD LOOK at TV celebrity and ex-supermodel Tyra Banks and think she was ever insecure about her looks — but that is exactly how she felt after being teased as a child. By Ben Arogundade.
TV CELEBRITY AND FORMER supermodel Tyra Lynne Banks was born in Inglewood, California on December 4, 1973. Her parents are both are of African American ancestry. Her father, Donald Banks, is a former computer consultant, and her mother, Carolyn London, is a former medical photographer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab. The couple divorced in 1979 when Tyra was six years old.
TYRA'S ETHNICITY AND NATIONALITY Many of Banks’ legions of fans around the world are intrigued about her ethnicity and nationality. They gaze at her café-au-lait colored complexion on their TV’s and computer screens and ponder whether she is black, mixed race, or even part-Native American. In fact, the phrase, “Tyra Banks ethnicity” is Googled approximately 500 times per month by curious fans across the globe that turn to their Internet browsers for answers.
The curiosity about Banks, aged 39, and her genealogy and ancestry is further fuelled by the fact that Banks, presenter of TV show, America's Next Top Model, and star of the film Coyote Ugly, also possesses naturally green eyes. People of African descent almost exclusively have brown eyes, but other colors do occur naturally, either as the result of a genetic defect or mutation, or else due to the presence of European ancestry within the genealogy of both parents of the carrier. Other well known examples of this include music celebrity Rihanna and French supermodel Noemie Lenoir, both of whom have naturally green eyes, and TV and film actress Vanessa Williams, whose eyes are blue.
BLACK BEAUTY STRUGGLES Tyra's ethnicity had both a positive and negative impact on her early life. As a schoolgirl she was teased by fellow straight-haired classmates for wearing her natural Afro hair — a fact which resulted in her developing an insecurity about her looks. “I didn’t feel as beautiful as them,” she recalled on The Tyra Banks Show back in 2007. “As an adult I know that’s wrong now, but there is something still embedded in me, because I heard it over and over again as a child.” Tyra’s story resonates with that of many African American women, whose choice of straight hair and weave hairstyles is driven by similar childhood taunts.
FASHION, HAIR, POLITICS However, Tyra got her own ugly-duckling-to-swan moment as she started modelling, when suddenly her looks proved an advantage. “I've had bookers tell me, ‘You’ve got light skin and green eyes. You’re easy to sell,’” she told Cosmopolitan in 1993. And sell her they did, as she went on to become the first African American fashion model to feature on the cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, as well as securing an exclusive contract as a Victoria’s Secret model.
But in order for the fashion industry to sell Tyra’s beauty she had to conform to their conventions for long straight hair. “That's what ‘beautiful’ is supposed to look like — and that’s how I make my living,” she said matter-of-factly. “I couldn’t have done that with my natural hair.”