America's Next Top ModelAmerica's Next Top Model

Every season of UPN’s America’s Next Top Model begins virtually the same way. Star and executive producer Tyra Banks welcomes more than 20 aspiring catwalkers with the familiar speech, “Be yourselves. Don’t fake it. Just be real.� Yeah, right. Contestants foolish enough to believe that won’t last long on this Survivor-meets-Victoria’s Secret reality show. As America’s Next Top Model toughens up naive young women for the harsh realities of a cutthroat fashion industry, its MO is clear: Be who we say you should be. In fact, be anything but you.

Throughout the first four seasons of this modeling boot camp, contestants were instructed to keep an open mind, while religious girls had their faith and integrity challenged. The producers seemed especially fond of the drama generated by Christian contestants asked to compromise their standards by posing with naked men or in a seductive lingerie photo shoot. How far would they go to stay in the running? Stating she was “just trying to be Christ-like,� 24-year-old Anna Bradfield refused to pose nude during the first fashion shoot of season two. “If I show it to the whole world, what’s so special when I give it to [my husband]?� she asked. Bradfield was promptly shown the door.

Clearly, spirituality and modesty are unfashionable on Top Model. So are decency and self-respect. Judges regularly lambaste any participant unwilling to “sex it up� at the drop of a hat or show more passion by kissing another contestant in a nude, lesbian-themed shoot. During a sequence filmed in Milan, four girls engaged in an orgy with some local men. Though cameras caught the morning-after regret of one participant, producers basked in the other girls’ nonchalant reactions, as if the incident was nothing but innocent, stress-relieving fun.

In addition to such destructive messages, Top Model regularly includes mild profanity, blurred nudity and a parade of ladies in revealing bikinis, underwear … or less. In one episode, women wore only body paint. The show also exploits virtually every known female insecurity. Judges criticize girls’ weight (telling healthy- looking women that they should lose more), personal style, facial appearance, body shape, speech, intelligence and sexuality. As expected, tears flow —and cameras are right there to capture the moment.

Banks’ series claims to provide hope and inspiration to young girls across America. Quite the opposite. It remains part of the reason they’re starving themselves and crying in front of the mirror.

March 3, 9, 30, April 13, May 18, 2005