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By alexm
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The Problem with “America’s Next Top Model”

A couple of months ago a good friend of mine asked me to accompany her to America’s Next Top Model auditions here in chicago.

shes a huge fan of the show, and can pretty much tell you everything you want to know about all 12 cycles. shes also always wanted to be a model… and since this cycle is focused on petite women (5’7″ and under)… it seemed like her perfect chance…

i tend to be pretty shy and private, so i’ve never had any desire to be a model at any point in my life. but… recently i’ve been working on being more adventurous and expanding beyond my own worldview… and i wanted to support her… so i decided to tag along…


so that morning she picked me up at 5:30am and we headed off to auditions… when we got there… what seemed like thousands of girls were already there (turns out it was only 699 lol).

we stood outside in line for about an hour before we headed inside to get checked in.

the plan was that my girl would get her audition time slot and then we would go get breakfast, she would drop me off at home and she would come back later with our other friend who was auditioning as well…

but when we got inside, we found out that we were not going to be allowed to leave the building, apparently due to the large number of girls lining up around the building, the police demanded that the producers contain the girls (this of course was due to safety issues).

so… there i am… being handed a number and a wrist band… and being ushered into a huge ball room where hundreds of girls where already waiting…

It was a surreal experience… some of these girls travel from one reality show audition to another…. a sisterhood of the traveling reality shows so to speak…. this is what they do with their time and lives… preparing themselves and planning their lives around when their “next big audition” is…

for others this was a dream unfulfilled… this was their chance… short girls of all shapes and sizes who had been told all their lives that they… for whatever reason… were to deficient to be viewed as beautiful by the world…

there was something tragically heartbreaking about it… how desperately these women needed to be labeled as beautiful by these arbitrary male producers…. it was ironic as well… tyra banks… a self-proclaimed advocate of young women’s self esteem and self love… was the one responsible for these hundreds of young women across the country wrangling themselves like cattle to be poked, prodded and looked over….

so there i was… trapped between a young woman who wanted this so bad she was physically shaking…. my girlfriend who wanted me there for support… and surrounded by young women who hadn’t eaten (to look smaller that day? or because they rushed out the door?) who were daydreaming about ribs, waffles, and the sustenance of being the one in a million who is picked from the crowd of girls…

i was indifferent about the experience until it came time for us to actually “audition.” which quickly turned into one of the most demeaning experiences i’ve ever had the misfortune of being a part of.

there i was… a black feminist, activist scholar, a second year doctoral student, daughter of a haitian freedom fighter and civil rights era black feminist… lined up against a wall with 50 other girls as a man asked us to say our name and age “with as much personality as we could muster,” while he walked up and down the line evaluating our bodies.

it was scarily reminiscent of the auction block. i couldn’t help but be consumed with thoughts of how black womens bodies are continuously offered up for purchase. there we were… offering up our sacred bodies as material objects, to be evaluated, bartered and sold…

ultimately… hundreds of young women walked away from the experience dejected and cast aside… their dream of being labeled as beautiful, and therefore worthy, once again trampled by a structure dictated by white normative cultural values that continues to find new and unique ways to strip them of their dignity…

peace.

a