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Tyra Banks Talks Embracing Her Curves & Ditching Her Diet

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First debuted in 1964, the swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated quickly became a highly coveted honor in the modeling industry, but it wasn't until more than 30 years later that its cover featured a woman of color. No one anticipated that this 23-year-old woman from Inglewood, California would one day grow up to become a world-renowned supermodel, actress, and entrepreneur, who would retire from the modeling world at 32 out of fear of aging out of the industry; but now, in an unexpected plot twist, she's back from retirement with a new name, ready to shake up the industry once again.


Tyra Banks changed the modeling game when she became the first Black woman to be featured on the cover of Sports IllustratedSwimsuit Issue in 1997, and recently the 45-year-old mother of one returned to the throne to reclaim her crown as the oldest woman to ever be featured on the magazine's cover.

Laretta Houston/Sports Illustrated

The snack-worthy photos that have the internet in shambles were captured in the Bahamas by Black female photographer, Laretta Houston, who was chosen specifically by Tyra. In her interview with ET Online, she opened up about how posing for the publication for the first time nearly 22 years ago completely changed the trajectory of her career:

"I was a very known model, high fashion model, but I got on the cover of SI and it made me a household name, almost like in 24 hours, back when the whole world was looking at the same thing all at once."

After jumping headfirst into the modeling industry at only 15, Tyra spent much of her career in the public eye; and if you know the public, you know that they love to scrutinize and police a woman's body. For years, Tyra doubted that she would ever even become successful in the modeling industry and constantly struggled with maintaining a positive self-image.

After becoming a mother to a one-year-old via surrogacy and taking the time to put her life into perspective, she's learned to find the beauty in her happy weight. Although the supermodel had full intentions on pulling a Beyonce and losing 20 pounds before her sexy shoot in the Bahamas, she ultimately said f*k it:

"I started it and I was so focused, and then I went to my mom's house and there were some Cheetos, and I just had the Cheetos, and that was like the gateway in, and I was like, 'After Cheetos, you have to have an ice cream party! My mom, my son and I went to the grocery store," she continues. We had strawberry, coffee ice cream, we had green tea ice cream, chocolate, vanilla -- a spread! Three spoons and just kinda played musical ice cream, and that was even deeper. From there, I just lost my mind."

The mogul shared that although she does know how to manage the weight she's gained, she's old enough to know better and too happy to care. I know I'm not the only one who remembers when she told critics to kiss her fat ass and became an American hero, and Tyra explained that it's important that she keep that same energy. She continued:

"I'm constantly telling people [there is] beauty in all sizes, beauty at all ages. But here I am trying to look like my old self? So, I think subconsciously it was kinda like, 'Nah. Let's show 'em what's up now.'"

I'm going to keep it real with you cause I love you, sis. You will never (ever) look the same way you did when you were 18, but you can damn sure be fine as hell at whatever age you are right now. When we were little, birthdays were exciting and fun milestones we can't wait to celebrate, but as adults, it just feels like we're edging closer and closer to the nursing home, but this bad ass supermodel proves that just isn't true. Tyra, Ms. Banks if you're nasty, had this to say about her new identity and finding the beauty in growing older:

"This is a new me, this is an older me, this is a thicker me, this is a wiser me, this is a thankful me. It's all shades, it's all ages, it's all sizes, it's all sexual orientations, it is everything — and I'm putting that on my back with that X."

Tyra said although she knows she'll face some backlash after her recent transition back into the modeling industry, still, no f*cks are given.

"The internet -- particularly social media -- is the most beautiful thing in the world, and the meanest thing in the world. So, I know there's gonna be people puttin' pictures next to each other going, 'Oh, she's thicker now, she's this, she's that, sit your old a** down...' I know that's gonna happen, but I didn't do this for them -- actually, I did do it for them. I did do it for them."

She pointed out that many times, the negativity of others is only a reflection of how they feel about themselves.

"Because the people who are saying that have negativity associated with themselves, with body, with age. The person that is telling somebody to 'sit your old a** down' is terrified of aging. So, actually, I did it for them!"

Keep your foot on their necks, sis! To read Tyra's full interview, click here. And check out her full SI spread here.

Featured image by Frazer Harrison / Staff for Getty Images.

Laretta Houston/Sports Illustrated

You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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