A Paris modeling scout helped derail the Inglewood, California native’s plans to enter Loyola Marymount but Banks isn’t complaining. Noted for her incorporation of hip-hop moves and rhythms into her catwalk, Banks rose quickly to land among the modeling elite.
Capitalizing on her modeling momentum, Banks widened her appeal with a recurring role as Jackie, Will Smith’s girlfriend, on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. In 1995, her big-screen debut as track student Deja in Higher Learning came courtesy of her then boyfriend, director John Singleton.
Not quitting her day job, Banks shattered one of modeling’s glass ceilings by sharing Sports Illustrated’s iconic swimsuit cover with Valeria Mazza in 1996, becoming the first African-American to do so. She also graced the covers of GQ and the Victoria’s Secret catalogue. The next year, she appeared solo on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue.
Dispensing make-up tips while addressing self-esteem and beauty issues in her 1998 book, Tyra’s Beauty Inside & Out, enhanced her approachability. A roving youth correspondent gig for the Queen of Talk, Oprah Winfrey, further expanded her audience. Pushing her mission to increase self-esteem among young girls forward, Banks launched TZONE, her camp for girls, in 2001. That same year, she also rocked the runway for Victoria’s Secret controversial first televised lingerie fashion show.
In 2003, she began her quest for television mogul status with America’s Next Top Model, her juggernaut show in which aspiring models compete for start in the industry. Retiring from modeling on a high note (the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show runway) two years later, Banks unleashed her own talker with The Tyra Banks Show.
A decade after Banks posed in a swimsuit for an SI cover, she donned a one-piece on her show to respond to tabloid headlines like “America’s Next Top Waddle,” which proclaimed the 161-pound former-model “fat.” In a signature move, Banks plastered her weight in plain view, along with her studio audience, and challenged the media’s role in creating unhealthy body images about women.
Closing out 2009, the two-time Daytime Emmy winner announced her talk show’s end after its fifth season, as well as the impending launch of Bankable Studios. With America’s Next Top Model entering its 15th cycle and True Beauty in its second season, one thing is certain: this model has yet to see her better years.