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america's next top model

A new season of “America’s Next Top Model? started recently. In real life, I actually watch this show; however, I originally wanted to critique a show that I have never seen before (there are a lot of reality TV shows that I have never even heard of) so I could analyze the show without a biased opinion. But then I thought about it and decided that it would be more beneficial to analyze this particular show through a feminist perspective and force myself to look at the issues of stereotypes and body image that are present.

The general premise of the show lies in the competition between 13 women to become “America’s Next Top Model?. The wannabe models vie for the grand prize; the opportunity to be managed by Elite Model Management, a $100,000 cosmetics campaign with Covergirl, and the chance to grace the cover and a six-page fashion spread in Seventeen magazine. The cycle 8 premier was two hours long and was divided into two segments. The first hour featured the selection process of the top finalists from the 30 original candidates down to 20 semi-finalists and then the final 13 who would go on to compete and participate. The second hour included the first real photo shoot with a focus on controversial political issues and the first elimination.

The intended audience for this program is generally younger females, and it is obvious who the show is targeted at through the subject matter of the show and through the commercials that are run during the course of the program as well. The most prominent advertisements were long segments that functioned as a sort of talk show through the network. A young woman acted as host and discussed the latest styles of bathing suits for spring break and promoted the newest hair products for the beach. It seemed like a type of “how-to? help session in the commercial breaks that lasted the length of the show with tips how to buy the right style of suit for different body types and how to execute various hair-do’s to match the different beach fashions. Another extended commercial advertised the new Pussycat Dolls’ reality show “The Search for the Next Doll?. It was basically a short preview with actual clips from the show.

“America’s Next Top Model? airs on Wednesday nights at 7 pm on the CW network. According to CW's President of Entertainment Dawn Ostroff, “the network's shows appeal to 18- to 34-year-olds? (Wikipedia). This program is produced by 10 by 10 Entertainment in association with Bankable Productions, which is Tyra Banks’ production company. I think it says a lot about her success as a woman in a man’s industry that she is able to own her own business and that in itself is a positive message to young girls, one of the few that actually comes from this show. 10 by 10 Entertainment also produces the Pussycat Dolls show, which explains the extensive advertising and other shows on networks like MTV and VH1, which also cater to the younger generation.

In terms of race and ethnicity, the show does a fairly decent job with diversity. There are about an equal amount of African American models as there are white models and there is even one Latina woman; however, that is the extent of the racial backgrounds, and obviously there are many others that are not represented, such as Asian and Indian individuals.

At this point in the show, when the audience is first getting acquainted with the models, stereotypes and generalizations are underlined in the girls’ personalities and identities. For instance, one finalist is from Russia and because of the strength of her accent, it is hard not to categorize her as the foreign girl and because another girl is Latina, she falls easily and compactly under that identity. Then, of course, there is the snotty, experienced girl, the innocent, southern bell, the punk, the bitch, and yes, the plussize girls. The stereotype for the dumb model is also evidenced strongly in more than one girl in this episode, which ultimately translates into a dumb, clueless, stereotypical female, the image that gives females a bad name. "I don't want to be political. I just want to stand here and be pretty," announced the Russian, as she stood scantily clad in a bra and panties “embodying? pro-choice activism, a highly significant political issue for feminists and women’s rights. Another girl, Kathleen, was anti-fur and could not understand the concept even after it was explained to her numerous times by both the photographer and the art director. Her stupidity continued in front of the judges’ panel when she admitted her lack of understanding of her role and projected an even lesser understanding of the fur industry when she enlightened viewers with her naïve beliefs of how animals die in the wild.

This season is different than the others regarding body image. For the first time in Top Model history, there are two full figured models competing in the top 13. There has been at least one in the past, but never more than one. This is a very big deal for the competition and in a sense, the inclusion of two girls who are considered to be plussize models is a sort of breakthrough for both the program and for the modeling industry when the vast, large, greater majority is stick skinny, emaciated skeletons. But on the other hand, it is ridiculous to think that out of 13 models only TWO of them are considered full figured. This is not a realistic sampling or proportion of the different body shapes in our society today. It’s even more ridiculous of a ratio that out of the 30 semi-finalists only two of them were plussize. Also, throughout the competition, these girls are continually labeled as plussize and are never able to just be seen as regular competitors. The girls have said now that there are two of them in the competition that they are fighting against each other but aren’t there also 11 other girls in that fight as well? It isn’t just the full figured models against the normalized skinny long legged models, it is every girl for herself.

In the larger scale of things, the issue of plussize models is especially relevant to the objections of Sonya Brown to the representation of the “fat? body image in today’s media and her idea of “size acceptance?. She talks about the “comparative thinness? of individuals that are considered to be fat or full figured.

“To me it seems clear that “size acceptance? is limited only to the “average? rather than to all sizes. This troubles me despite my relief that acceptance of bodies rounder than and shorter than those of straight-size models (usually size 6 or smaller and no shorter than five foot-eight) is underway. And yet there are surely many women, whose weight is no physical impediment, but whose bodies are deemed “unacceptable.??

I think this relates to the size of the so-called plussize girls in the competition. Even though they are full figured, they are by no means “fat? and I think that they are on the skinner, more average side of that category. Their status as plussize is acceptable to the public, which is what enables them to compete in a modeling competition. If I would see these girls on the street, I don’t think I would classify them as plussize necessarily, but because they are compared to the very skinny, typical model, they are categorized as bigger girls. So in an industry that has a great emphasis on a tiny body image, girls that would be considered “average? in Brown’s eyes are called plussize and bigger.

At the same time, I think the current representation of plussize women on this program negates Brown’s second objection because these two are being photographed in the same manner as the others models are and that allows viewers more diversity in body types and depicts a somewhat more realistic look at body size and shape today.

“My second objection to the treatment of size acceptance in the dominant media: the photographs of the subject of size acceptance narratives so rarely allows the reader-viewer the opportunity a clear look at the average size body.?


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