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American Supermodel Tyra Banks 
American Supermodel Tyra Banks

Supermodel. Born December 4, 1973 in Inglewood, California. Tyra Banks' father, Don Banks, was a computer consultant and her mother, Carolyn, was a medical photographer. Banks' parents divorced when she was only 6 years old, but she says that she was too young for the divorce to have much impact on her. "As far as I could see I had it made," Banks remembers. "I stayed with Mommy on the weekdays and Daddy on the weekends. I had two birthday parties, two Christmases. Double the presents, double the love."

American Supermodel Tyra Banks 
American Supermodel Tyra Banks

Banks says that she developed a love for food—and not always healthy food—from a very young age, devouring fried chicken, candied yams and pork chops at family gatherings. "I was taught to enjoy food, not to fear it," Banks recalls. She developed healthier habits, too, and began working out with her mother's exercise group at the age of 6. After her grandmother passed away from lung cancer, Banks also vowed never to smoke.
American Supermodel Tyra Banks 
American Supermodel Tyra Banks 

Banks confesses that she was somewhat of a "mean girl" in middle school. "I was popular, gossipy," she recalls, "and if I didn't want one of the other girls to be in the clique anymore, for whatever tiny little reason, I voted her out." When Banks attended Immaculate Heart High School in Los Angeles, however, she found herself on the other end of the social food chain. A sudden growth spurt left her tall and gawky, and her classmates gave her the cruel nickname "Giraffe." "I went from being the popular girl who looked normal, to being considered a freak," Banks remembers. Nevertheless, Banks says that the teasing and abuse taught her the importance of kindness. "It turned out that the best things [to happen to me] in my life were to be made fun of, and to have no friends, and to feel miserable every single day."
American Supermodel Tyra Banks 
American Supermodel Tyra Banks

By 1989, at the age of 17, Banks had outgrown her awkward phase and begun to resemble the tall, curvy, caramel-skinned and green-eyed beauty who would light up runways and magazine covers for years to come. However, her first attempts to find a modeling agency were met with rejection and discrimination. Banks remembers that one agency said she looked "too ethnic" and another said that it "already had a black woman and didn't want another." Then in 1990, while still in high school, Banks landed a contract with Elite Model Management, the largest modeling agency in the world. Later that year, she shot her first print piece for Seventeen magazine. After graduating high school in 1991, Banks enrolled at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, but decided to forego college when Elite offered to send her to Paris for high-fashion runway modeling.
American Supermodel Tyra Banks 
American Supermodel Tyra Banks 

Banks rose swiftly through the ranks of fashion modeling to become one of the world's top supermodels. She booked 25 runway shows while in Paris in 1991, an unprecedented feat for a newcomer to the industry. But by the mid-1990s, Banks began to gain weight, a forbidden sin in the world of rail-thin clothing models. Unwilling to starve herself to achieve the desired physique for high-fashion models, Banks decided to return to the United States and switch to swimwear and lingerie modeling, where curvier models are more welcome. "I made my living being 20 or 30 pounds heavier than the average model," Banks says. "And that's where I got famous. Victoria's Secret said I sold more bras and panties than anybody else, and I was traipsing down that runway with 30 pounds more booty than the other girls."
American Supermodel Tyra Banks 
American Supermodel Tyra Banks

In 1996, Banks became the first black woman to appear on the cover of GQ as well as the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition. A year later, she became the first African-American woman to appear on the cover of a Victoria's Secret catalog. She signed lucrative contracts with both Cover Girl and Victoria's Secret, becoming a staple of both companies' advertising campaigns and runway shows. Tyra Banks has been named multiple times to People magazine's 50 Most Beautiful People list. In 1997, she received the prestigious Michael Award for Supermodel of the Year, and she has also won two Teen Choice Awards for Favorite Supermodel.
American Supermodel Tyra Banks 
American Supermodel Tyra Banks 

In addition to her modeling work, Banks has also occasionally pursued acting work. She made her acting debut in 1993 with a seven-episode stint on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. In 2000, Banks appeared in a trio of popular films: Love & Basketball, Coyote Ugly and the made-for-TV movie Life Size. More recently, she guest-starred in an episode of the CW's popular teen TV-soap Gossip Girl.
American Supermodel Tyra Banks 
American Supermodel Tyra Banks 
 
In 2003, Banks ventured into the world of reality TV when she created, produced and hosted the UPN show America's Next Top Model. The show, which pits aspiring models against each other in a competition for the label of America's Next Top Model, was UPN's highest-rated show through its first six seasons. In 2006, Top Model was chosen to headline the newly created CW television network. The show has run for 15 seasons and continues to draw enormous television audiences.Banks expanded into daytime television with her own talk show, The Tyra Show, in 2005. The show's most famous moment came in February 2007, shortly after several unflattering pictures of Banks in a bathing suit surfaced in tabloid magazines. Banks marched onstage wearing the same bathing suit and told critics to "Kiss my fat ass!"
American Supermodel Tyra Banks 
American Supermodel Tyra Banks 

Banks also worked extensively to help young women deal with self-esteem issues. As early as 1992, when she was only 19 years old, Banks funded a scholarship to help young black women attend her alma mater, the private Immaculate Heart High School in Los Angeles. In 1998, she wrote Tyra's Beauty Inside & Out, a book aimed at inspiring young women, and a year later she founded TZONE, a foundation aimed at developing teenage girls' independence and self-esteem.
American Supermodel Tyra Banks 
American Supermodel Tyra Banks

Over the years, Banks has been romantically linked with director John Singleton, basketball player Chris Webber, and investment banker John Utendahl. She rarely discusses her romantic life in public, however, and remains unmarried and without children.
American Supermodel Tyra Banks 
American Supermodel Tyra Banks 

As the creator and host of two hit TV shows, the former supermodel is creating a self-branded TV empire that has already drawn comparisons to Martha Stewart and Oprah Winfrey. Asked why she made the switch from modeling to hosting TV shows, Banks answered, "I want power. The power to make change." She is determined to prove she is more than just a model, and she has a refrain for critics who suggest otherwise: "You think I'm just a model? Well, then, let me show you."

American Supermodel Tyra Banks 
American Supermodel Tyra Banks

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