The press has been buzzing that supermodel Tyra Banks has returned to modeling with a splash: She’s on the cover of the wildly popular Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. Back in 1997, she nabbed the honor of being the first African American model to appear alone on the cover, a major breakthrough at a time when diversity was neither recognized nor celebrated the way it is now.
Tyra’s career has been going full-speed since then, as she’s tackled a variety of creative endeavors. Among them: Presenting and executive-producing TV’s America’s Next Top Model for a staggering 22 seasons; hosting a talk show, The Tyra Banks Show; founding the cosmetics brand Tyra Beauty; guest lecturing at Stanford University, and writing the New York Times best-seller Modelland. And she’s been transparent about having plastic surgery and surprised us with her recent name change to BanX, signaling a fresh start at midlife and her hope that beauty will become more inclusive ASAP.
A Supermodel’s Return
But it’s the fact that she stripped down to an itty-bitty yellow bathing suit at age 45 that’s the big news right now. On the one hand, we get it. It’s a stunning image of a midlife woman in great shape looking sexy, beautiful, and proud to wear something skimpy because it should be every woman’s choice. “There is this stereotype that only a 20-year-old woman in a bikini is hot,” Tyra told Sports Illustrated. “Like once we reach a certain age, we are no longer desirable. But I want to show that modeling has no age. I’m coming out of retirement to practice what I preach.” She noted that she weighs 25 pounds more than she did on that first solo cover. Kudos to her and the team that created and selected the image. No more thinking of women over age 40 as wearing muumuus or skirted “as little skin showing as possible” suits.
All good? Well, yes and no. Because we’re still in that realm of having a woman displaying her assets to the male gaze, for a man’s approval. We’re cheering because a 45-year-old woman is considered worthy of being on a drool-inducing, sexualized cover of a sports magazine. Can’t we just get to a place where being who we are—regardless of how we look in a string bikini—is enough?
OK, that’s our conundrum. Tyra, you look just fab. But is this latest “honor” really all that?