During the latest installment of Women@Meredith's #StraightTalk series, the supermodel and advocate for size inclusivity reflected on the pressure that came with being a face of the movement in the '90s

By Hanna Flanagan
March 09, 2021 05:24 PM
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Tyra Banks has long championed the body positivity movement — from casting plus-size models on America's Next Top Model to famously telling haters to "kiss" her "fat ass" while wearing a swimsuit on national television. Her unapologetic attitude has inspired millions, helped change the trajectory of the modeling industry and landed Banks on several TIME 100 lists.

Now, the 47-year-old mom and mogul — whose latest endeavor is an ice cream brand called SMiZE Cream — is reflecting on her activism in the body image space and the pressure that came with being the face of a global movement.

"It's so funny because 20 something years ago, I was one of the leaders in this. In beauty diversity, and body image. However, I think what [body positivity activists] are doing today is even more bold," Banks told PEOPLE's Senior Style and Beauty Editor Jackie Fields during the latest installment of #StraightTalk, an interview series organized by the employee resource group Women@Meredith.

"There's evolution," Banks continued, explaining that what she projected helped pave the way, but her actions and statements were more "glamorous" than the candid social media posts we've plus-size models and body positive influencers in more recent years.

The Victoria's Secret alum then recalled walking in the brand's famous fashion show with "dimples on my booty." While her fellow supermodels strutted down the runway in barely there lingerie, Banks fearlessly told the press she was instead wearing a skirt to cover what the industry considered a flaw.

tyra banks
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"That was progress," she said. "But now [models] are walking down the runway and having the dimples and not putting the skirt on."

"There's constant evolution of everything. I'm happy to have been a part of it, and I'm happy to see people taking it to the next level."

In the Women@Meredith interview, Banks also opened up about the moments that lead up to her emotional and empowering anti-body shaming monologue during a 2007 episode of The Tyra Banks Show (now one of the most famous moments in daytime talk show history), where she slammed paparazzi and tabloid outlets for bashing her size in a series of swimsuit photos taken while she was working on a photo shoot. She even wore the same swimsuit on the 2007 segment.

"[The paparazzi] thought they caught me sunbathing, but I was actually modeling in Australia. I remember being on the cover of this magazine and a bunch of tabloids. I was in the grocery store in the line and this woman just looked at me and we were looking at the magazine cover kind of together. I didn't know her, but I'm just kind of looking at it as I'm getting my bread or whatever she says, 'Tyra, if they call you fat, what am I?'"

Tyra Banks
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"I was like, 'Whoah.' That woman, whoever you are, thank you because [you] made me change from just laughing at myself and them calling me that to me saying, 'Am I laughing to keep from crying? And how many people are feeling all of this pressure to look a certain way?'"

These days, the entrepreneur is busy launching her new SMiZE Cream empire and raising her 5-year-old son York.

York Banks Asla and Tyra Banks
Credit: John Photography/Shutterstock

As the graduate of an all-Black elementary school where "every [month] was Black History Month," Banks tries to give her son a similar upbringing.

She said she started teaching him about his culture long before the death of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter protests that followed.

"At three years old, he knew who Rosa Parks was. He knew who Malcolm X was. He knew who W.E.B Du Bois and Frederick Douglas were," she explained. "One thing we have to have is this balance of how much we share with a child because he could get a little anxious."

"I also tell my mama because [she] lives with us, 'Can you turn off the CNN?' We are living in a day where it is the most prolific pain in, I don't know, what? 100 years or something. For him to constantly hear that on the TV is just not healthy."

When asked what advice she would give to people who want to support Women of Color during this unprecedented moment in history, Banks stated, "Join or die."

"We are in a time right now when we need each other more than ever."