10 reasons why 'America's Next Top Model' is bad for women, humans

As anyone who reads this blog is aware, I am a massive America's Next Top Model fan. Through the years, my love for this show has known no bounds-- I've followed ANTM the way some folks watch a favorite sports team, even once suggesting we start an ANTM fantasy league (but then I realized just how little I understand about sports when someone--cough! my husband! cough!--pointed out that this would be impossible). I've been right there with Tyra through all 12 cycles, through the makeover tragedies (white girls with weaves!), the bizarro judges' skits (Temple of Tyra, anyone?), the increasingly far-fetched photo shoots, the cruel and unusual panel judging, the inevitable "hot tub with boys" scandals, the flesh-eating viruses, the in-yo-face catfights, and even the sitting on elephants while suffering from the flu.

But this season the show started to lose me. Suddenly everything that was once campy, offbeat, and fun, felt cheap, depressing, and a little embarrassing too. Once it was over (the finale was Wednesday night) and I really sat down and thought about it (which perhaps one should never do with a reality show, but--oops--the damage is done), I knew that I can't look the other way/smile with my eyes at the following 10 problems anymore.

1. Let's just say it: The show humiliates and degrades young women
I was going to search the deep recesses of my Top Model archive for the perfect example of a belittling challenge, but lo! ANTM gave me one just last night. Did anyone catch the fashion show? Can anyone tell me why a made-for-TV fashion event (ie not real) has to involve the models writhing around, on the ground, in what looked motor oil? In addition to this creepily sexual mud fight, the final two contestants, Allison and Teyona, were made to wear bikinis so skimpy that the producers had to blur out Allison's butt cheeks. When it came time for judging, this year's winner Teyona--still clad in that itty bitty bathing suit, though mercifully wiped clean of the black muck--was commended for taking her weave in her hand and whipping it around on the runway like a sexy feather boa. Tyra called this "fierce," I call it "insane-person-looking." Thing is, I understand that humiliation is part of the reality show game, my real problem is how the hosts are always espousing empowerment and female strength and then forcing the contestants into embarrassing scenarios far outside the realm of real-life modeling. It's lame.

2. Let's stop already with the big Top Model lies
There's very little chance that a severely burned person, a fat woman, a girl with a penis, a non-Amazon, or someone older than 22 is going to break into the modeling industry. Period. Let's stop blaming these poor girls for "not wanting it bad enough" or "getting in their own way" and admit that they're on the show because it's more interesting to say "Tonight on America's Next Top Model: A woman who's a man!" than "Here's another girl who's pretty!" No one is fooled by this stunt casting. In fact, it seems like it hurts people.

3. The show promotes clichéd, outdated stereotypes of gay men
Has anyone else noticed this? The homosexuals on this program range from flaming to...INFERNO! Seriously, consider for a second Mister Jay's over-tanned, over-groomed, Queer-Eye-from-another-planet persona. On the other side, we have Miss Jay's over-the-top queenie, circus show antics. They're like the gays you'd pick to put on Noah's Ark. This is what gay people look and act like (say in robot voice). Sigh.

4. And it promotes racial division
Yes, it is possible, like some kind of reality TV version of West Side Story, that all of the black contestants on ANTM only want to hang out with other people of color and that the white girls only choose to stick together, too. And it's possible that, without producer prompting, nearly every season there's at least one mega-ugly argument in the house about race and who is or isn't a racist. But it seems awfully fishy to me. More likely, the producers exacerbate these conflicts, edit them so they seem more heated, and promote the heck out of them in sound bites, teasers, and clip shows all season long.

5. Dear ANTM: You have yourselves a socioeconomic problem
You know how in judging Tyra often critiques one girl's clothes and then praises another's? You know how the critique is always really cruel and cringe-inducing, like watching high school mean girls, except on stage? Well, this is big problem that has nothing to do with personal style: Some of those girls can afford nice clothes and some of them can't, and, unless the ANTM producers are willing to dress them or provide each of the contestants with the same clothing allowance, the quality of what they wear to judging just can't be a factor. It's prejudiced against people who don't have money and it's not OK. Take Teyona, for example. After weeks of having her outfits lambasted, once she received a new wardrobe during the go-see challenge, she was praised for looking like a "real model." This may have helped her win the competition. Not cool.

6. ...And perhaps cultural sensitivity issues, as well!
Where to start here? With the fact that Tyra announced the contestants' trip to Brazil by having a half-naked PORTUGUESE man (it's just the same language, lady, not the same country) present her with Brazil nuts? Or that, upon arrival in Brazil, the girls headed to a busted shanty town and posed as the Chiquita Banana woman while flanked by stray dogs and poor kids?

7. What a "Top Model is"=total BS
There is a fundamental problem with this show: It lies about what a model needs to be. Most successful models don't talk much. They don't have to act, they don't all have to shill for American beauty brands, and they don't have to be in commercials. I get that part of the ANTM brand is this CoverGirl contract, but every time a judge tells a perfectly good model that she's not Top Model material, I die a little inside. It's also a bad lesson to teach to the world: You have to be good at everything or you're useless.

8. This is best evidenced by Top Models In Action/My life as a Cover Girl
True fact: None of Tyra's Top Model picks has gone on to any kind of significant success as a model. One of them (Naima), actually worked at a coffee shop near my Brooklyn apartment. Have you been watching poor McKee's "My life as a Cover Girl" series? Not to be mean, but it looks more like "My three hours as a Cover Girl." The Girl is in one fashion show! Even Whitney had a better "life"!

9. And the reason for all of this is: They seldom choose the girl who looks like a real model and actually has a shot in the world of real modeling. Which makes the show kind of a sham.
Here are just three examples:
Anya over Whitney (Cycle 10)
Mercedes over Yoanna (Cycle 2)
Yaya over Eva (Cycle 3)
Each of these non-winners had a better chance at being models than the ones who were ultimately chosen. Judges like Janice Dickinson understood this. Which leads us to...

10. Last, the Tyra butt-kissing is bad for everyone
Imagine how cool it could be if the judges were ever allowed to disagree, if there was actual dialogue about each model's performance and actual insider information about the industry that didn't solely come from Tyra's point of view. A more diverse dynamic might create an interesting program about modeling, the way Project Runway is a fascinating program about fashion design. What we have now is a massive diva/demigod and a bunch of puppets who laugh at all of her jokes, jibe with all of her bad decisions, and go along with each of her increasingly weird and degrading shenanigans. The only two people I have ever seen challenge Tyra--Janice and Paulina--were both fired. So there's that.