Season 4 of 'American's Next Top Model'
Everett Collection
August 4, 2022 8:30 AM EDT

The world of fashion gained a much wider audience with the entry of America’s Next Top Model into the reality TV canon. Hosted by supermodel Tyra Banks, the show combined two formats—the makeover and the reality competition—to become the genre’s longest-running series about fashion with a total of 24 seasons. Viewers were treated not only to far-flung photo shoots and glam sessions, but also interpersonal drama both between the girls and with the charismatic but at times mercurial Banks. By season 4, the show had hit its stride. Having revamped its format after a patchy debut, Banks was now cementing her persona as the over-the-top host and mentor whose theatrical antics often rivaled the competition among the models as drama. In one memorable moment from the season (and now, a popular meme), Banks admonished a contestant, shouting, “I was rooting for you. We were all rooting for you!”

In some ways, the show was a cultural watershed. The introduction of “smizing” into the lexicon notwithstanding, it opened up discussions on issues that were rarely raised in fashion circles through contestant backstories that ranged from coming out as queer to female circumcision, striking a tenuous balance between visibility and exploitation. In recent years, America’s Next Top Model has been critiqued for its toxic treatment of contestants for the sake of entertainment, with producers seizing on problematic rags-to-riches storylines, a contestant allegedly being shamed for her history of sex work before being disqualified, and Banks advising an aspiring model to make her queerness more palatable. But the series’ impact endures, thanks not only to its pioneering fashion-competition formula and the outsize persona Banks perfected in season 4, but also for (sometimes clumsily) spotlighting issues, from body image to gender identity, that the industry has since strived to handle more respectfully. —Cady Lang

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