On Tyra Banks And Why “I Was Bullied, But Now I’m Famous!” Makes Me Nervous


“You need to keep studying, keep singing and surpass them later,” my mother would say when I’d come home crying from middle school, “because success is the best revenge.”

In middle school, I was bullied quite a bit–which I reacted to poorly–so to make me feel better, my mom would always tell me that I’ll succeed and that someday, I would realize that my bullies were just jealous/lonely/whatever it is that parents tell their children to make them feel better about being called a “fat cunt” via prank call at 12-years-old.

But is touting success as “the best revenge” really a good way to sell kids on the “It Gets Better”-esque ideal?

Tyra Banks has just announced a new show called “Fivehead,” so titled for the childhood nickname–referencing her supposedly large forehead–from the bullies that she oft discusses on America’s Next Top Model, The Tyra Show and anywhere else she can find a way to bring it up.  The ABC show will be based on her life prior to becoming a supermodel: as a high schooler whose bullies gave her low self-esteem (and then becomes–spoiler alert–America’s next top model).

Models like Candice Swanepoel, who admits that it’s “terrible” to think of her career as revenge, Lara Stone and Lindsay Wixson have all admitted to being bullied in their youth. A people almost always say things along the lines of “who’s laughing now?” in response to models’ past critics, but I find it a little risky to promote the idea of being beautiful and famous as “revenge” on those who have wronged you.

Yes, being a supermodel is all well and good when it comes to the success train. Being famous, in general, like past bullying victims Demi Lovato or Tyra, is pretty fantastic, but it’s not remotely similar to the reality most people who have been bullied will grow into. But then they discuss it as though their stories are achievable successes, like “I was bullied and I’m just like you! Except I have a private jet and millions of dollars and can give a proverbial or literal middle finger to my bullies whenever I want.” Sorry, kids, it’s not achievable. You will almost definitely not be famous. Neither will I. But you should still keep going regardless of bullies.

Part of me wants to commend telling children that success is the best revenge. Not only does it encourage them to work extremely hard, it also allows them to imagine the future rather than the often miserable present that is grade school. When kids know that they will someday not be around the people that make them feel horrible each and every day, it gives them hope which decreases the likelihood of depression due to high school torment.

However, it also can make kids feel like if they don’t end up as famous actors or supermodels or singers, their lives aren’t successful enough and that they never proved anybody wrong. I remember one of the reasons I started putting extreme pressure on myself to lose weight and to do well in opera–despite hating it–was because I thought that if I ever succeeded on a large scale, I would’ve proved anybody who didn’t like me or thought I wasn’t worthwhile wrong. If I only got skinnier, prettier, more beloved… I’d have succeeded enough to be “better” than anybody who had doubted me. I wanted to get the last laugh, dammit! All I got was an eating disorder and a wasted year at a conservatory trying for a career I truly hated (and, honestly, was totally not good enough for), simply because I had wanted to be “successful” in the face of my own bullies.

Telling kids that their lives will improve is great; letting them infer that extreme success is how your like might improve is less great. I love the It Gets Better Project because it incorporates both famous and non-famous people and doesn’t just imply that being successful is how you achieve some form of revenge against your tormentors.

You’re not better than your bullies because you’re successful. You’re better than your bullies because they’re bullies and you’re not.

But maybe I’m just being too sensitive; lemme know what you think of Tyra’s new project (which will likely include dozens of smize jokes).

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    • Lizzie

      “You’re better than your bullies because they’re bullies and you’re not.”

      That’s well-said.

      What annoys me about these supermodels/celebrities who say that they were bullied is that they’re asking for pity when they really don’t have much to complain about (generally speaking). It’s as if they’re saying, “Yes, I’m beautiful and rich and everyone loves me, but I still deserve pity anyway because I used to be just like you!”

      • http://www.facebook.com/sameurysm Samantha Escobar

        Thanks :) And I agree; I think sometimes it’s meant to be a true “look, I relate to you and things get better” thing but much of time, it’s just a publicist-driven attempt to humanize a celebrity. Sadly, I have like 130 Twitter followers and $20k in student loans. I think the “relating to a celebrity” thing is a little out of my reach, haha.

    • Lo

      I’m usually slightly annoyed by all these genetically-blessed shiny rich people who were bullied in school, because it’s a movie plot few of us get to live. Also, it kind of gives the message that bullying is okay because it hardens you and forces you to make something of your life. Like you say, the turning point is when you’re living so well that you stop seeing it as anything to do with revenge or jerks from your past.

      Slightly related: the It Gets Better project is a thoroughly noble cause, but on a personal level it makes me cringe. My letter to my teenage self would go, “Okay, kiddo, by the time you’re me, half your immediate family is dead, you’ve got permanent health issues, your house is pretty much collapsing and you’re waiting on a letter from your forty-year-old self to tell you your partner’s snuffed it and you have early-onset Alzheimer’s. But yeah, high school is a vicious bastard.”

      • Potato

        fuck it man this life is like a dream, we are gone before we realise it. let us live with our problems is ok we dont give a fuck and we can end it anytime by the way.

    • Benita

      Well said but I still side eye the It Gets Better project because no one can promise anyone that anything in his or her life will get better. The project should say that things only get better when there are people around to help make the world a kinder place and that by taking oneself out of the equation via suicide one eliminates a possible force for good. It also trivializes suicide by ignoring all of the other factors that almost always go hand in hand with it such as mental illness.

    • Jeremy Akatsa

      The writer of this blog fails to acknowledge one thing… She/He hated what he/she did thus did that very thing in order to prove them wrong which is the wrong intent… Pursue your passions that’s how you’ll beat your bullies. You can’t try to be like your bullies because you’ll loose, Socially and Economically… My social weakness is entertaining a crowd, but my strength is encouraging them to reach for bigger goals. Economically I’ve never been a money earning maven, but what I’ve always excelled in is pushing the boundaries of storytelling. In the movie industry I am less like Spielberg and more like Lucas… So my word of advice: DISCOVER WHO YOU ARE, then you’ll succeed.
      -Jeremy Akatsa