Tyra Banks: 'I’ve Always Loved My Community'

Tyra Banks first made a splash in R&B crooner Samuelle’s 1990 New Jack Swing classic video “So You Like What You See.” For nearly three decades Banks would conquer the fashion world, make history as the first Black woman on Sports Illustrated’s iconic swimsuit issue, win an Emmy as the host of her eponymous talk show, create the invincible series America’s Next Top Model, and permanently place “the smize” in our lexicon. Along the way, she fought back at fashion naysayers, Internet trolls, body shamers, and network executives who didn’t get her vision.

In addition to her fearless approach to life, Banks had another secret weapon: her mother. Now, in Perfect Is Boring: 10 Things My Crazy, Fierce Mama Taught Me About Beauty, Booty, and Being a Boss, the duo candidly discuss how they successfully navigated the worlds of fashion, media, and business. In conversation, mom and daughter were as freewheeling, opinionated, empathetic, and funny as they are on the pages of their must-read book. Here, are the highlights of our conversation.

ESSENCE: When you were on the set of that Samuelle video, could you imagine you’d be here today?

Carolyn London [Laughing]: You remember that video?

ESSENCE: I’m Old School. Having read Perfect Is Boring, one question: what took you so long?

Tyra Banks: Do you know we’ve been working on this book for ten years. We never face up on it. Life got busy. I had my son [York]. But this is something we knew we wanted to do.

ESSENCE: There are many surprises in the book. One of them is how your mother has kept you grounded when you were often one of the few, if at all, Black people.

Tyra Banks: For me, the fashion world was like Halloween. I often felt like an outsider who had a chance to get inside. And I always looked forward to returning to and connecting with my family, my home, and my community. I’ve always loved my community.

ESSENCE: Ms. London you are the quintessential ESSENCE woman. Ambitious. Funny. Beautiful. And definitely no-nonsense.

Carolyn London: When Tyra told me that she wanted to be a model, I told her I would support her but she needed to plan for the end at the very beginning. You always have to have a plan.

[Tyra takes a break to tend to York, her son. All the while she chimes in as Ms. London is on the phone.

ESSENCE: I remember seeing you on one of those early fashion programs like Style with Elsa Klensch. She mentioned you were a medical photographer and you were so sharp. I’d never seen a mother-manager. You were like aliens to me.

Carolyn London: I’m from Los Angeles.

Tyra: No Ma, he was saying we came across as different.

Carolyn London: Oh.

ESSENCE: So reading about you as a teen mom gave us more insight into your life and how challenging that time was for you.

Carolyn London: It was very hard for me to find work, so I was on state aid. I didn’t want to live my life like that. I wanted better for myself and for my children. I wanted to support my family.  I wanted to get out of my parent’s home. Getting a job, getting a credit card, everything seemed to be an obstacle for me. In those days people could ask do you have any children or are you married. I saw an ad for a medical photographer but the job I actually interviewed for was as a secretary. There was a man on the job who showed me how to do it. It was a room full of white males.

ESSENCE: You offered straight up-no chase advice to Tyra about everything from sex. You even threw a period party for her.

Carolyn London: We have to change the way that we speak to our children about life. It’s a part of empowering young women to help them gain a greater sense of self-esteem. When I first had my period my mother was like, “here.” That was it. I didn’t know anything. When I was intimate I thought, ‘This is it?’ Tyra was at her dad’s house when she first had her period and I wanted to let her know that was natural. So I threw a period party with all of the various options out there for her and to celebrate her becoming a woman.

ESSENCE: You were ahead of your time.

Carolyn London: That’s why we created the T Zone camps. That’s why Tyra created the talk show, and it’s why she does everything she does—to empower young woman.

Tyra Banks: I’m back.

ESSENCE: So you had a nose job?

Tyra Banks: I thought it was obvious.  

ESSENCE: It’s the first time we’ve heard about it.

Tyra Banks: Listen, y’all know I tell everything. When I was young I fell on my face, and my mom was like, “You’ll be fine.” As I got older I was having problems breathing and I went to a doctor and he said I needed to have my nose fixed. I told him I didn’t want a keen nose like my Mom, I wanted a nose that would reflect who I am as a Black woman.

ESSENCE: So Tyra, what’s next for you?

Tyra Banks: We just wrapped Cycle 24 of America’s Next Top Model, and I’m going back to host America’s Got Talent, which has had its highest ratings ever. Oh, and I’m doing another Life Size, and a massive project that’s never been done before.

ESSENCE: Any hint?

Tyra Banks: Stay tuned.

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