My smizing eyes will likely tear up a little bit on Dec. 4, when “America’s Next Top Model” airs its final episode, drawing to a conclusion after 22 seasons.
Smizing? That’s the term coined by the show’s host, Tyra Banks, who wants models to smile with their eyes: smize.
And that good advice pales in comparison to some of the surprisingly helpful lessons the show offers young professional women. And these, aside from the fact that it’s wildly entertaining, is why I’ll miss the show when it’s gone:
Build your brand.
Ahead of the curve, “Top Model” introduced me and many other young viewers to the concept of personal branding.
Banks especially emphasized this concept in season 17, where particularly memorable would-be models from previous seasons got a second chance at the competition. Each received a “branding word.” Even more concise than an elevator pitch, it aptly described the connection viewers had felt for these comeback kids. And it drove home the value of branding: This one unique thing got Girls X, Y and Z a second shot at stardom.
Later, the bubbly, drawling Laura Kirkpatrick got sent home, in large part because of her failure to embody her brand. Tyra identified her as “loveable,” and the viewers did, too — so when her photographs came across as sexy instead, we understood the dissonance.
That subtle lesson has sprung to mind many times since. Coming up with a few branding words to define me has come in handy on countless resumes and cover letters. It’s helped decide what goes on Twitter or Instagram accounts: Does this help or hurt my brand?
And it even popped up around my wedding, to my surprise; I’d invested in building a brand around my byline, part of the reason I finally decided not to change my name.
Natural talent isn’t enough. Hard work and knowledge matter.
The contestants who rest on their looks get sent home, often with a warning from Tyra that “pretty is boring.”
Though the show appears to be about fleeting fashion and surface-level beauty, “Top Model” has long proclaimed that what you’re born with isn’t enough. Success takes hard work.
For example, judges often pop-quizzed models, asking them to name a half-dozen working models or to list their favorite designers. In a recent episode, everyone cringed when contestant Courtney DuPerow admitted she had never cracked a cover of Vogue — and not long after, the judges sent her home.
Speak up for yourself — but do it at the appropriate time.
In photoshoot after photoshoot, models who raised concerns or asked questions typically performed well and earned respect for their initiative. But when a model waited until the judges’ panel at the end of the shoot to speak up, the judges showed little patience.
The same holds true in the professional world. Bosses appreciate employees who ask questions and take pains to ensure tasks get done properly the first time. But after-the-fact excuses hold little value.
Consistent moral decisions garner respect, but inconsistent standards can hurt you.
In the show’s first season, model Shannon Stewart refused to participate in a nude photoshoot, citing her Christian beliefs. Though photos weigh heavily in elimination decisions, the judges respected her moral stand and allowed her to move on. (Still, she ultimately lost.)
In 2011, Stewart returned to the competition, proclaiming that she wouldn’t model in lingerie. But she did agree to pose in equally revealing swimwear. When she couldn’t sufficiently explain the moral distinction, the confused judges sent her home.
Regardless of your circumstances, the responsibility for your success or failure ultimately rests with you.
Many of the show’s contestants have tragic back stories, from poverty to broken homes to abuse. While the show encourages models to open up about their hardships, Tyra never permits models to use past struggles as an excuse for poor performance.
In season 5, the judges eliminated Tiffany Richardson for her lack of effort, despite her hard past. “I’m sick of crying about stuff I cannot change,” she complained. Tyra’s res ponse was uncharacteristically furious, decrying the contestant’s “defeatist attitude.”
“If you were sick of being disappointed, you would stand up and you would take control of your destiny,” Tyra screams. “I’m not a victim. I grow from it and I learn. Take responsibility for yourself.”
These and many other lessons give the show surprising merit and wholesomeness, part of the reason “Top Model” has outlasted many of its more banal counterparts.
So to Tyra, thank you. And to Netflix: Take a hint. In a world of reality shows that deserve to die an ignoble death, this one deserves a resurrection.
Jillian Kay Melchior writes for National Review as a fellow for the Franklin Center, the Independent Women’s Forum and Steamboat Institute.