Thursday, May 15, 2008


I'm admitting it. My guilty pleasure is America's Next Top Model. For the record, I am not a regular viewer or reality TV. But my best friend, who I lived with throughout my college years, got me hooked on Top Model. I don't know what it is about the show ... the unintended hilarity, the fun of making snarky comments throughout, the eye-roll inducing drama ... I can't help loving it. Recently I canceled my cable subscription due to Charter's ridiculously high rates and also due to the fact that I am rarely home to watch TV. But my love affair with ANTM continued when I went to visit my former roommate in the Twin Cities and proceeded to watch nearly all of Cycle 10 (the newest season) on her DVR. And last night she called me to inform me that for the first time in Top Model history, the winner was a plus-sized model! Congratulation to Whitney for making ANTM history!

Whitney wasn't my favorite contestant. I liked awkward, punk-rock contestant Lauren because, well, I always like the unique ones.

But Lauren was cut right after the girls' arrival in Rome, and once it got down to the final two it was between Whitney and Hawaiian surfer-girl Anya (Who I swear to God I thought was originally from another country because of her unusual accent). Anya is gorgeous and had some great photos, even though I thought that the platinum blonde hair that they gave her sucked. (For that reason, posted picture is pre-ANTM)

But according to my friend who actually watched the finale, Whitney rocked the runway show and I was ecstatic to hear that she was the winner. People have long said that ANTM doesn't really produce "top models" and that is definitely true. (How often have you seen former winners actually in magazines or in commercials -- besides those done to promote the show?) But this is still awesome nonetheless. There have been plus-sized contestants on the show in the past, but they have never made it very far. In Cycle 3 Toccara Jones made it to the final seven. Cycle 8 was actually the first and only season to feature two plus-sized models. Diana Zalewski was cut in Episode 6 and Whitney Cunningham lasted only slightly longer, making it to the final seven. In Cycle 9 Sarah Hartshorne was cut in Episode 8 amid criticisms that she had lost weight and was losing her plus-size status (but of course wasn't thin enough to be a "regular" model).

By the time this cycle rolled around, I was starting to think that it was a mean joke to even put plus-size models on the show, since it seemed obvious that they were never going to really win. Amazingly I have been proven wrong! Some conspiracy-theorists have been saying that this cycle was rigged and that it was decided from the beginning that this would be the year for a plus-sized girl to win. Whether or not that is true doesn't really matter, although saying that does seem unfair to Whitney -- who actually did a good job in photoshoots and runway. Other rumors are flying around the internet as well after some alleged pre-ANTM photos of Whitney surfaced.

The circulating rumor is that Whitney was previously a size 2-4 when she was approached by ANTM casting agents. Supposedly she was told that she could be on the show if she gained 20 pounds and modeled as a plus-sized contestant. This rumor undermines comments made by Whitney throughout the season about how hard it was to grow up heavy and be made fun of, etc. In my opinion, this whole rumor seems far-fetched. Why on earth would the show ask someone to gain weight when there are plenty of beautiful, already plus-sized girls out there (as indicated by previous seasons)? The more likely explanation is that, like many women out there, Whitney has struggled with her weight and may have fluctuated in sizes over the years. I personally have gone back and forth between sizes 4 and 10 over the years and I know that just because you are able to shed 15 or 20 pounds doesn't mean that you will definitely keep that weight off.

Whether Whitney has gone from a size 4 to a size 8 or 10 doesn't make her story any less inspiring. In fact, in a way it makes it more inspiring that she "made it" now rather than before, when she was thinner. And here is something else that Whitney's story might make us think about: according to Wikipedia's page on Cycle 10, Whitney is 5'10" and 159 pounds. According to medical recommendations for someone of Whitney's height, age and gender, a healthy weight range is between 132 and 174 pounds. Whitney falls right in the middle, making her a very healthy and average weight. But when you put her next to girls who are 5'10 and 115 pounds, she looks like a big heifer. It is an extremely sad world when women like Whitney, of average weight, are labeled as plus-sized. If you go to this ideal weight body calculator, you can enter in information regarding weight, height, age and gender to find medical recommendations on weight as well as a category called "People's Choice Ideal Weight". This category shows what people think is the ideal weight for someone of a particular height, weight, age and gender. It is interesting to see that this number is typically unrealistically low, which is no big surprise considering our culture's views on body image. Last June I wrote about ad campaigns that targeted body image, and I also wrote about how overall our society has a dysfunctional concept of healthy bodies. On the one hand it is progress to see someone like Whitney win America's Next Top Model, but on the other hand it seems less progressive to see women of healthy weights being called heavy.

Perhaps someday "plus-size" will really mean overweight. Right now, that seems unlikely.

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