America’s Next Top Model returned last night, like a mildewy smell that comes back every time the weather turns. I wish I could tell you that like Melrose Place or Bad Girls Club or Dance Your Ass Off, this was a trashy show that I’ve only ever had a passing familiarity with. I wish I could tell you I had no idea who Miss Jay was, or noted fashion photographer Nigel Barker, or the Aswirl Twins, but I would be lying to you. Friends, I have seen a great, great deal of America’s Next Top Model. (Sadly I have yet to scrounge up some screenshots for this episode, but oh, I will find them.)
Clearly, though, I haven’t seen anything yet, because this season is special and different. This season, Tyra Banks is taking risks and introducing diversity to expand our cookie-cutter notions of what a model should be. This season, all of the contestants are under 5’7”. I KNOW. I TOO AM SHOCKED AT THIS CONTROVERSIAL DECISION. In order to fully express the significance of this season, the references to height come about once every thirty seconds. After the second elimination, Tyra walks up to the remaining girls and explains to them that it’s harder than usual to say goodbye because their shortness will obviously prevent them from ever succeeding on their own. “You can do some face modeling,” she tells them.
The premiere last night was the standard two-hour culling of the herd, with the first hour about focusing on the crazy girl parade. The usual crazies were out in full force, featuring one girl who claimed that her first nickname was “Bloody Eyeball,” another who mimed the procedure involved in castrating cows, and the obligatory Models for Jesus Christ representative. (Ol’ Bloody Eyeball also brings a rusty wheelbarrow to school instead of a backpack, and is angry her classmates find her odd.) Tyra performed the standard Did-You-Know-I-Also-Have-A-Talk-Show moves, taking delight in the process of asking each girl about her history of abuse, childhood trauma, or poverty.
In the second hour, after the unexplained disappearance of the Models for Jesus Christ rep, makeovers – excuse me, Ty-overs – ensued. There was no weeping over the loss of beautiful, beautiful hair, but one beautiful girl had to have her eyebrows bleached, because apparently when you’re a short you need to look like an alien to be noticed. Then there was a photo shoot where the girls had to do high fashion interpretations of their own baby photos. Because babies are short? Jay tries to explain it as a commentary about how fashion works in cycles, and what they were wearing then is hot again now. Except, does baby fashion really reflect what’s happening on the runway? Jay points to a baby wearing a flared onesie and calls the pants “Hammer pants” that have now been reinterpreted as “harem pants.” Which is great, except on babies, I think those are called “pants with room for your diaper.”
In the end, someone got eliminated and many girls cried, and now we get to do it all again next week. And happily, by the end of the episode we learned what this whole shortness thing is actually about, as the judges repeated over and over what made a good picture. “You’ve stretched yourself here, it’s great.” “You look 5’10”!” “You look so long in this picture!” What a relief, America’s Next Top Model – I was worried you were actually suggesting I should accept short people. Thankfully, I only need to like them if they look tall.