America's Next Top Model faced plenty of criticism during its original run and is now facing more scrutiny after TikTok users rediscovered the show on Hulu. Some videos calling out the show's skewed vision of beauty that dominated the fashion industry in the 2000s have gone viral. Host Tyra Banks, who now hosts Dancing With the Stars, even apologized for some of the most insensitive moments on the show in May 2020.
During the pandemic, TikTok users rediscovered America's Next Top Model, thinking it would provide an escape from reality. Instead, they realized how the show had a negative impact on their perception of beauty and body image. "I just realized how insanely wrong it was," Carly Ristuccia, whose TikTok videos calling out the show went viral, told NBC News. "It got me thinking about how the ideas in that show probably built my subconscious ideas on body image and the whole industry."
Catherine Miller, who makes videos about body positivity on TikTok, was excited to revisit the show during the pandemic, only to realize that the show was problematic. It "glorified a really, really thin frame, and I think it made a lot of girls growing up have body image issues or feel like they were too big," she told NBC News. "And I think that's a part of the conversation people are having, and what I'm having, too, about what America's Next Top Model taught us beauty should look like."
Even some contestants who are now successful called out the show. One of the most-viewed videos under the #AmericasNextTopModel hashtag involves Sarah Hartshorne, who was told by one judge she was too small to be a plus-size model and too big to be a straight-size model. Hartshorne is now a comedian and joined TikTok just to respond to the clip.
"I do remember that moment, and it was so weird watching it and seeing someone say, 'This was a very formative and upsetting moment for me,'" Hartshorne told NBC News. "And that's when I started making TikToks about it and ... exploring what this reaction was all these years later." She later added that she was not upset with Banks, and called the show a "symptom of a larger disease" that was the fashion industry in the mid-2000s.
Dawnn Karen, a fashion psychologist and founder of the Fashion Psychology Institute, told NBC News the show gave viewers examples of "how you can berate yourself... how you can look in the mirror and say, '[I don't like] my hair, my nose.'" At the time the show aired, there were not many examples of how it looks to "love yourself," Karen said, so instead viewers nitpicked themselves just as judges nitpicked at models on America's Next Top Model.
In early December, Hartshorne told the New York Post contestants were also paid very little to appear on the show. "We were given a $38 daily cash stipend that we had to use to pay for our own food," she recalled. "And they didn't even give us a microwave to heat the food up."
Banks has not commented on the re-evaluation of America's Next Top Model since May 2020. "Been seeing the posts about the insensitivity of some past ANTM moments and I agree with you. Looking back, those were some really off choices. Appreciate your honest feedback and am sending so much love and virtual hugs," she tweeted at the time. The series originally aired on UPN and The CW from 2003 to 2015 before moving to VH1 from 2016 to 2018.