Tyra Banks‘s mom, Carolyn London, recently recalled the sound advice she gave her daughter as she grew into the fashion icon she is today.
London sat down with TODAY’s Sheinelle Jones about her daughter on a new episode of “Through Mom’s Eyes.” London raised her two children as a single mother after getting a divorce when Banks was just 5 years old.
“I raised both of my children with this saying… ‘Look to the other side,’” London said. “It’s not about where you are now, but where you want to go. Envision yourself there.”
London said revealed how Tyra was always “the creative.”
“She would look at TV commercials when she was in elementary school and she would say ‘Now, you know, if they had put that hamburger on a different kind of plate and then had that girl walk over and pick it up,’” London recalled. “It was like, ‘What are you doing? You’re dissecting commercials?’”
And when Banks was bullied for her looks, called a “giraffe” and an “ugly duck” in school, her mother tried to diffuse the pain with focusing on her talents and skills.
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“I concentrated less on her appearance and more on her abilities and her character,” London said. “We would take trips to the book store, art exhibits, the museum, because those are the things that she really loved doing. She became an inspiration to other girls at school.”
The mother-daughter pair also adored putting on their own photoshoots. London was working as a biological photographer and had a friend who worked in the fashion industry. Occasionally, she assisted on those photo shoots and would bring Banks with her.
“A lot of models that I was working with would say ‘Have you ever thought about her being a model?’ And I would say ‘Oh, please,’” London said. “So one day (Tyra) came to me and she goes ‘Mom, maybe this is something I should look into.’ So I said ‘OK. You go and do your research, and you tell me what you find out about that industry.’ And she came back a week later and she told me, ‘This is a go.’”
After Banks applied to colleges and was accepted to five, she was offered a scout call inviting her to fashion shows in Paris, France.
“I told her that I would support her in whatever decision she made, because it’s not my life, it’s hers,” London said. “But the one thing I did say (was) ‘You are starting a business. You are the commodity. So you are going to study. You are going to know that business inside and out before you step on any airplane to go to Paris.’ She looked at videotapes of runway models through the ages, and she said ‘You know what? Every single one of them has a signature walk.’ And I said ‘Well, looks like we need to work on a Tyra walk.’”
London said that Banks’ work as an “almost immediate success” in Paris.
“That is where everything went crazy,” London said. “The press started following her, (asking) ‘What is your name? Where do you come from?’”
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To make things easier, she decided to be her daughter’s manager.
“It was so scary, Sheinelle. … I said ‘From now on, you don’t book things, you just do it through me,’” London said. “I didn’t really realize that I was managing her, I was just taking care of my child.”
Banks went on to become the first Black woman to cover the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue and being among the first Black models to sign a contract with Victoria’s Secret. The most challenging aspect, London said, was dealing with racism.
“She was constantly told that Black models didn’t sell magazines, that Black models don’t get advertising campaigns, that Black models don’t wear winter clothes very well, (that) they look best when their dark skin is exposed in summer wear,” London said. “One thing after another. A trait we both have is ‘Don’t tell us that you can’t do something.’ There’s always a way in. It may be on the side door, the back door, the basement door, a tunnel. You find it. Find it. And continue moving forward.”
With a background in the creative and educational fields, Amelia Finefrock is freelance writer, singer-songwriter and nanny based in Chicago.
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