"If I had lower self-esteem I would probably be starving myself right now," says Banks.
The first sign that something was wrong came on a flight from Australia. As Tyra Banks boarded the plane (she'd been in Sydney doing a photo shoot for one of her TV shows), "the flight attendant goes like this," recalls Banks, acting out someone eyeing her from head to toe. "Then she says, 'Thank God, thank God! They're liars.' " Banks pauses, her eyes wide in disbelief. "I had no clue what the woman was talking about."
She would find out soon enough. Within hours of landing in L.A., Banks was fielding calls from friends and family worried about reports that she had recently gained 40 lbs. Says her agent, Benny Medina: "They were those calls like, 'Baby, are you all right? If you're gaining that much weight, we need to talk.' " After initially laughing off the concern ("I was like, 'I don't care,' "), Banks found herself unable to sleep that night. And so she did what countless adolescent boys and supermodel wannabes have done over the years: She booted up her computer to Google Tyra Banks.
But instead of searching for the hottest shots from her barrier-breaking modeling career, Banks entered the words "Tyra fat." What came up stunned her: Link after link of unflattering photos showing her in a one-piece bathing suit on a Sydney beach, under headlines that screamed, "America's Next Top Waddle" and "Tyra Porkchop." The discovery – coupled with reports that claimed executives at CW (which airs America's Next Top Model
and, in some markets, her syndicated talk show) had been pressuring her to slim down – prompted Banks to, for the first time in this exclusive interview, publicly discuss her much-buzzed-about weight gain; she is also dedicating part of the Feb. 1 episode of The Tyra Banks Show
to setting the record straight about her size.