Tale of Two Tyras: Ex-Model Explains Split TV Persona

Tyra Banks

Call them "daytime Tyra" and "nighttime Tyra."

By day, Tyra Banks, the supermodel turned television personality, presides over a talk show known for bringing a message of uplift and empowerment to women.

By night, Banks reigns supreme on "America's Next Top Model," a reality show on which contestants are judged by how they dress and the way they look -- just the criteria that "The Tyra Show" attacks as hollow and, at worst, oppressive to women.

It's possible to see two conflicting messages. But Banks says the underlying message is the same.

Americas Next Top Mogul
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"I don't think so, because a lot of the time the pretty girl [on "Top Model"] goes home early, or the most photogenic girl goes home early," Banks said. "One of the big, most underlying messages for me is celebrating beauty that is not typical. ... 'America's Next Top Model' is not a bunch of Barbies -- it's a lot of girls that are atypically beautiful."

Watch the full interview with Tyra Banks on "Nightline" tonight at 11:35 p.m. ET

See photos of Tyra Banks through the years HERE.

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In the course of her unique career, Banks, 35, has pulled off more than one unlikely transition.

She changed the face of modeling, becoming the first African-American woman to be featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue and the first black cover model for Victoria's Secret.

She conquered reality TV as the host of "Top Model." And then she proved the skeptics wrong by launching her own talk show -- a model with a talk show? -- and making it a hit. Today she lauches a new lifestyle magazine, Tyra Beauty Inside and Out.

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Banks sat down with "Nightline" recently to talk about her younger years, her life as a supermodel and making the switch to TV.

She discussed the potential contradiction between the gospel of self-acceptance on her talk show and the culture of judgment on "Top Model."

And then there were topics she declined to discuss.

Tyra Banks: Early Years

When she was a teen in Los Angeles, Banks said, becoming a supermodel wasn't a goal, or even a dream.

"It wasn't something that I always wanted to do -- it wasn't like I grew up and looked at magazines and said, 'Oooh, that's so glamorous, I wanna do that,'" she said. "It found me.

"I was thin, I was 98 pounds, I was 5 foot 9, I was an inch shorter than I am now," she said. "So that is not just supermodel thin, that's just like, what's-wrong-with-her thin, and I had very low self-esteem because nothing I could do would make me gain weight."

But a high school friend saw something in her she never saw in herself.

"This one girl comes up to me," Banks said. "And the first thing she says is, 'Have you ever thought about modeling? You look like you could model.' And I was like, 'Huh?'"

And so the journey began. But along with success came heartbreak.

"To go to an agency and for them to say, 'We already have a black girl' -- singular, 'black girl,'" Banks said. "That was weird.

"There was one woman in the agency who said to me, 'I know you are all excited you got your new little pictures in Seventeen magazine and things, but, um, you're not gonna get far in this world because you're black, so you should learn how to type, because the furthest you're gonna get in this agency is being the head receptionist like me,'" she said. "She said that to me."

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