"Fourteen days later I came on my talk show and I had an outfit that I was gonna do this whole speech in, and at the last minute I called to my stylist and I said 'Yyanice, do you have that damn swimsuit that I took pictures in? Do you have it?' She says 'Yeah, I have it right here.' I said 'You know what, pull the baby oil out, oil up my body put the swimsuit on.' She's like, 'Are you serious?' I'm like, 'I'm putting it on.' ... In hindsight I'm like, 'Dang, I did that.' But at the moment it felt real."
Banks took the stage wearing the suit, and launched into a harangue against the harsh way society judges women's bodies, which culminated with Banks inviting her critics to "kiss my fat ass!" And the audience went crazy.
"Yeah and the audience was crying," Banks said. "You have to understand there is a camera here, but the audience members are sitting right behind them. There are women crying as I'm talking, so I'm feeling their pain, and then I started to feel the pain, at that moment is when it felt personal to me ... at that moment it was about women everywhere and me, and that's when the tears came."
The "kiss my fat ass" moment made Banks the queen of self-esteem and body image -- every woman's girlfriend.
And for her recent season premiere, Banks shed another layer: She revealed her real hair.
"Years ago, when I first started wearing hair extensions, I would get mail from young girls, or young girls would come up to me and they would say, 'Tyra you have the most beautiful hair, like I could never grow hair like that!' And I would say 'Child, this is a weave!' I was like, 'This ain't my hair, young girls need to know,' so now I'm always pulling layers off.
"I've showed myself, I've showed my cellulite on my talk show, I've showed myself with no retouching, and I feel if I show the real raw me, the young girls at home will go, 'Oh my god, my hair looks like that! My hair's like Tyra's and I'm OK, that means I'm OK,'" she said.
But to some, Tyra's messages seem mixed. She's the cheerleader for real beauty on her talk show, then judges a beauty contest on "America's Next Top Model."
She dismisses failed candidates, and her comments sometimes seem less than supportive. "Face looks like a wind tunnel," was her assessment of one candidate ("wind tunnel in a good way," she later added). "Miss Jay," she told another, "you've put on weight."
But Banks denies that the two roles are contradictory. In any case, she said, it would be disingenuous of her to go too far in her criticism of modeling.
"I made a career doing this, so I can't just say 'Oh, what I did was so horrible' -- I did it for 20 years," she said. "But I was never the typical model. I planned for the end at the beginning -- it was a career and a business for me. I used my platform to expand what beautiful is to people.
"It is important for women to feel beautiful when she looks in the mirror and I tell women if you don't feel beautiful, find one thing that you can look in that mirror and say that is beautiful," she said. "I'm choosing girls [for 'Top Model'] that are what I call debatable beauty. Sure, you gotta have your standards in there, if everyone is debatable people might go, 'I don't get this' ... but 60 percent of my cast are debatably beautiful."