‘America’s Next Top Model’ gives short girls a lift

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This season, the CW Network’s “America’s Next Top Model” is playing fast and loose with the rules of the fashion industry. Casting aside the tall contestants of seasons past, this year is all about the “petite” girls.

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SHORT MODELS— The 14 contestants in “America’s Next Top Model” with Tyra Banks.

“In this cycle I opened the competition exclusively to girls 5-7 and under so that one of them could have the opportunity to be American’s next top model,” show host and creator Tyra Banks said. “When I announced my intention to change the standards of the modeling industry, tens of thousands of girls from all over the nation flocked to realize their modeling dreams.”

ANTM takes 14 contestants from around the country and gives them the chance to compete for a modeling contract. Each week a panel of judges chooses one girl to vote off based on how the contestants perform in a challenge and a photo shoot.

The always-theatrical Tyra entered the premiere Sept. 9 as a French Madame, announcing this year’s theme to the girls. To their delight, she spat in the face of stereotypes dictating that in order to make it as a model in the fashion industry, a girl must be a certain height.

“He is crazy to say there is no room for short girls in the industry. In this world they try to say beauty is in a little box, but we are breaking the box,” Tyra said in her wavering French accent. “It has been my dream for so long to open (‘America’s Next Top Model’) to the little girls.”

The rarity of the opportunity was not lost on the girls. As “petite” women, though some would not consider 5-7 petite, the competition serves as the only chance they have of catapulting into the modeling industry.

“You may be 5-2, you may be 5-6 and a half, but you have to walk at least six feet tall,” said runway coach Miss Jay. “And it doesn’t mean leading with your chin; it means being confident.”

Yet another twist came in the season premiere when the contestants received their makeovers, which usually take place a few episodes in. However, more surprising was that this year’s girls didn’t offer the typical complaints over their makeovers. Instead, they continued to show their gratitude for being given this opportunity as they gleamed in adoration of their new looks.

The contestants come from a variety of backgrounds, but while some have traveled on a relatively smooth road, many have storied pasts filled with cruelty and overwhelming obstacles.

In her first meeting with the panel of judges, Sundai, 18, explained her childhood in foster care, and frequent beatings by her mother. Though she said her family has since been happily reunited, her past will certainly serve as a source of uncertainty throughout the competition.

Contrasting Sundai’s innocence is Bianca, 21, whose coarse image comes complete with a fiery attitude and close cut hair. However, hidden behind this front is the story of a woman brutally beaten by her ex-boyfriend.

Perhaps more than ever before, the pressure will weigh heavy on this season’s contestants as their height will remain a constant reminder of how close they are to watching their dream slip away. In the season opener, the girls were constantly reminded to elongate their limbs and those who got it right were rewarded with high praise. Surely, those who don’t learn to grasp the concept are soon to be cut.

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