Cycle 23 – An Open Letter to Tyra Banks

Photo by Walter Talens

Photo by Walter Talens

Dearest Tyty,

Cycle 23 was meant to be the cycle that I would audition for. I was too young for the petite season, too short once I was old enough, and not in America for several cycles. Finally, after 10 years of wanting to, I was ready to audition to be on America’s Next Top Model and I thought America’s Next Top Model was ready for me.

When Cycle 22 began, you gave the contestants and all of America a pep talk that brought a tear to my eye. I recognized that tear for passion and identification with the message of not allowing the definition of beauty to be so narrow. “Do not let anyone put you in a box.”

It was never about attaining a title to validate my beauty. It was never about being the biggest, baddest personality in the house. It was never about being the “token Christian girl” of the cycle.

To me, becoming America’s Next Top Model was all about joining that call to break down the walls of America’s definition of beauty. It was about being fierceNess through and through. It was about embracing what is real and raw and inspiring that in others.

The thought of being a contestant in the running to become America’s Next Top Model (and dare I say – to win and be the Top Model?!) terrified me in the most productive way. Pushing myself in this endeavor, I felt fearless, vulnerable, and terribly ambitious. To my knowledge, I would be the first dreadlocked Asian American on the show! I had even mentally prepared myself for the possibility of having a shaved head as the result of a Tyover. I had every intention of rocking whatever look I was given.

Everything seemed to be right – I was planning photo shoots and concepts to build a diverse portfolio. I scoured the Internet for tutorials and asked around for tips and advice that would enhance the look of a normally natural kind of girl. Your voice kept resounding in my head, reminding me to tooch, smize,  model H2T, and not be a no-neck monster.

I turned 23 on the 23rd of July this year, making this my golden year. At 23 years old, I was going to audition for the 23rd cycle of America’s Next Top Model. It was both logical and whimsical to think of pursuing this goal in this year. There was no better cycle for me to audition for. It was poetic. More than poetic, I thought it was divine.

All of this came to an unexpected halt last week when I was made aware of The Tyra Mail delivered via Instagram.

Some people have a moment of silence when they grieve; this is my moment of public mourning. That day, I shed a tear and continued about my day, not allowing myself the time to process. I think shock is the appropriate term to describe that emotional state of being.

What now? I cannot lie and deny that I had the highest of hopes. Nor can I pretend that this did not throw me for a loop. This is kind of a big deal. What has come to pass can be recounted in somber remembrance. What will come can be spoken of in confidence – knowing that what will come shall come indeed, without delay. However, what can I say of the present? Sometimes, “I do not know” is the most appropriate, because I simply do not know.

Certainly, processing the end of one cycle leads to the beginning of another. I know that in time, my vision will be cleared, the clouds will pass and I will find a new, fabulous goal to march fiercely towards.

I am not campaigning for Cycle 23, hating, or demanding an explanation. I certainly could not hate on Tyty; I refer to you as my home girl as often as possible.

I mentioned divine poeticism earlier and that still stands. I know that God has done a work in me to show me an incomparable beauty rooted in love, and I want nothing more than to share that with the world. Once, I thought this would be through the avenue of being a POTLEDOM, but I am confident that something special is to come. True beauty is truly fierce; this is a force that cannot be reckoned with, a light that cannot be dimmed. Therefore, it shall come to pass.

Perhaps, this is simply a letter of appreciation. Thank you for giving us a taste of the world of fashion straight to our screens. I have learned so much from watching you over the years. Thank you for being an example of using your success productively to help others. Thank you for expanding the definition of what America – and the world sees as beautiful. Thank you for inspiring me to be fabulous through and through. On behalf of the ones that zag, thank you.

May the spirit of what is America’s Next Top Model carry on and continue to break down the walls of what is defined as beautiful.

Grace and peace and all things nice,

Vanessa Lum


7 thoughts on “Cycle 23 – An Open Letter to Tyra Banks

  1. Hey I just wanted to say how entirely relatable this is to the devastation I felt upon realizing that this was the last cycle. While next cycle was not meant to be “mine” as you said it was to be yours Americas next top model was meant to be my future, my breakthrough moment once I had finished college and now there is a strong since of let down knowing that I will not get to live out one of my earliest dreams. Like you said I can’t hate on Tyra as she is one of my greatest role models and has spread an important message to so many young women and men but there is a distinct feeling of loss in my heart that in time will surely come to pass.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dearest Haley,
      I am so so glad that you felt this post in a personal way. Knowing that, I know I have succeeded in some degree. Time surely helps to heal a wound; more so, I hope that your pain will be transformed into something beautiful! May you use that fuel in a productive manner and be challenged to create and recreate.
      Much love,


  2. Your words have touched me so deeply. You are such an inspiration and truly wise beyond your years. Don’t give up. God has a plan for you. Maybe having Tyra as your CEO can be a new goal that may lead you to even more amazing opportunities. Become a Tyra Beauty Beautytainer and through her business, I know your doors will open! Feel free to email me or visit my website. You ARE beautiful, you ARE fierce and you ARE a success!


  3. i was gonna audition for cycle 23 as well i was really sick last year and wasn’t able to drive to san diego for tryouts. when i found out top model was being canceled i actually was very upside since I’ve always wanted to be a model on the show and follow my mothers footsteps. i love fashion and modeling its part of my life thats never gonna change. a few weeks ago i went to Fablife Tyra’s new show for the halloween episode taping and was thinking about what it would be like to be her like tyra banks is beautiful and she got to do what she loved for a while. when top model actually started i was probably in 2 grade and thought that one day i would be on the show and now i realize i will never fulfill that dream. young girls will never be able to fulfill there dreams to be on top model even girls that were bullied for believing that they would be on the show like me. Being bullied and believing that one day you could prove everyone that bullied you and locked you in bathrooms that they were wrong about you but now i don’t have that chance to prove those people who bullied me that I’m worth something and that hurts. i wanna give those girls a chance that r bullied to believe that they r worth something. if they bring top model back it will probably be when I’m like in my late 20’s and ill never be able to be on my favorite show. hopefully one day ill be able to share this tv show with my kids


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