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'America's Next Top Model' keeps resurfacing on TikTok. Here's why.

Many on TikTok say the show skewed their perspectives on beauty and their relationships with their bodies.
Photo Illustration: A collage of past ANTM contestants with, Tyra Banks in the middle
Since the pandemic hit, many have been using social media to revisit “America's Next Top Model” and the impact the 24-season show had on their perception of beauty.Justine Goode; MSNBC / Getty Images

When Carly Ristuccia was growing up, she desperately wanted to close the gap in her front teeth.

She considered getting braces because she thought the space looked unprofessional — at least, that’s what she heard from the judges critiquing a contestant on an episode of "America’s Next Top Model," the modeling competition created by Tyra Banks.

Years later, while rewatching the series during the pandemic, the 25-year-old realized the show, once one of her favorites, warped her perception of beauty standards.

“I just realized how insanely wrong it was,” Ristuccia, who reflected on how the show impacted her in a TikTok video posted in July, told NBC News. “It got me thinking about how the ideas in that show probably built my subconscious ideas on body image and the whole industry.”

Since the pandemic hit, people like Ristuccia have been using social media to revisit “ANTM” and the impact the 24-season show had on their perception of beauty. Even some former contestants have gone viral for sharing how the show fueled their body image struggles.

Some users on TikTok have shared how "ANTM" led to their personal struggles with body dysmorphia and self-loathing. Others have called out Banks for some of her comments, which she publicly acknowledged in a May 2020 tweet.

"Been seeing the posts about the insensitivity of some past ANTM moments and I agree with you," Banks wrote. "Looking back, those were some really off choices. Appreciate your honest feedback and am sending so much love and virtual hugs."

Banks did not immediately respond to NBC News' requests for comment.

The show, some fashion industry experts say, is far from alone when it comes to how beauty standards in the early to mid-2000s were shaped. There were, of course, a number of fashion trends and makeover shows that were deeply internalized by a generation of viewers.

However, many continue to hone in on "ANTM" as it's become a way to encourage candid conversations surrounding women's relationships with their bodies. On TikTok, the hashtag #AmericasNextTopModel has been viewed more than 122 million times, and #ANTM has roughly triple that number, with more than 358 million views.

“I think [the show] gave us an example of how you can berate yourself ... how you can look in the mirror and say, ‘[I don’t like] my hair, my nose,’” Dawnn Karen, a fashion psychologist and founder of the Fashion Psychology Institute, told NBC News. The institute focuses on education around the emerging academic discipline of how fashion affects human behavior.

“We didn’t have a lot of examples of what it looks like to love yourself, so we did that ‘ANTM’ nitpicking,” Karen added.

The show was a 'symptom of a larger disease'

One of the most-viewed videos is a collection of "WTF moments" posted in January.

In it, there's a clip where one judge tells a model that she looks "about two months" pregnant in her photo despite being a "slim girl." Another clip shows a judge telling the show's first plus-size model, Toccara Jones, to "suck in" her gut and that "anything hanging out looks nasty."

Another top-viewed video under the hashtag is from Sarah Hartshorne, a contestant on the ninth cycle of "ANTM," who describes the reality of reality television.

The former plus-size model, who now works as a comedian and writer, said she joined TikTok after being tagged in a video in which the judges told her she was too small to be plus size and too big to be a straight-size model.

"I do remember that moment, and it was so weird watching it and seeing someone say, 'This was a very formative and upsetting moment for me,'" Hartshorne told NBC News. "And that's when I started making TikToks about it and ... exploring what this reaction was all these years later."

Hartshorne made it clear that she by no means hates "ANTM" or Banks, nor does she regret her time on the show. She said she feels Banks was simply one cog in a machine of network executives, producers and millions of dollars backing and idealizing what a "perfect body" should look like.

"[The show] was a symptom of a larger disease," Hartshorne said. "It brought all aspects of the fashion industry out into the open."

'Now ... we're not going to stand for it'

Karen echoed Hartshorne's belief that the show merely brought the realities of the fashion industry to light.

In fact, she said, the show's harshness could have served as a catalyst for reshaping the fashion industry to one day be more inclusive.

Banks put the realities of the fashion industry on television for the world to see, Karen said. Because of that, people were eventually able to put their foot down and say the treatment was unacceptable.

"She [Banks] gave us a display of what happens in the modeling industry. So now in 2021, a la TikTok, we're not going to stand for it," Karen said. "I want to commend her for showing what it looks like, so there could be a change."

Those things needed to happen so we could move forward.

Dawnn Karen, founder of The Fashion Psychologist and the Fashion Psychology Institute

"ANTM" was likely a "toned down" version of what women, especially Black women such as Banks and supermodel Naomi Campbell, experienced in the fashion industry, but even looking back at a "toned down" version of the industry disturbed people to the point of demanding change, Karen said.

Looking back on "ANTM," Karen said she sees how far the fashion industry has come since the first days of the show.

"Diversity is the talk now. Body inclusivity is now a thing," she said. "Those things needed to happen so we could move forward."

Ken Mok, an executive producer on "ANTM," also acknowledged in 2020 that rewatching some moments from the series made him "cringe."

"Want to reiterate what @tyrabanks said," he tweeted in May 2020, sharing Banks' tweet. "I look at some of those  #ANTM moments and cringe. Just a FYI — the entire creative team made the choices in those shows — not just Tyra.  So please feel free to yell at me  for some of the worst moments in ANTM history!  Apologies to all."

A representative for Mok declined to comment when reached by NBC News.

Some viewers still feel lingering impact of show

As the fashion industry slowly moves to be more inclusive, those working to push body positivity and acceptance say they still feel the lingering impacts of "ANTM" on their sense of beauty and self.

Catherine Miller, 27, also revisited "ANTM" during the pandemic.

Miller, who makes body positive content on TikTok, was stoked that she could stream every season of the show she devoured when she was younger. But, just like Ristuccia, once she began watching, she discovered the show wasn’t quite what she remembered.

"I was like, 'Wait.' I know I watched this years ago, but I don’t think I realized how deeply problematic some of the things in the show were," Miller, of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, said.

She's since joined the conversation on TikTok about "ANTM" and said she's seen how many people say the show contributed to their distorted sense of beauty.

The show "glorified a really, really thin frame, and I think it made a lot of girls growing up have body image issues or feel like they were too big," Miller said.

"And I think that's a part of the conversation people are having, and what I'm having, too, about what 'America's Next Top Model' taught us beauty should look like," she said.

It was kind of amazing to see that now, we’ve moved so far past that, that there’s more opportunities for women who don’t fit that traditional mold.

Catherine Miller, 27, reflecting on "antm"

When she first watched the show, Miller said she felt there was no place for someone like her — who didn't fit the 5-foot-9, thin-framed standard — in the modeling industry.

The mental wounds the show left on her, however, are healing.

Recently, she said she had an opportunity to go to a casting to model for a brand, adding that it has shown her how much things have changed from the early "ANTM" days.

"It was kind of amazing to see that now, we've moved so far past that," Miller said, "that there's more opportunities for women who don't fit that traditional mold."