“Always face the light,” commands Tyra Banks at the conclusion of our Zoom interview. “I want you to change where you put your computer. So I can see your beautiful face.”
The beautiful part is debatable. Banks’ crisp advice is not. Before self-created Instagram influencers peddled janky products in heavily filtered how-to videos, Banks was busy making history: She was the first Black woman on the covers of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and GQ, after walking in runways for every major designer.
Later, as the creator of the series America’s Next Top Model, she coined the phrase “smize,” which, to the uninitiated, means smiling with your eyes. And when she was ridiculed publicly for the unpardonable sin of gaining weight, Banks — on her syndicated daytime talk show — shut haters down wearing a one-piece. “I have one thing to say to you: kiss my fat ass,” she said, in 2007.
Today, Banks is raising son York, 4, who was born via surrogate, while also hosting the new season of Dancing with the Stars. And in a genius branding move, she’s launching Smize Cream, an ice cream line she created because Banks is an unapologetic aficionado of the stuff, and also because it’s her one endeavor that her son thinks is cool. She talks to Fatherly about working mom guilt, the endless joys of homeschooling during COVID-19, and her son’s elaborate nightly bedtime routines.
So you’re hosting Dancing with the Stars in the midst of a pandemic. What’s that like?
Yes, I am the new host and executive producer of Dancing with the Stars. It’s gonna be pretty intense. So, of course, there’s masks, there’s face shields, there’s not six feet apart, we’re pushing it to eight feet apart for our judges. There’s a packet that’s this thick of all of the protocol. In the past they’ve had 15 dancers on the stage. That’s not going to happen, but you will see ensembles done in a very creative, clever way though. There are three married pro dancer couples in real life. They will not be able to live together, they will not be able to touch each other for three months. It’s a good thing for safety and a bad thing for the health of a marriage.
How’s it going back to work during quarantine, after being home with your son for months and months?
It’s very difficult because it’s not just me doing Dancing with the Stars. It is also on me as an entrepreneur and launching a whole new product in my ice cream and going from zero to a store and product with a very minimal team of people that Zoom together twice a day to connect. At the same time, I have to speak to the CEOs of companies. And I have my son crawling on my back. There are times when I’m like, ‘Wow, I’m not gonna be taken seriously because my son is screaming, and he’s crawling on my back.’ And here I am trying to pitch my idea.
I used to be a little bit embarrassed about it at the beginning of quarantine. But then when you see that other CEO’s daughter crawling on his back, you realize that we are all in this together. As a woman, sometimes we have this thing of like, ‘Oh, we have to show strength and we can’t show that we’re human.’ I’m a mom. I love my son. Everybody’s in this situation. So if he wants to sit on my lap during a very important meeting, he sits on my lap, and I still get the business done and he learns about the business. Maybe he’ll run the business one day.
Do you have working mom guilt?
Every single day. I have working mom guilt. My son and I — we do schoolwork. Today we studied fish. Then I have to go and do these interviews or lead my team on a Zoom call. He’s at school normally and I can’t teach him for seven hours a day. And then you turn on the TV and you have to make sure it’s educational TV. And I go into a meeting. I’m trying to figure it out.
I literally just joined a parenting group that is going to Zoom every Thursday to help parents through this because it’s really hard.
You barely put any pictures of your son up on Instagram, which I think makes my job harder but makes me respect the hell out of you. What governed that decision to just keep him private?
As a public figure, I made the decision to go into this business and I am doing this because I want to do it. But when I decided to have a child I knew that he hadn’t made that decision yet. And so I felt like because he didn’t make that decision, I should not make that for him. But I’m a hypocrite. Because I do love looking at other celebrities’ kids. I love looking at their life. I live vicariously through it. I’m tempted to sometimes go, ‘Oh my God, this is the cutest picture. He’s smizing. Let me post this.’ But I have I restrained myself. Because I feel like he hasn’t made that choice.
Speaking of choice, so many women related to you when you chose to open up about your infertility struggles. What made you share your story?
So mine wasn’t just strictly infertility. It was also having trouble holding the baby inside of me. After I got past that and then was trying to do the whole surrogacy thing. It was really, really hard. I went through that privately — I didn’t even tell all of my family, but my mom knew. But I think that’s about it. A couple of friends knew what I was going through. And I just wanted to keep that private until my son was born and to be transparent about that. I feel very fortunate that I was able to have my son after many, many, many rounds of IVF.
I’m one and done but not by choice.
What’s been the most rewarding part of motherhood for you?
It’s so crazy good. I’m gonna get teary. We have a ritual. I don’t know why but our nighttime ritual lasts an hour. I’m trying to get it down to 30 minutes.
We brush teeth and we go to the bathroom. Then we do the bath and we play in the bath. And I’m trying to do math in the bath and count the toys. And then I’m taking the toys out and asking, ‘How many do you have?’ We try to homeschool any way we can here. We lotion up then he gets in the bed. We read the story and then he tells me the story back then we have to pray and then he gets a massage. He gets a foot massage with like Vaseline or Aquaphor.
Oh damn! Vaseline was your big beauty secret and now it’s multi-generational.
It’s multi-generational! And if I forget any part of the routine: ‘Mommy, you forgot the massage!’
You are such a champion of body inclusivity and featuring more women of color in modeling campaigns and on catwalks. Have you seen a sea change in the business?
I think the industry has changed by leaps and bounds. I think I never thought in my lifetime, I’d see a change like this. And it’s because of social media. To be honest, I think companies are being held responsible in such a way that they never imagined and the power has shifted. I feel proud to be at the forefront of a lot of that, 20 years ago, speaking about diversity, inclusivity, and telling the world to kiss my fat ass. I started America’s Next Top Model, not as a modeling competition, but really to expand the definition of beauty in a way that no one was talking about back then.
Where did you find the confidence to love yourself and to be so outspoken about it?
My mama has such confidence. Such self-love. She tries to lose weight sometimes but she loves herself and growing up and seeing that and seeing my mom embrace so much of herself — it created self-esteem in me. It was subliminal, constant positivity about the body.
When I was young, she had like rolls on her waist. And she used to be like, ‘I’m gonna play the accordion for the kids.’ She wasn’t saying this is disgusting. My mom doesn’t dye her hair. And I got her into wearing wigs, but she buys wigs that are full of gray hair. So again, it’s those types of things — just growing up and seeing that has allowed me to not have all of the insecurities that I could have had