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Top Two Black Supermodels – What Made Them So Different?

Naomi Campbell and Tyra Banks


Naomi Campbell and Tyra Banks, they are two of the world’s most iconic supermodels. Both of them, along with their predecessors, are noteworthy pioneers who successfully challenged the stereotypical representation of white beauty.

Naomi is undoubtedly the first black woman to be considered a “supermodel”, being the first black model to grace the covers of French Vogue and Time Magazine.

Tyra, who decided to follow in Naomi’s footprints as a supermodel after seeing her beautiful magazine photos, became the first black model to appear on the cover of GQ and Sports Illustrated‘s swimsuit issue, as well as the first African-American to be featured on the cover of the Victoria’s Secret catalog.

They are similar in that both overcame barriers for skin color in fashion and became one of the world’s most renowned supermodels. But close your eyes and think about them one by one. Are they really similar?

How Different?

Despite some similarities, they have quite different images, which can be compiled into below three points.
Disclaimer: I have no mind to judge who is objectively the better model or take one side to criticize the other.

Flawless Naomi and Flaw some Tyra

Naomi is Naomi, and she is so flawless. She has a beautiful face and a perfect body as a model.

Naomi, the first women in color to become a supermodel, is best known as her iconic and undisputed catwalk in the runways. Throughout the 90s, Naomi was known as one of the top three most in-demand supermodels, and even now in her late 40s, she is stillat the top of her game even after nearly 30 years in the industry. She closed Zac Posen’s show at New York Fashion Weekend Monday night, sending the audience into fenzies. The British bombshell’s beauty and show-stopping strut have cemented her iconic status.As a famous designer Anna Sui said of Naomi, “You can’t help but be captivated by her. It’s not charisma. It’s more powerful than that“, she is one of the most legendary and influential supermodels of all time.

Tyra, unlike Naomi, is somewhat “flawsome” – it’s a coined term by Tyra- based on the traditional standard of beauty. While both Naomi and Tyra contributed in reforming the standard of beauty by introducing the black beauty into white-dominated industry, Tyra did one more contribution: the curvy beauty.

Tyra was dropped from modeling agencies and designers who no longer wanted to work with her for the reason that she was curvy. Rather than starving herself or rejecting her natural appearance, she built anew empire of imperfection and natural beauty.After modeling agencies lost interests in her because of her weight, Tyra went to designers who embraced curvy women, and continued to walk the runway of Victoria’s Secret until she retired as its model in 2005.


Professional model Naomi and Well-rounded entertainer Tyra

Did you know Naomi has once pursued acting and music careers, and even launched a perfume line? While Naomi tried to stretch her career to other areas, and some of those tries were quite successful, it is not well-known to the public. She is rather recognized as a legendary supermodel who has been dedicated to modeling job, supported by her long and still ongoing career  as well as many honorary achievements she has been awarded as a model.

In comparison, it seems that Tyra is mostly known as a former supermodel turned TV host.She is the creator, executive producer, and host of America’s Next Top Model for 12 years, fueled by her own production company, Bankable Productions. Her Emmy-award winning talk show ran for five seasons, and she was ranked theNo.1 TV Personality by The Hollywood Reporter as a result of her hosting gig on America’s Got Talent. She has written two books, created fashion and beauty websites, and started her own cosmetics company, Tyra Beauty.

Superstar Naomi and Socialvoice Tyra

Let’s first talk about Tyra this time. Tyra is famous for battling body shaming and racism. Her career has always been about encouraging everyone, especially young girls, to embrace all of their imperfections like their weight, their weird facial features, their crazy hair or their crooked teeth. Her frustration and sufferings as a black curvy model in her earlier career made her establish her life goal: to redefine the standard of beauty. She even attended Harvard Business School just for the purpose of getting people to take her voice seriously.

Her social voice is well reflected in her media appearances as well. On the Tyra Banks Show, she covered difficult issues facing women and explored heavy topics like skin bleaching, eating disorders, sexuality, abusive relationships, teenage pregnancy, and self-esteem.She also did a test to show her boobs are real, took off all her makeup and hair extensions, met up with young and helpless souls and shared her own insecurities about the industry.

These issues were our issues which we are concerned about, and as a top celebrity, raising her voice against such issues, implied that she is not a self-absorbed supermodel but a compassionate role model who can relate to our problem and who can stand up for us.

Naomi is also quite the activist having supported Nelson Mandela and the ANC in South Africa and safe parenting for women. It may be related to her childhood experience of being abandoned by her father and seeing her mother relentlessly striving hard to support the family. However, unfortunately, her social voice seems to be eclipsed by her scandals and controversies, which are quite super-star things in our mind.

First, while Naomi’s dating history is full of famous celebrities like Robert De Niro, Mike Tyson, Eric Clapton and Usher, this is not a big deal. The real issue boils down to her infamous hot temper which got her in trouble with the law several times.

Most notably, in June 2008, she pleaded guilty to assaulting two police officers during an “air rage” disturbance on a plane at London’s Heath row airport.

In January 2007, Naomi pleaded guilty to misdemeanor “reckless assault” for throwing her cell phone at her maid in a dispute over a missing pair of jeans. Similarly, in 2000, she pleaded guilty again to a similar version of attack on an employee, where her assistant claimed Naomi threw a mobile phone at her and threatened to throw her out of a moving car. Naomi had to make compensations and attend an anger management class in both times.

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These serial happenings may have worked against her,especially from the perspective of gaining impactful social voice.

Are They Really Different?
Take a look at these 3 differences we have found.

  • Flawless Naomi and Flawsome Tyra
  • Professional model Naomi and Well-rounded entertainer Tyra
  • Superstar Naomi and Socialvoice Tyra

Actually, Naomi also has flaws, of course including her notorious bad temper. She has engaged in areas other than modeling like TV shows, music, acting and businesses, and is quite passionate about social activities.

Then why are our perceptions on Naomi so different from those on Tyra?
Why Different? – Personal Branding Philosophy

Although there might be several factors that matter, I think it is their different personal branding philosophy that has brought the biggest difference how we perceive Naomi and Tyra.

Personal Branding Philosophy of Naomi Campbell

In an interview with The Straits Times in 2017 about her perspective and use of social media platforms, Naomi pointed out that it used to be mystery and allure what made photographers choose you at the time when she started modeling, adding that it however has changed completely now due to social media.

While admitting the great influence of social media, she still presented passive opinion over the use of social media. “Social media is a great thing. But there is a fine line. I don’t think you should show everything. You have to save some of it for yourself,” She said. She also added that “I don’t think I will ever let people know the real me. There is a side of me that is public, but then there is the side of me that likes being alone, chilling and doing my own thing.”

In my view, it was her unwillingness to share her stories and values on social media that let her remain only as a high-profile superstar, preventing her from becoming a mature role model or gaining impactful social voice. Social Media is the major channel where people form perceptions on you. So, if you don’t manage your social media in the way people see what you want them to see in you, people can only understand you based on how you are shown on traditional mass media, which is in normal cases out of your control.

According to the interview article from The Straits Times in 2017, her Instagram account at that time just featured some tributes to friends and colleagues or her charity work. Meanwhile, if you see her current social media accounts, which are followed by many people, 648K on Twitter, 1M on Facebook and 6.6M on Instagram, you will notice that she actively posts work-related contents. However, it is still hard to find fragments of her personal life or a portion of her philosophy.

While maintaining mysteriousness can also be one of the personal branding strategies, and she has no duty to open her story to the public, if she wants to develop herself into a thought leader who can actually change this society, it would be helpful to reexamine her personal branding philosophy and social media management strategies.

Personal Branding Philosophy of Tyra Banks

Tyra’s social media philosophy runs clear contrary to Naomi’s. She’s more strategical, being the mastermind behind her media presence. She recognized the importance of personal branding early in her career and through every project she has ever done, she has intentionally carved a path for herself as a thought leader in women’s empowerment and equality. She has done all of them, because she has a life mission to complete: to fight against social prejudices and redefine the standard of beauty. It must be attributed to her experience in her earlier career of being repeatedly told “no” because of her skin color and ‘flawsome’ curvy body.

Nothing can explain her passion for personal branding better than the fact that she gave a lecture titled “Project You: Building and Extending your Personal Brand” as a co-professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business, from May 8, 2017 to May 19, 2017. The class consisted of topics like parsing through what a personal brand is and understanding how it can be a valuable and competitive advantage, how one can differentiate themselves, and how students could use social and traditional media to enhance their brand, as well as figuring out when to pivot and evolve their brand.

The class was highly interactive. There were multiple breakout sessions during each class, and live streaming of portions of the class on Facebook Live, and YouTube recordings of presentations, followed by a final assignment of not only a final paper but also having students share their honed personal brand to the public via Facebook Live, live local television, and YouTube in order to jump-start their personal brand extension. She also invited a famous social media guru Gary Vaynerchukto one of those breakout sessions to talk even more specifically about social media and branding.

Then here we start to wonder how she manages her own social media. Not surprisingly, shehas very active and influential presence on social media platforms supported by 14.6M Twitter followers, 8M Facebook followers and 6.3M Instagram followers.

However, what is more noteworthy is that her social media goes in line with her appearances she has constantly shown to the public. While the topics of individual posts range widely from no make-up selfies, photos with BTS to her serious remarks on society issues, she keeps her tone of speech by being humorous and outspoken but reserved at the same time, and represents the idea of imperfection and social equality as she does in the offline media. In other words, her social media functions as an effective megaphone of her ideasbased on friendly communication with the public on a personal level.

Tyra once said that “Martha Stewart…I look up to her so much. I think she has such an attention to detail. When you hear two words: ‘Martha Stewart,’ you understand what that brand is, all the way down to colors. And I hope to one day have a brand that when people hear, whether it’s my name or the name of the brand that I create, that they understand it immediately. That you get it immediately. That you don’t have to explain it. That’s what I aspire to.” In this point of view, I think her personal branding strategy worked well.

Last but not least…

Although so-called supermodel era may have come and gone, Naomi and Tyra’s position as a legendary top super model has survived. While both are gorgeous women who flipped our perception of the modeling and fashion industry, and most importantly how we define “beauty”, they are clearly distinguishable in personal brand point of view. It would be interesting to keep an eye on how differently or similarly they present their personal brand to the world, and contemplate on what our own personal branding philosophy should be.

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