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Business Lessons from America’s Next Top Model

I admit America’s Next Top Model is one of my guilty pleasures. I’m fascinated to see how all the photos turn out. I really could not care less about the rest of it (especially when we no longer have the Janice Dickinson train wreck to watch). However, last night’s episode struck me as one of the most realistic in all thirteen seasons. 

Modeling, for better or worse, is a business and a much less glamorous one than most would think. This season, and in last night’s episode especially, we got to see a few good business lessons in action.

1. When you go to work with a clear disadvantage, don’t let that be the crutch that holds you back. This season all the models are less than 5’7". Despite the fact that this crew appears to be the most attractive, mature, and appreciative of the opportunity; they are reminded every single minute that they are not as good as “real” models. Tyra talks about how it was hard to find companies willing to give the prizes (modeling contracts, etc.). The judges only like the photos where the women look “taller” and “longer” than they are in real life. They even emphasize the women’s shortness by mandating they wear flats to judging. 

What keeps this from being painful to watch is Tyra’s emphasis on teaching the models to overcome what is visually and literally a short-coming (pardon the pun) in their industry. In one case, a model wannabe even has a lazy eye. Tyra just tells her, “learn to deal with it.” In another case, a model tried to blame her broken foot (she literally had a crutch) and no one was buying it.

Having a physical disadvantage is tough in modeling (and other industries like sports) but I don’t think it’s out of line to say that even today, being a woman or a person of color in certain work situations puts many of us at a disadvantage the minute we walk in the door. What one can take away from ANTM is—let your looks be other people’s problem, not yours. Put your efforts into overcoming the obstacles, not dwelling on them or using them as an excuse.

2. Rules change when those in charge decide to change them. In the episode’s mini-challenge, the women meet a modeling agent who is supposed to pick a winner for best first impression. However, after meeting them all, rather than declaring a winner, he fired one of them on the spot. The contestants than freak out because “that’s not supposed to happen.” Well, it’s Tyra’s show, and she can do what she wants, when she wants and they have to deal with it.

3. First impressions count … a lot. Why did the young woman get sent packing on the first impression challenge? Because she made no impression. Ouch. But, you know what? That’s real life, deal with it. If you’re interviewing for a job or going after a promotion, you need to make an impression. I’ve had more friends land jobs after interviews where they did things like faint or, in my case, bleed from a cut finger all over the managing partner’s office, than those who did nothing to make themselves memorable. (While I wouldn’t recommend either of those strategies ... it just goes to show that if you’re unique and unforgettable, you’re more likely to get hired!)

4. Attitude is everything. We often focus on attitude by saying that you need to project a positive attitude to get ahead. Yet, a bad attitude can sink you to the bottom even quicker. This week, the bottom two were there because of attitude. They let their attitude affect their performance. Everyone saw it in the pictures and even before the two women did their shoots.  As one contestant pointed out to one of the bottom dwellers, “you blame everything but yourself.” The two in the bottom were clearly under-performing because they didn’t like their particular circumstances, and it showed in their work. That isn’t going to fly on ANTM or the real life.

As Tyra would say, “deal with it.”