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Tyra Banks is looking back at the significance of her incredible career.
The 45-year-old supermodel just came out of retirement to cover the summer 2019 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue, 22 years after her groundbreaking 1997 SI Swimsuit cover, when she became the first black woman to grace the annual cover solo. In an interview with ET's Nischelle Turner on Wednesday, she revealed that she was actually able to give someone else an amazing opportunity more than two decades later thanks to her 2019 photo shoot. Banks said she discovered photographer Laretta Houston on Instagram, and Houston became the first black woman to shoot an SI Swimsuit cover.
"I am obsessed with firsts," Banks says. "I was obsessed with it for myself, and now I am obsessed with firsts for everyone. I feel like my mission in life is to open doors for other people, and to get them in places that they probably couldn't get to on their own. We all need a little help. My momma was my boost and I hope to be that for so many people. So, I spoke to MJ [Day], the editor of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition, and I said, 'MJ, you guys changed my life. Twenty-two years ago, you put me on that cover and then you put me on again. Overnight, it changed my life. It gave me such a powerful platform, and now I want to change somebody's life. I want us to find an African American, female photographer.' So, she started on her side, I started, and she says, 'Tyra, this is ridiculous, because why am I searching this hard? This is ridiculous.' So, then I went to the internet and I went to social media and I was googling, and clicking and searching and Instagramming, and came upon Laretta Houston."
Banks said she created a Pinterest board with Houston's photos, as well as two other black female photographers' photos, though Houston's were her secret favorites. MJ ended up choosing Houston based off of the photos. Banks shed tears as she recalled the incredible moment she knew changed Houston's life.
"Yeah, and on set -- she's shooting me in the Bahamas, we actually did not tell her, we did not tell Laretta that I chose her," she reveals. "Because we didn't want to rock her too much, make her too nervous. It's already a lot of responsibility. So, she's shooting me, did not know I chose her, but then all of a sudden she just walks away from the camera and starts crying. ... She started crying. It was like, I had all this makeup on my face. I had to hold it together."
Of course, a lot has changed since Banks' iconic 1997 cover, including her famous physique -- and she's more than OK with that. The former America's Next Top Model host says she's around 25 to 30 pounds heavier now, but is celebrating being real.
"I'm in a new phase. You know, I have a new body," Banks acknowledges. "I'll be honest, I do know how to lose weight. I know what to eat, I have one of the best nutritionists in the world, who is my homegirl, and when I have to pull it together to play [her Life-Size character] Eve ... I call her and we pull it together. And when I was like, OK, I'm gonna shoot SI again, I was like, 'OK, I'm gonna pull it together. I'm gonna get my body the same exact size from 22 years ago.' And I started it and I was so focused, and then I went to my mom's house and there were some Cheetos, and I just had the Cheetos, and that was like the gateway in, and I was like, 'After Cheetos, you have to have an ice cream party!'"
"My mom, my son and I went to the grocery store," she continues. "We had strawberry, coffee ice cream, we had green tea ice cream, chocolate, vanilla -- a spread! Three spoons and just kinda played musical ice cream, and that was even deeper. From there, I just lost my mind. So, shooting in the Bahamas? Grits with shrimp every morning, bread and butter, pancakes. I don't know what happened. And I don't think it was just, 'I'm losing control!' I think it was, let me just celebrate what I am now and just be real, because I'm constantly telling people, beauty in all sizes, beauty at all ages. But here I am trying to look like my old self? So, I think subconsciously it was kinda like, 'Nah. Let's show 'em what's up now.'"
Of course, being a veteran in the business, Banks definitely still knows how to look her best.
"I've taught modeling for years and years," she notes. "So, I know how to pose, I know what to do. I know to stick the booty out and push the face up. There's tricks that I know how to do to look more in shape than I am. But you'll see the video footage from SI -- roll it right now! And you'll see kinda the jiggle jiggle that I can't control, 'cause it's motion camera."
Banks is also ready for her haters.
"The internet -- particularly social media -- is the most beautiful thing in the world, and the meanest thing in the world," she shares. "So, I know there's gonna be people puttin' pictures next to each other going, 'Oh, she's thicker now, she's this, she's that, sit your old a** down...' I know that's gonna happen, but I didn't do this for them -- actually, I did do it for them. I did do it for them."
"Because the people who are saying that have negativity associated with themselves, with body, with age," she continues. "The person that is telling somebody to 'sit your old a** down' is terrified of aging. So, actually, I did it for them!"