Tyra Banks was a skeptical beauty. Growing up, she thought of herself as a "tall, beanpole freak."
But when she was in 11th grade, a modeling agent discovered her, and soon she was on her way to Paris for runway modeling. Designers were struck by her exotic beauty and booked her for an unprecedented 25 shows. She made modeling history again as the first African-American woman featured on the covers of G2, the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue and the Victoria's Secret catalog.
Despite her success, the supermodel remains mindful of the challenges faced by other girls and young women, including the same kinds of self-doubt Banks faced when she was younger.
Her TZone Foundation identifies and provides resources to community nonprofits to help young women grappling with self-esteem, self-respect and body-image issues. "TZone is not a place; it is a commitment to empower girls to be fierce, focused and in control of their futures," Banks says on the foundation's Web site.
Banks took control of her own future early on. She sought a career beyond modeling and, in 2003, started Bankable Productions, which launched her hit reality show, America's Next Top Model, followed in 2005 by her Emmy-winning talk show, The Tyra Banks Show. This year, she launched the reality show True Beauty.
In all her shows, Banks comes across as a mentor, a big sister, an aunt. In America's Next Top Model, Banks gives advice to aspiring models and teaches them that their intellect, humor and attitude can make--or break--their careers. The Tyra Banks Show often features themes aimed at helping young women improve their...