Naomi Campbell and Tyra Banks are two of the finest, most elegant supermodels to have ever walked the planet. Yet, instead of celebrating their impact and accomplishments, mainstream media chose to pit the two women against each other. In this particular case, there seems to be some truth to this apparent feud, but their rivalry is as much a reflection of their times as it is a product of their own resentments and jealousies. 

Their “feud” primarily lasted in the 90s, and the two have moved on to different ventures in recent years. Yet, it’s still significant to examine how Naomi and Tyra have grown and evolved over the years and how they perceive the conflict that had brewed between them over 25 years ago. 

Today, they stand as icons, as mentors who are guiding a new generation of models through what can be an incredibly dehumanizing, savage, and competitive industry. Therefore, it’s more important than ever to study how the feud played out and forced them to face the realities of this cruel world. 

Naomi was allegedly “doing everything in her power” to drive Tyra away

(Photo by Jamie McCarthy/WireImage for Full Picture)

Tyra opened up to the Wall Street Journal and described her early relationship with Naomi, which, by the sound of it, was not smooth sailing in the least. Tyra scored her first major modeling contract during Paris Fashion Week in the early nineties. She had temporarily moved to Paris to study fashion and modeling and had impressed brands like Chanel and Yves St. Laurent with her dynamic look and charm. 

By Tyra’s account, she had been trying to build a friendship with Naomi and was looking to find a mentor in Naomi. However, Naomi was apparently not having it and was reportedly looking for ways to oust Tyra from the industry. Tyra emphatically rejects claims that they were rivals because that implies a level of equality between them. Instead, Tyra viewed their relationship as something else — Naomi was a “dominant” supermodel at the height of her career, whereas Tyra was just finding her feet; a “new girl that had got on a plane from Paris and was studying fashion and magazines.”

As a result, Tyra was experiencing “very painful early days in Paris.” She couldn’t figure out why her childhood idol would neglect and disregard her so readily. She was hoping to gather a wealth of knowledge from Naomi, but instead, she felt like there was no place at the table for her. 

As much as I was booking fashion shows, people didn’t know I was going home at night crying my eyes out because the woman I was looking up to seemed like she just didn’t want me to be there and was doing everything in her power to make me go away. 

Tyra Banks on The Wall Street Journal

Naomi admits she “made mistakes” in her twenties 

In 2005, Tyra invited Naomi over to The Tyra Banks Show and addressed their so-called rivalry head-on. Tyra recalled multiple instances in which she felt slighted or insulted by Naomi. In one incident, Naomi “accosted” Tyra after she got off the phone with her aunt and called her the “B-word.” Naomi had presumed that Tyra had been saying horrible things about Naomi behind her back, but, in reality, she was gushing to her aunt about Naomi.

In another incident, Naomi allegedly told Tyra, “You’ll never be me. Don’t think you can be me.” This exchange, as described by Tyra, was one of “the most difficult times” in Tyra’s entire life. 

Naomi denied this accusation but also added that she didn’t “know [herself]” in her twenties. She was surrounded by editors, photographers, publicists, hairstylists, and make-up artists, all of whom filled her head with theories and told her that the new girl was out to steal her job. However, as she retired from the industry and allowed herself to pursue other sources of fulfillment, she realized that she didn’t know herself in her twenties. 

Unlike Tyra, Naomi didn’t have her family members supporting her as she navigated the brutal world of beauty, fashion, and catwalks. Naomi said recently that she admits her mistakes and is a “work in progress,” but, at the same time, she will not stand by if people try to provoke her or try to walk all over her. She’ll stand up for her right when she needs to. 

I’ve lived my life in front of the world and have made many mistakes. I own my mistakes. I’ve learned from my mistakes […] It comes with the territory that people want to provoke you, and you have to roll with the punches. But… as everyone knows, I’m not going to be walked over. 

Naomi Campbell on Vogue’s Forces of Fashion

Tyra said their feud was the result of needing to be the “token” Black model

Though it’s safe to say that the feud is still alive in some form or the other, both parties understand that some bygones have to be bygones. Tyra said in the same WSJ interview that as a young girl, she thought Naomi’s treatment of her was “evil” and “awful.”

She went on to explain that Naomi was only reacting to an industry that didn’t have much room for multiple Black models. Therefore, industry leaders didn’t know how they could accommodate two Black women with two huge personalities. It’s no surprise that Naomi felt protective of her position in the industry and felt like Tyra could dethrone her.

Though it’s anyone’s guess as to how much the feud involved and whether Tyra herself is to blame for some of the conversations, it’s clear that we must also be forgiving of Naomi and what she felt like she had to do to retain agency in an industry that actively tried to threaten and unnerve her. 

Adult me understands that [Naomi] was reacting to an industry that was all about a token […] There’s only one spot available. 

Tyra Banks on The Wall Street Journal

Tyra also cited examples of white models who somehow escaped this level of competition and scrutiny. No one was telling the white models that another white girl could come in and take their spot. This may have gone over Naomi and Tyra’s heads as young girls, but both have done considerable work in healing from the past. 

Don’t let competition ruin your morals

The modelling industry may be known for being intensely competitive and cold, but rivalries will permeate through every single facet of life. Occasionally, you will feel like someone is out to get out, replace you, and steal your crown. You will also be on the other end of the spectrum — wondering if you have to beat someone to take their spot or if they won’t let you in because they are threatened by you. 

But all we can do is learn from Tyra and Naomi’s mistakes, as they themselves did. We have to know that competition is not a reason to shed away the last vestiges of human decency. Being supportive of someone’s success doesn’t mean you’ve failed or that your own success is fading away. Solidarity and empathy will always beat envy and jealousy. Rivalries come and go, but the value of friendship will remain forever intact. 

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