This past week was yet another nail-biter for fans of America's Next Top Model
contestant Whitney Thompson, as once again, the model ended up in the bottom two when it came to judging.
Not coincidentally, the episode also provided further vivid examples of the fashion industry's deeply-entrenched bias against plus-size models.
Yet despite the odds being stacked against her, and despite the hostile aesthetic inclinations of the fashion establishment, Whitney still managed to create some of the most gorgeous and feminine images of the season.
She met every adversity head-on, surviving to fight again in the forthcoming episode, on behalf of all of curvy girls--whose champion she has become.* * *
The episode opened with Whitney looking lovely and in high spirits, having rebounded from landing in the bottom two the week before. Note that the background of her camera confessional here is perhaps the most majestic structure in all of Rome, the National Monument of Victor Emmanuel II (the first king of a unified Italy).
Viewers then witnessed a candid conversation between Miss Thompson and another contestant, in which Whitney admitted, "Every time I'm in panel, I always feel like I'm going to break down in tears. It's just so nerve-wracking."
The exchange highlighted one of the many reasons why Miss Thompson is so popular with fans--her vulnerability. Whitney is confident, to be sure, but these moments of feminine frailty endear her to viewers even more.
Next followed several images of the contestants in various casual domestic situations. These candids frequently reveal Whitney's beauty even better than her photoshoots do.
Notice once again how much Whitney's angelic appearance is enhanced by her cascading blonde tresses. One always wishes that she were fuller-figured, but in every other way, she is an ideal plus-size goddess.
The weekly "Tyra Mail" communiqué proved baffling to the five remaining contestants,
and--as Whitney acknowledged in one of her loveliest on-set confessionals--the girls were none the wiser when they arrived on location. The following screencap is, incidentally, one of our all-time favourite images of the model. There is something immensely appropriate about seeing a plus-size goddess amidst the remains of Imperial Rome, which was a part of the Classical civilization that originally enshrined the full-figured ideal.
In a subsequent camera aside, Whitney described--with great enthusiasm--the nature of the episode's surprise challenge: a "combat" shoot featuring the models dressed in gladiatrix attire.
Note, by the way, how appropriate are Whitney's various backdrops--the Victor Emmanuel memorial, seen earlier, and the dome of St. Peter's, shown here. As monuments to kings and popes, they invoke notions of primacy and pre-eminence (characteristics that suit Whitney extremely well).
Whitney's blonde tresses looked especially pretty in the training session prior to the photo challenge,
and with the sun illuminating her hair, she seemed more angelic than ever.
Whitney was very focussed during the fencing lesson, picking up movements that served her well in the actual challenge.
But it was the wardrobe that really made this photo session come alive.
Although the shoot explored a gladiator/gladiatrix theme, Whitney's outfit seemed rather more Teutonic.
Her attire somewhat resembled that of the Visigoths who sacked Rome in the empire's waning years.
In fact, she looked extraordinary beautiful in this outfit, like a warrior queen out of a fantasy novel, or like one of the Valkyries of Teutonic mythology.
But Whitney, always feminine, brought a girlish touch to her role as a Norse princess. After seeing the colossal brute with whom she and her fellow contestants would be sparring in the photo challenge, she remarked, "I thought we were going to be fighting each other, if anything; not some huge, monstrous, ogre-like being."
In fact, Whitney excelled in this photoshoot, despite the challenging requirement of looking model-like while convincingly portraying a warrior. As she said in a camera aside, "Finding the modelling poses is really not that difficult. It's bringing grace and poise to what you're doing."
Although Whitney was unfortunately sucking in her tummy for this shoot, the alluring breadth of her waist was still visible. (Notice the ram's-head design on her belt.)
In fact, it is easy to see this photo challenge as a metaphor for Whitney's own struggle on the show. The "monstrous, ogre-like being" attacking her represents the mainstream fashion industry, with its institutionalized anti-plus prejudice, while Whitney is the champion of true femininity, fighting to restore the timeless beauty-ideal.
The judges noticed Whitney's adeptness, and gave her rare praise for her performance.
Photoshoot director Jay Manuel made approving comments throughout the shoot, and later stated, "Whitney, you did a good job. Keeping yourself open to the camera really served you in this."
Runway coach J. Alexander observed, "You were very comfortable in it, and that's what Jay and I both noticed."
To which Mr. Manuel added, "And very unafraid."
After her shoot, Whitney offered an entertaining appraisal of another model's abysmal performance.
Be sure to watch the video excerpts (linked below) to hear what Whitney had in mind when she parodied her competitor's approach.
When it came time to declare a challenge winner, Whitney looked rather impassive--no doubt expecting more of the bogus critiques that she has been receiving throughout the competition.
But when her best picture was displayed, it proved to be a hit with all concerned.
Whitney became more animated when the judges revealed the prize for winning the challenge--a 1,000 Euro ($1,550) shopping spree in Rome.
And when the judges announced that she
was the winner, she positively exploded with joy.
At last, after being cheated out of victory week after week (entirely due to size-prejudice), Whitney was finally given her due. Her happiness was infectious.
The judges added another wrinkle, however, when they offered her an option--she could take all of the money for herself, or she could split it with one of the other contestants.
For one brief moment--and one delightful facial expression--Whitney pondered what to do.
But in the end, in an act of remarkable generosity, she chose to split her winnings with one of her fellow competitors.* * *
The video montage of the girls' shopping excursion was a real treat.
As anyone who has enjoyed such a privilege will attest, there is no pleasure in the world quite so delightful as taking a gorgeous, slightly spoiled, self-indulgent beauty on a shopping trip.
One gets the pleasure of seeing a de facto
fashion show, right before one's eyes.
Whitney had the time of her life, and, as always, offered witty camera commentary along the way. "I look like a mushroom,"
she said, when trying on this hat. (Actually, she looked very pretty.)
Miss Thompson's shopping partner commented on her extraordinary generosity, saying, "I am so happy for Whitney. I thought it was so kind of her to choose me to come along."
As Whitney enthused afterwards, in one of her gorgeous camera confessionals, "I got so much stuff that my arms, like, physically hurt."
And one look at this picture of the two girls laden down with shopping bags, returning home after their excursion, confirms that she didn't exaggerate in the least.* * *
With all of the preliminary activity out of the way, the show then proceeded to the main shoot of the week. But first, viewers were treated to this extraordinarily attractive headshot of Whitney, showing her reaction to another cryptic "Tyra Mail" missive. Just look at how gorgeously round her face appears in this still.
Given Miss Thompson's princess-like appearance, the show's producers must have realized that the ideal location for a Whitney pictorial would be a medieval castle. And that's exactly where they took the contestants for their next photo session--to the Castello di Torre
, just outside Rome.
And didn't Whitney look every bit the storybook princess as she left her carriage, and entered the castle courtyard . . .
Never has a plus-size model been photographed in a more appropriate local than Whitney was in this episode. Her majestic tresses seemed especially beautifully arranged for the occasion.
To the girls' astonishment, the week's photographer turned out to be none other than . . . Tyra Banks herself. In a camera aside, Whitney commented on the particular pressure that this put on her, and how imperative it was for her to do well.
Whitney's wardrobe for this shoot was especially beautiful. In fact, this was the most gorgeous outfit that she has been given in any episode to date. But rather than presenting Miss Thompson as a storybook princess--as one might expect, given her fair appearance--the show daringly outfitted her in the darker attire of an Evil Queen (somewhat reminiscent of Barbara Brickner's wardrobe in her legendary shoot with Douglas Bizzaro), with black lace and elaborate gold accessories.
The following close-up of Whitney is one of the most breathtaking images of the model to date. Everything element in the styling contributes to a sense of extravagant opulence and luxuriance. The blood-red lipstick makes Whitney's mouth seem seductively profane. The gold accessories bespeak greed and wealth. The model's heavily-lidded gaze looks alluringly indolent. Her shoulders are soft and rounded, with the delicate lace strap barely clinging to the flesh, as if it were ready to slip off in an instant. Her face appears particularly full. The impression is that of a woman of intoxicating wickedness and selfishness, with an almost limitlessly appetitive nature. Nothing could be more alluring than the persona that Whitney created in this still.
As Whitney's shoot drew near, the stylist replaced the pink element in her hairstyle (seen above) with a dark-red hue. Both work well--the colour-coordination of the entire outfit was brilliant--but frankly, the original pink might have been the better choice.
What an extraordinary difference this outfit presented from Whitney's usual look, as seen here. The angel had veritably been transformed into the temptress.
The shoot began well enough, with Whitney emerging like a grande dame.
Upon seeing her, Tyra was prompted to exclaim, "Whoo, lady! Lookin' like hot stuff."
Notice, incidentally, that this section of the castle was not particularly glamorous--a reminder that many central European countries were ravaged in the early 20th century, with foreign occupying armies causing untold damage to many cultural monuments.
From the first, Whitney's poses were intensely sensual, exhibiting her voluptuous figure.
She appeared fully cognizant of her own allure, exuding indolent sexuality and intoxicating vanity.
Whitney's poses were magnificent, amply displaying her well-fed curves, showing off her buxom contours.
Her expressions suggested a vain, self-indulgent nature--one entirely in keeping with the sumptuous wardrobe and the castle setting. Just look at the smouldering passion in her eyes.
But alas, here is where timeless beauty collided with the warped aesthetic of the modern fashion world. Absurdly, the photographer and creative director faulted
her for having a figure, and for showing it off.
Instead--insultingly--then required her to look smaller, to diminish her womanly curves.
They asked her to cave in her chest, to compress herself visually. Their every direction expressed an antagonism towards voluptuousness, and a preference for a minimized shape.
Other girls were unaccountably praised for exhibiting "angles" (of all things), for having figures that looked "broken." But Whitney, by nature (as a plus-size model), did not pose in that manner. Her movements adhered to an entirely different style--Classically beautiful, and therefore more appropriate for her own luscious figure, and more fitting for the opulent aesthetic of the wardrobe and the location.
The following screencap displays the position into which they required Whitney to contort herself--much
less appealing than her initial poses, but at least still somewhat attractive, in contrast to the ugly, disfigured stances of her minus-size competitors.
But Whitney, always the professional, did what she was asked, and still looked curvaceous and indomitable as she elegantly strode away.
In this final look at Whitney's outfit, note the purple-coloured lingerie beneath her lacy dress. Purple has been Whitney's signature "dark" colour in several shoots--and, as the colour of royalty, it suits her extremely well.* * *
Back at the house, Whitney was clearly apprehensive after the shoot. Once again, she was in the familiar situation of knowing that her own approach had been superior to the instructions that she was given. (Notice how soft and babylike her features appear in profile.)
She was quite sombre while reading the "Tyra Mail" missive informing the girls' of the immanent panel session.
In conversation with her fellow contestants, Whitney admitted her concerns. From the beginning, she has always been very genuine and open before the camera, and this quality has helped to make her a fan favourite.* * *
Despite her apprehensions, Whitney came to panel as she always does--beaming, bubbly, and happy, a veritable a ray of sunshine.
She laughed at a Tyra witticism,
and instinctively adopted model poses while waiting for her evaluation.
Oh, how lovely she looked as she approached the panel, when her name was called.
Note, in this chance still, how confident and proud Whitney appears, while a fellow competitor in the background hangs her head in shame, as if acknowledging the better candidate.
As we have observed before, Whitney's expressions in the panel sessions are as beautiful as any of her modelling poses.
She beamed with pride as J. Alexander applauded her victory in the Gladiatrix photo challenge,
and she looked on expectantly as the judges were shown the selected image from the castle shoot.
That image was beautiful, to be sure,
and the expression filled with emotion,
but it was not as exquisite as her initial poses--and Whitney's concern was evident.
She listened solemnly as the judges offered their critiques.
While the spectacle of Whitney receiving a weekly dressing-down is excruciating for fans to watch, these scenes do show Whitney exhibiting many fascinating expressions, in which her beauty is especially pronounced.
After the evaluation, Whitney looked uncommonly dispirited--but all the more gorgeous as a result. She must surely have been thinking, "Is this it for me?"* * *
Unbeknownst to Miss Thompson, when the judges conferred in private, they did praise her talent. Paulina commented that "Whitney is so beautiful when you see her in life," while photographer Nigel Barker affirmed, "There's a lot to Whitney. She's confident and she has an opinion, and I think all those things are what makes someone rounded and interesting--and ultimately, a good model."
The competitors were then called back. Notice how the cameraman always focusses on Whitney, even when she is in the midst of a group, or when she is at the back. Somehow, the lens always finds her.
Miss Thompson experienced the misery of seeing every other competitor called out before her,
and once again, she wound up in the bottom two. Notice her curvy abdomen in this image.
She almost seemed to be in physical pain as she endured--for this third time--this harrowing ordeal.
In describing the bottom two girls' strengths and weaknesses, Tyra told Whitney, "You're very interesting to me because I find you so beautiful to my eye."
Tyra offered more praise during these tense moments, saying: "And then, we have Whitney. Whitney, the girl with the bangin' body, and the gorgeous face, and has been taking strong pictures, and even won the challenge this week. And the judges say, 'Oh my God, she's so stunning.'"
The cloud of impending doom was upon her--only making her seem that much lovelier.
At one point, she even had to gasp for breath, so heavily did the situation weigh upon her.
Watch, in the video, how she whispers "Oh, my God," and her whole frame trembles, as she is spared elimination.
She could barely contain her emotion as she received her picture from Tyra.
She looked so angelic--truly like a little girl--as she thanked the panel for allowing her to continue.
And were those . . . tears that we saw in her shining eyes?
Yes. Any viewers who watched to the end of the episode saw Whitney wiping away tears from her eyes, as the eliminated candidate said her farewells. The episode began with Whitney saying, "Every time I'm in panel, I always feel like I'm going to break down in tears"
--and this time, touchingly, she did.
Despite her third heart-stopping near-elimination, Whitney has moved on to the final four, which is the highest position that any plus-size model has ever reached in ANTM.
We look forward to the coming episode, and earnestly hope for her success.
- Click here to view video excerpts