Victoria On “America’s Next Top Model” And The Scourge Of Faux Concern

Every reality show competition has its oddball and Victoria on “America’s Next Top Model” fits it to a ‘T.’ She was homeschooled, attends online schooling at uber-religious Liberty University, and when she “gets in character” she over-acts during all her photoshoots … like in the most recent episode when she spat at the photographer. Victoria also just so happens to be the girl I want to win; she takes some of the best pictures, and easily has the best work ethic (which is half the battle).

Over the past several episodes of “ANTM,” the other girls have been closing in on Victoria. It started with snotty comments about Victoria being weird — which, sure, she is. Then it exacerbated in the episode before last when, at judging, the girls told Tyra Banks that they think Victoria isn’t eating enough — which, if we can go off the way producers have edited the show, is probably also true. Victoria defended herself and said she doesn’t have an eating disorder, she’s just extremely anxious about the competition and being away from her mom for the first time — which, again, is probably true. Tyra then pronounced she deeply cares about the health and well-being of the girls on her show, threatened that if Victoria restricts her eating she’s out of the competition, and vowed to keep an eye on her.

Then, on Friday night’s episode, all of this hoopla went even further: the remaining girls in the house confronted Victoria, telling her they don’t think she’s  stable enough to continue with the competition.

Before I go on, I want to be clear that I don’t think you can seriously, accurately diagnose anyone you watch on reality TV. We know these shows are heavily edited to serve a formulaic narrative set forth by the producers predicated on dramatizing conflict within a group of people who have already been cast for their conflicting personalities to begin with. (You can find out more about reality show casting — aka “the Snooki formula” — straight from the horse’s mouth here.) You can’t discount the fact that reality TV is heavily, heavily, heavily edited. Therefore it’s easy to paint Victoria as “crazy,” which is clearly what producers want us to think because they’ve repeatedly included the other girls in the house saying as much.

The other girls in the house repeatedly call Victoria the stigmatizing word “crazy” behind her back. But to her face and to Tyra? It’ s a different story.  At panel (watch below), they behave as if they are coming from a place of real concern. That ain’t real concern. That is faux concern. And it’s the faux concern that we call “concern trolling” because it comes from a place of judgment rather than solving a real problem. This is not the way to behave if someone has a legit problem. Concern isn’t concern if it includes social snubbing, cattiness, and a lack of sincerity.

Maybe some of the girls actually have genuine concerns about Victoria, but they’re going about it in the wrong way (rolling their eyes behind Victoria at panel, etc.).  That’s understandable to a degree because it’s a competition; they are probably hoping Victoria will self-immolate from buckling under the stress and they’ll have one less girl to fight against. However, other girls in the house seem all too gleeful to encourage that self-immolation.  In fact, the way Kristen is treating Victoria is straight-up bullying. I don’t think Kristen has a single ounce of genuine concern over Victoria’s health, despite repeatedly saying she thinks Victoria is unstable. Kristen is instead trying to push Victoria over the edge on purpose so she’ll leave the competition — which, if she genuinely thinks Victoria is so fractured, is kinda evil.

Panel judge Kelly Cutrone addressed the bullying during panel, issuing a stern warning to the other girls. Tyra, as far as we can tell from the editing, stayed silent. And that’s part of the problem. “Faux-concern on reality shows, especially on ‘ANTM,’ is a top-down problem. Tyra Banks is not only a judge but an executive producer, and reportedly an extremely hands-on one, getting her hands dirty setting the narrative and editing direction,” Jennifer L. Pozner, author of Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth About Guilty Pleasure TV, wrote to me in an email. “Tyra always frames herself as the concerned big sister who wants to look out for the models’ physical and mental health, yet behind the scenes she manipulates scenarios to cause the maximum emotional angst possible, pits girls against one another, and creates narratives that are deeply misleading and dangerous about health and eating.” I can’t be the only one waiting for Tyra to actually step in as she warned she would and address Victoria’s mental health and/or eating issues, whatever they may be.

Watching this go down on “ANTM” leaves a sour taste in my mouth because I know of what I speak: when I was 24 or 25, a friend of mine took me aside and said that he was really concerned about my anxiety and depression. He said other people were concerned, too, and that he thought I needed to ask for help. He was right, of course, and I got serious about taking care of my depression in a real way. Almost four years later, I’m much happier and healthier. To an extent, I credit that frank conversation with my friend as a wakeup call.

That said, do I think Victoria has some actual issues that she might want to seek treatment for after the show is done taping? Definitely. I already wrote about her uncomfortably close relationship with her mom. And you can tell from the way she outwardly freaks out every time she calls her mom that she’s riddled with more anxiety about the competition than the other girls. She’s said so herself that she doesn’t eat a lot because she’s anxious — which, to be honest, is something that I used to do in college when I was feeling overwhelmed as well. Do I think she is “crazy,” whatever that means? No. How old is Victoria, 18? 19? For better or for worse, these are fairly typical negative responses for a young person handling immense amounts of stress. Victoria reminds me somewhat of a younger version of myself; she reminds me very, very much of a younger version of my best friend, who, incidentally, also has a close relationship with her mother and a somewhat sheltered upbringing.

I don’t know what is going to happen to Victoria in future episodes or after the show is complete. I do hope she gets the help she needs and is able to piece herself together. Watching what Victoria is going through at the hands of the other girls in the house makes me only want her to succeed even more.

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