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America's Next Top Model Confronts Hate Speech

America's Next Top Model host Tyra Banks apparently spent some time on the playground. "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me," she declared during this week's episode. Oh yeah? Tell that to the queer kids. Tell that to 19-year-old ANTM contestant Kayla Ferrel, who opened up about the bullying she endured in high school for her sexuality.

Oh wait, Tyra did pass off this nursery rhyme advice as sincere consolation to the openly lesbian wannabe model crying in front of her. Uh, thanks? This week's photo shoot challenged the girls to confront the insults used against them by painting the words across their bikini-clad bodies. While most of the taunts seemed mild at best ("Casper," "elf ears," "soup coolers" ...what does that even mean?), Kayla's experience with gay slurs was genuinely emotional. She admitted fear at the thought of having "Queer" repeatedly branded to her skin.

But, as any devotee of the show knows, a Top Model always pushes through the pain. And the best of them harness it, which is what Kayla did to produce a deeply-felt image. Highlighted in the final shot, Kayla's "power" word, free, curls across the side of her neck, literally rising above the insults below. Later commenting on the beauty of the photo, guest judge Diane von Furstenberg offered the model her take on the image: "There's nothing more important than your freedom." That's right, DVF, go tell that to the queer kids.


Previously > Margaret Cho's First Cha Cha

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Phillip Crook