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Tyra Banks Remembers Her Teen Years

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Tyra Banks is proud of her debut book. Paul Zimmerman/Getty Images North America

Tyra Banks is more than a supermodel -- she's a full-fledged media mogul, whose brand includes TV's "America's Next Top Model," fashion and beauty website, and now her first novel Modelland. The refreshing thing about the 37-year-old former talk show host is that, unlike some celebs, she's quick to credit her education with all the success she has today. In fact, after putting college on hold right after high school to try runway modeling in Paris, this year Tyra stunned everyone by enrolling at Harvard Business School, where she's scheduled to graduate in February.

The brainy beauty puts such an emphasis on education that she recently partnered with the non-profit organization Get Schooled, whose mission is to improve high school graduation rates, college readiness, and college completion rates. She surprised more than 400 students at the High School for Teaching and Professions in the Bronx, New York, with a celebration for raising their attendance four percent in two weeks as part of the Get Schooled national attendance challenge. After the fun, Tyra made time to talk to omg! about her high school years, her new book, and much more.

What kind of student were you? Did you always see the benefit of going to class?
"I used to talk a lot and get in trouble for talking when the teacher was talking, [but] I understood that [school] was a means to be able to reach my goals, so I really appreciated it. The first day of class I would try to sit in the front. I really was kind of obsessed with my English literature class and [my] teacher, Mr. [Terry] Vliet, made me love reading and writing, and I think without his class I wouldn't have written my own book."

Do you still keep in touch with Mr. Vliet? (She thanks him in her book.)
"When I was on 'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire' celebrity edition many years ago, I had him as a phone-a-friend!"

Were you involved in any activities at school?
"Yes. My freshman year I ran for student class president and lost. The next year I ran for student class vice president and I won. It was really gratifying because I [beat] the girl who won the first year. And I wouldn't say I was super Miss Popular, but we had a very small school. My class was a little bit over a hundred, so it was like a big family and it was all girls. And, you know, we wore a uniform every day. To this day I hate having to think about what I have to wear in life because the uniform was so complete."

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Tyra attends a Get Schooled pep rally. Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images for Get Schooled

So you liked wearing a uniform, even though you're so into fashion?
"Yeah, I liked it because you didn't have to think. I could focus on school … but we wore like high fashion uniforms. We had choices: a gray skirt, a yellow cotton skirt, yellow culottes … and then the shirts that we had were white, baby blue, or yellow -- long or short sleeve.

We've heard how tough the modeling industry can be. Were you ever rejected as a teen?
"Oh yeah. My first six modeling agencies said no to me. The first six that I walked into said, 'No, no, no, no, no, no.' And that was not easy actually. That was probably some of the harshest rejection I've had in my entire modeling career."

How did you deal with that rejection?
"I think I did those first appointments with my mother, and I just had her as that encouragement to say, 'Let's just keep going to the next one.' When I wanted to give up she said, 'No, we have a whole list of these places and this is what you want to do. You shouldn't give up.'"

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The model-turned-media mogul goes glam. Gary Gershoff/WireImage

Do you have any words of advice for girls who aren't happy with their looks right now?
"Well, there's a lot of pressure to be a certain weight, to look a certain way. Sometimes you might even be bullied ... and I encourage girls to understand that the girl that's bullying you or the person that's bullying you is probably highly insecure no matter what they look like and they have their own struggles and they're really picking on you to make themselves feel better about themselves. For a girl that's struggling with her physicality, I tell her to go in the mirror and really look and spend some time there and try to find one thing that you find beautiful about yourself or something that you don't hate and celebrate that. If it's your eyelashes, put on extra mascara that day. If it's your waist, find a belt for that. If it's your fingers, paint 'em bright red. So it's really focusing on something that you like about yourself. And then every couple of months go back to that mirror and find something else and something else. It's a full process for people who have low self-esteem."

You just wrote your first book, a novel called Modelland, for young adults, and it's loosely based on your early years in the industry. Can you tell us more about it?
"Although it's fun and campy -- it's like one of those guilty pleasure reads about the modeling industry and one girl's trek through this crazy modeling school that has magic -- but at the same time, the underlying message is really about expanding the definition of beauty and body image. That's what I stand for. That's what I get up in the morning and hopefully continue to fight for. It's really about self-esteem and feeling good about yourself, better about your reflection."

Did you find yourself thinking about your teen years a lot when you were writing your book?
"I was constantly there. I had to put myself in that teen head when I was writing. And I had to continue to tap into how I felt [back] when I had very low self-esteem."

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The entrepreneur on her show. Jaimie Trueblood/The CW

I read that you said writing the book was so stressful that you began losing hair. What made you keep doing it?
"You know what? It came toward the end when the deadline was just kind of pounding me on the top of my head and I had no choice but to finish. [I was thinking] 'I'm in this, I have to do this,' and I went to the doctor to, you know, alleviate the situation. Now I know that I should take better care of myself when I'm under an intense deadline or else my body is gonna act in certain ways that are not good."

What's next for you?
"Well, Modelland is a trilogy, so I'm working on the second one right now, and starting development for more television shows, and, you know, '[America's Next] Top Model' 17 is on the air, but we're already starting cycle 18!"

Find out more about Get Schooled, and catch "America's Next Top Model" at 9 p.m. EST Wednesdays on the CW.

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