Banks was born in Los Angeles, California and attended Immaculate Heart High School, an all-girls, independent Catholic private school in Los Angeles.
Growing up, she was very thin and often teased; she was considered to be an "ugly duckling". Banks later said that this was a very difficult time for her and she developed a "very strong self-image problem."
She is valued at US$8.8 million; she is currently ranked as the 4th highest earning supermodel.
In 1991, Banks was about to begin her freshman year at Loyola Marymount University when Elite modeling agency gave the 17-year-old her first modeling job. Prior to this entry into the fashion world, Banks had been rejected several times for modeling assignments.
In fact, she states that she did not deem her first job to be the start of a long career in fashion: "An agent saw pictures of me and said that I was the only girl she wanted to take back to Paris […] I didn't leave thinking I was going to be some big fashion model. I just wanted to make money for college."
Consequently, instead of heading to university, Banks went to Paris for fashion shows and soon gained international renown for her work. After several years, it emerged that Naomi Campbell
was not particularly fond of Banks' increasing success, with the British supermodel trying to have Banks excluded from shows for Chanel. The pair since reconciled their differences during a taping of The Tyra Banks
Show in 2005.
Despite these difficulties, Banks' career took off. She was the first African-American to be featured on the covers of Gentlemen's Quarterly, Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue, and the Victoria's Secret catalog, but is most famous for her Victoria's Secret work. And in 1997 she won the prestigious Michael Award for Supermodel of the Year.
Banks has done runway shows in Paris, Milan, Tokyo, U.S., and London. She has been featured in a variety of magazines, commercials, and billboards. Her modeling credits include CoverGirl, Swatch, Pepsi, Nike, Tommy Hilfiger, Victoria's Secret, Ralph Lauren, Mcdonalds, and Dolce & Gabbana. Banks has graced international fashion magazines, including the covers of Vogue, Elle, ELLEgirl, L'Officiel and Sports Illustrated.
In a time when some fashion models were described as being too skinny, Banks stood out with a more voluptuous physique at 5' 10½" tall and reported measurements of 34½-23½-35½. Banks had to work hard to persuade fashion designers that her physique was well-suited to the catwalk. She says: "I was proactive [...] I told my agency to call Victoria's Secret, and I told them to call Sports Illustrated [...] I said my body is changing, and seamstresses are calling me grosso in Italian, and I know what the hell that means. And I'm not about to starve."
Banks addressed her physique in an interview with The Sun, saying, "I am totally against plastic surgery. A lot of people think I have breast implants because I have the biggest boobs in the business. But I was a 34C when I was 17… They stay up when I wear a push-up bra. But if people could see me when I come home and take off my bra, how could they think these are fake?"  She is known for being openly proud of her body, once commenting, "Some models are quite flat-chested so they can run around without bouncing. I can't […]
Black women don't have the same body image problems as white women. They are proud of their bodies. Black men love big butts." Banks has made a point of shaking with her posterior while walking down the runway, particularly during Victoria's Secret fashion shows. This has been commented upon by fans of the supermodel, fellow supermodel Heidi Klum
, as well as Banks herself.
Despite her tremendous success as a supermodel, Banks began venturing from modeling to becoming a media personality after 2000. She is the emcee, head judge, and an executive producer of the UPN television show America's Next Top Model. Banks has also been working on a musical career, and during season two of America's Next Top Model the contestants danced in her first music video.
Since then, she has been in the studio working with experienced record producers including Darkchild. She also acts as the patron for TZONE, a leadership program for young girls that according to the organisation, "reinforces core values of trust and support, challenges teen girls to resist negative social pressures, and enhances self-empowerment—inspiring girls to become confident leaders in their communities."
She has also established the Tyra Banks
Scholarship, a fund aimed at providing African-American girls the opportunity to attend her alma mater, Immaculate Heart High School.
Banks has had a number of high-profile relationships with men, including director John Singleton, basketballer Chris Webber, and Seal (who later married model Heidi Klum
). Banks has expressed her preference for a relationship with a "normal guy" in order to escape the pressures of being together with another well-known celebrity and the media scrutiny that comes with it.
Her personal wealth is estimated at over US$8.8 million from runway shows alone, making her currently one of the five wealthiest supermodels.