Sometimes, I feel as though I’m living in an alternate universe. Don’t get me wrong, I like my little world. But every so often, I look around me, shake my head, and wonder.
Take for example Friday morning. Checking through my school email, I found a link to top Yahoo! stories that made me blink twice and then decide I had to find out more about it. The headline? “Antarctica not bikini friendly, says Upton.” You’d think that would be obvious. So why did it need to be said?
It turns out that Kate Upton, for her photo shoot for the recent “Sports Illustrated” swimsuit issue, was in fact sent to Antarctica. The article in Yahoo! quotes her as saying, “When I came back I was losing hearing and eyesight because my body was shutting down. It was working so hard to keep me warm. My mom’s in my ear going ‘I told you not to go there. It’s a bad idea!’” The article followed up this quote by noting, “Planning for this shoot took about three years due to costs and scheduling, marking it as the first-ever fashion shoot that has taken place in Antarctica.” Wheeeee! History is being made! Later on, the article said, “The only bummer is that Day didn’t get the chance to tell Upton in person that all her hard work paid off. The model found out she landed the cover via Twitter when it leaked four days early. / Still, Upton is absolutely thrilled.”
So her body nearly shut down – which to me means she was at risk of dying – and the “only bummer” is that she found out secondhand that she had won the honor of being on the cover? As my students would say, how messed up is that?
Speaking of the cover, on which she is wearing only a bikini bottom and an open parka, there is an organization, “Beauty Redefined,” which was begun by twins Lindsay and Lexie Kite, who are about to receive doctorates in communication from the University of Utah. As reported in the “Salt Lake Tribune,” Beauty Redefined sells sticky note pads, $5.00 for a 50-note pad, which feature phrases such as “You are capable of so much more than looking hot.” Lindsay and Lexie are working hard to send a message to Sports Illustrated, and an image of Ms. Upton’s cover with one of their sticky notes covering her up from the neck down, is in fact getting some airplay on the Internet. To date, to my knowledge, Sports Illustrated has not responded. I have, however, seen several messages (from people of different genders) on Twitter commenting on how viewing the image with the sticky note humanized Ms. Upton.
It is absolutely critical that our students are aware of such outrages, including the subtext, and that they have a sense of how they can respond – that they feel their own power in the face of the ongoing dehumanizing of women in the media. And I do feel that awareness is higher than ever this year. The key will be to ensure these kids, as they grow into womanhood, keep their awareness, keep their voice, keep their sense of power – and furthermore, to instill these attitudes into new students as they join our community so that the fight for true respect and equity not only continues but also expands.