“If I can help girls who are going through body-image issues, I think that’s amazing.”
The Kate Upton quote was everywhere. I came upon it late in one of the celebrity weeklies, I don’t remember which one, while having my hair blown out a little more than a week ago.
Really, Kate Upton, you think that knowing you face challenges as a stunningly beautiful, curvy outlier in the modeling world, a status that made you world-famous and very rich almost overnight, makes Jane Q. Ordinary Teenager feel better about her body-image issues? You think that your swimsuit pictures and your “Game of War” TV spots in which you’re done up in goddess white and gold to show off your natural (body) and practiced (equestrian skill) assets make said teenager think, “Kate and I — the same anxieties”?
I looked for context on the quote. In our sound-byte, aggregated world, celebrity musings are constantly reprinted out of context, often sans attribution, in the interests of pith and page views. In a Google search, Upton’s quote came up on countless Web sites, attributed either not at all or to an interview by Dan Rookwood in The Evening Standard that ran on April 23. Rookwood did indeed interview Upton at a recent shoot in the Meatpacking District. However, the body-image comment didn’t originate in their conversation, which itself got considerable play in the media. Rather, Rookwood used the “has said” construction to indicate that this particular thought was not spoken to him but by his subject at some time in the past — a fair usage, even if the omission of attribution is questionable.
He wrote: “In an industry much criticized for promoting size-zero bodies as the ideal, Upton has been championed as a poster woman for the ‘strong not skinny’ movement and she has willingly picked up that baton. ‘I’m happy to be seen as a good example,’ she has said. ‘If I can help girls who are going through body-image issues, I think that’s amazing.’”
Rookwood researched the quote from a January 2013 British Vogue cover story by Sarah Harris; it ran on the magazine’s Web site on Dec. 6, 2012. It read: “‘I never imagined that I would be in a position to be a role model. I just focused on being healthy and being the best that I could be,’ explains the former swimsuit model, who is currently single and lives alone in her New York apartment in Manhattan’s Flatiron District. ‘I’m happy to be seen as a good example. If I can help and influence girls who are going through body-image issues then I think that’s amazing.’”
Spoken two-and-a-half years ago, eons in the life of any then-20-year-old, particularly one transitioning from normal anonymity to swimsuit model bombshell to all-purpose, world-famous model bombshell. Asked a similar question today, she might answer differently or dodge. For her comment to have been repeatedly misread as new, and therefore news, speaks to the problem of journalistic carelessness in the age of aggregation. Granted, it’s Kate Upton’s take on body image and not exactly drone strikes in the desert, but in reporting, or in this case, re-reporting, accuracy should always matter.
Long digression on waning journalistic standards over and back to Kate Upton on body image: Can anything this gorgeous young woman might have to say about her own body-based insecurities make other young women and girls feel better about theirs? Does a pimply, pudgy girl really feel better about herself upon reading that Kate Upton sometimes wishes she were less busty? Or is she as likely to think, “boy, if Kate Upton thinks she’s so imperfect, I must look even worse than I think”? Upton’s voluptuousness is no more ordinary than Karlie Kloss’ haute lankiness. They’re just different sides of the exceptional beauty coin.
When the overtly physically gifted vocalize self-doubt in those gifts, it may in fact be genuine, but to the less-gifted, it can read as annoying or worse, particularly to a fragile adolescent psyche. I don’t doubt Upton’s two-year-old good intentions or her earnestness. Surely her heart was and remains in the right place, left side, 36D or thereabouts. Nor did she feign ignorance of her own good fortune; in both articles she comes across as self-aware and smart. And in fairness, her comment sounds less ridiculous in the context of the original interview. She was asked a question and answered it. But does she really think her fame and success helps girls with body-image issues? Do short guys feel taller because Nate Robinson is a slam-dunk wonder?
Most people have some insecurities lurking somewhere, and for women, no matter how beautiful, some are likely to be based on physical appearance. But objectively gorgeous famous people (by “objectively” I mean people who make a fabulous living off of their looks and top models are, by definition, at the top of that list) shouldn’t feel compelled to express solidarity with everyone else’s body issues.
Nor should they be made to feel responsible for them. I’m not saying that media-imagery doesn’t play a role in fueling body-image insecurities. But extreme looks have always defined the modeling industry. Dovima was not a regular-looking gal. Nor were Jean Shrimpton, China Machado, Twiggy, Iman, Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell or Kate Moss. They weren’t expected to pretend otherwise or held responsible for the psychological torment of the young, media-consuming masses. Today, celebrities can’t win. The media — mainstream and social — love to rail against the skinny set and its bad influence on youth, but will turn on a dime and viciously mock a famous beautiful person who’s put on a few pounds. Who can blame celebrities, models in particular, for feeling defensive? Why is it so hard to accept that some people, a teeny tiny percentage of the world’s population, can make a living off of their looks, and that those people are called models?
It’s smart and responsible for models to project good health and lifestyle choices. They shouldn’t try to sell the notion that they’re just like other girls out there. Their job is to sell merch by selling dreams, and they don’t get to do that because they look like everybody else.