Frozen Beauty

I am not the resident expert on sexy, sex, sex, but recently, I stumbled upon a Sports Illustrated cover that caught my eye:

In an effort to be innovative (because the bikinis couldn’t get any skimpier), SI decided to tour all 7 continents for its swimsuit edition. The model on the cover, Kate Upton, had the pleasure of shooting  in Antarctica.

Yes, Antarctica.

For those of us who have ever braved the cold in clubbing attire, we understand the sheer agony of this feat, and we don 40% more coverage (at least I would hope).

Kate Upton modeled outside, in temperatures around -18 degrees Fahrenheit  for 6 days.  According to Upton, as she stood naked on set, she “literally couldn’t move, and the editors had to pick up [her] legs and put [her] into the next outfit.” After Upton’s grueling shoot, she suffered bouts of blindness and deafness, symptoms of hypothermia.

Despite this horrible ordeal, SI remains smug and Upton thankful for her opportunity. In the industry, when a model harms herself on set, she is accountable for taking the job. So instead of filing a lawsuit, Upton is thanking her lucky stars that she has recovered and her frozen beauty has launched her career to meteoric heights.

But, is this fair?  Did Upton freely choose to compromise her health in order  to appear on the cover of SI?

Given the cut-throat nature of the modeling industry, both models and employers understand a fundamental truth: there is little demand for bettering models’ working conditions.  If Kate Upton refused SI’s offer, there would have easily been 10, if not 100 girls who would have jumped at the offer. Models are dispensable. Career-defining opportunities are not.

This psychology has long-fueled the industry’s battle with body image and eating disorders.

In 2006, Brazilian supermodel Ana Carolina died from “complications from anorexia” after being told two years earlier that she needed to lose weight.

In 2007, supermodel sisters Eliana and Luisel Ramos died within weeks of each other from “malnutrition and starvation.” Their agency blamed this on an “obvious” genetic disorder.

In 2010, French model and actress, Isabelle Caro, passed away. Her shocking and emaciated body was shown as a campaign against anorexia.

At some point, we have to ask ourselves, how much is too much?  How edgy is too edgy?  How thin is too thin?  Recently, fashion houses in Spain and Italy imposed a BMI limit on models to discourage anorexia. This is certainly a step in the right direction, but it is not the end-all-be-all. We need more productive discussion on  fashion, image, culture, and working conditions for models.

Bethany asked in an earlier post whether we have an ethical obligation to stop watching football. I ask, do you feel the moral obligation to stop subscribing to SI? To stop patronizing fashion brands which project an unhealthy body image?

I wonder, what ethical responsibilities to models have? Recently, some fashion models have banded together to form the Model Alliance and drafted a models’ bill of rights. Should new superstars like Kate Upton leverage their influence to lend solidarity to young models?

Given National Eating Disorder Awareness week at Duke, it is time to examine our collective supply and demand that fuels the industry.

The Ugly Truth

If you could receive a pay raise worth hundreds of thousands of dollars by declaring yourself “ugly,” would you do it?

Some people would. Maybe they should; that is, maybe their looks really are costing them job opportunities, promotions, sales, trials, or a better deal on their mortgage (see this New York Times op-ed to read more). Studies over the past twenty years demonstrate that the attractively challenged have a valid argument.
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Botox Mom


A caring single mother in San Francisco is one upping the neighborhood soccer moms by injecting Botox into her 8-year-old-daughter to reduce her wrinkles (apparently, 8-year-olds get wrinkles). She is a trained beautician and from what I can tell, really wants her daughter to be a superstar.

Oh, she also waxes her daughter too to get rid of her body hair.

Personally, I was shocked at the mother’s action in the most negative way possible: What kind of values is she teaching her daughter? Everything she is doing just seems so…wrong.

But wait, nothing she is doing is technically against the law nor is it really “wrong.” The mother sincerely believes what she is doing is the best for her daughter, and judging from the article, the daughter seems to be perfectly okay with it too. Parents send children to learn instruments from the best of the best hoping that their kids can develop into world-class players, and what makes preparing her daughter well for a beauty pageant so different from that?

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GeoGirls Gone Wild


It seems the latest group targeted by cosmetic marketers is… pre-tween girls. Just when you were starting to get used to the idea that such a term as “tween” exists (that would classify girls aged 9 – 12), there is now a new category brand of consumers, individuals who are so young the best label the marketing world could come up with for them was “pre-tween.” This month, Wal-Mart is launching its beauty cosmetics line GeoGirl targeting girls aged six to ten. The line includes blush, eyeshadow, eyeliner, mascara and lip gloss, and, according to Wal-Mart representatives aims to teach young girls how to maintain beauty care in an environmentally responsible way.

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Do smart kids deserve cheaper plastic surgery?


Incentives for students are everywhere— awards for students with the best GPA, presents from parents for each A their kid earns, school districts paying children to take AP tests, and giving plastic surgery as a reward to those who do the best on exams. Wait, what? We have to wonder when these incentives begin to cross the line and maybe violate what we think is right or wrong. If thinkers such as Duke’s own Prof. Ruth Grant have raised issues with the first three examples, the last situation certainly seems to raise some ethical questions.

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