Recently, when I should have been doing my homework, I instead prowled through Instagram’s explore page. As I sorted through what seemed like hundreds of spring break party pictures from students at the University of Wherever, I stumbled upon Kate Upton’s Instagram.
Instagrams are not usually noteworthy, though it may seem like any time anyone takes a photo doing anything, it becomes front-page news. But Upton’s most recent posts made me stop. In a series of recent photos, the model has been doing side-by-side comparisons of what she has been calling “Reality vs. High Fashion,” with half the frame devoted to a glossy photo from some magazine, and on the other half of the frame, Upton recreates the photo in her own life. The photos are hilarious.
In one, she sexily curls a dumbbell while wearing pink fur, while on the other side, there is a sweaty Upton with her hair back in a ponytail and a weight on her lap, looking puppy-dog sad into the camera. My personal favorite is a photo of Upton looking demure in a hoodie dress matched with high heels alongside a photo of the model with a sweatshirt worn up until her nose.
Upton’s mini collages may seem like a ploy often found in tabloid magazines that emphasize the relatability of superstars to us, common peasants, by showing pictures of them shopping for food or drinking a smoothie or swimming, I would argue that Upton is doing something much more important. The paradox of the “they’re just like us” photo reel is that by taking photos of celebrities doing normal activities and documenting them to show their relatability, magazine networks are, in fact, idolizing those very celebrities they tried to humanize. Reading about a famous person riding a bike therefore makes that bike ride famous — paparazzi followed that person around to get the perfect shot of their normalcy. I don’t know about you, but no one is taking sneaky photos of me every time I go for a promenade down Comm. Ave.
Upton, through her “Reality vs. High Fashion” series, emphasizes that the character her celebrity status has made of her — that even the fashion industry has made of her — is all an illusion. And if she is relatable without the illusion, it is for her own sake. In the pictures, she holds up her celebrity persona on one side and debases the illusion of it on the other. She is showing us that she is “just like us,” not in the intimidating way that news sites plague celebrities for their everyday happenings, but in her own way, through her own camera. Upton, in a sense, advocates for herself by dispelling the photos taken of her.
Aside from relatability, the stitched-together photos also show the disparity between marketed glamour and actual life. In a magazine, everything is a wonderful, fabulous, freeze-frame of everyday activities. This hyperbole of the normalcy may, in some ways, make the rest of our mere peasant lives feel inadequate.
But cheer up, peasants! Life, at least the lives sold to us through celebrities and social media, isn’t carefully orchestrated or nearly as sexy and glamorous as Kate Upton in high fashion makes it seem. Nor do I think we should want that constructed life. In a way, Kate Upton’s shirt said it best in the side-by-side shot of her doing chores in a high-fashion dress versus vacuuming in a t-shirt and jeans. She’s “killing it.”