The blonde bombshell has been the American standard of beauty long before Marilyn Monroe serenaded JFK with “Happy Birthday, Mr. President.”
From pin-up girls to Barbie, the All-American girl can be distinguished by her Coke bottle physique and ultra-blonde tresses. Like all standards of beauty, this ideal is unrealistic, annoying, and straight up rude, seeing as our melting pot country is unlikely to churn out an army of exclusively Aryan bombshells. Or to put it another way, sexist beauty standards are the reason why the Kardashians manage to make money selling waist trainers to impressionable young girls on Instagram.
Unfortunately, we appear to have found ourselves in some sort of a bodacious Barbie renaissance. While, according to the bombshell scholars at Brobible.com, men have always found hot, curvy blondes “bangable,” this particular moment began back in 2011, when the lady-body arbiters over at Sports Illustrated featured Kate Upton in their popular Swimsuit Issue.
After posing for the body paint section of the magazine, Upton’s career took off with a litany of major campaigns, magazine shoots, and movie roles. She has taken bikini pictures in Antarctica and Cape Canaveral, and was named People magazine’s first ever “Sexiest Woman” in 2014.
Now, after just four years on top, anonymous Internet users are alleging that there’s a new contender for Kate Upton’s throne. Her name is Charlotte McKinney, and she’s a 22-year-old high school dropout and Instagram celebrity. After leaving school at 17, where her dyslexia made her a bullying target, McKinney pursued a modeling career with lackluster results. Luckily for her (and a generation of bored teenagers scrolling their explorer page), social media offered a way for McKinney to bring her covetable goods straight to the open market. Soon, she scored an Esquire profile on her Instagram portfolio, and the rest is bombshell history. She was featured in a Guess? campaign (the bombshell designer of choice), and starred in Carl’s Jr.’s 2015 Superbowl ad, in which she walked around in a bikini while eating a juicy burger (the preferred activity of all shapely bombshells).
After the Carl’s Jr. ad went viral, McKinney did a short-lived Dancing With the Stars stint, and earned an increase in comparisons to the venerable Upton, who lived her own Carl’s Jr. Super Bowl ad glory days back in 2012. While McKinney has heard the comparisons, she’s not trying to start a turf war: “Personally, I don’t compare myself at all to her,” McKinney said. “I think we’re two totally different people but I admire her business aspect of her career, I think she’s done an amazing job.”
While some people might credit this push towards slightly more full-figured ladies—models with boobs—with a celebration of a wider spectrum of body types, that is bullshit. This popularity increase for bombshells, as opposed to size zeroes, just illustrates how social media has amplified the voice of the consumer—basically, Sports Illustrated is making a big mistake if they don’t check out who their readers are mooning over on Instagram before they cast their swimsuit photoshoots. This might be empowering for pervy boys, but it hardly constitutes a radical celebration of the female form.
For proof, look no further than Gigi Hadid, another Kate Upton-esque beauty who’s managed to bridge the gap between bras and bikinis and high fashion campaigns. Back in September, Hadid felt the need to issue an Instagram defense of her body, justifying the fact that she doesn’t have “the same body type as the other models,” and explaining, “Yes, I have boobs, I have abs, I have a butt, I have thighs, but I’m not asking for special treatment. I’m fitting into the sample sizes.”
As any woman will tell you (after a very exaggerated eye roll), one “curvy” model who can still manage to fit into a sample size zero or two does not diversity make. The fact that a woman who looks like Kate Upton has to justify her presence on a runway shows just how far removed standards of beauty are from real life. What are the rest of us non-Kate Uptons supposed to do, if Kate Upton is being told that she’s the ugliest girl in the room?
The rise of Kate Upton and her army of clones—did I mention Antje Utgaard?—isn’t exactly a girl next door intervention into the world of high fashion. First of all, these models are fairly niche. Although Upton and Hadid have both made high fashion and silver screen headway, they’re no Cara Delevingne. And while their commercial success is totally laudable, it’s impossible to argue that these body types are any more attainable or inclusive than the anorexic ideal they’re supposedly usurping.
So enjoy those burger royalties while they last, ladies—for now, at least, the blonde bombshell is here to stay.