Most men will tell you there are two reasons why Kate Upton has become such a huge star on the modeling scene so quickly. Yes, that’s a crude sexist joke, but then the buxom Florida bunny has earned her share of them.
So it’s a mark of how far she’s come, and how much her career has evolved, that Kate will be honored tomorrow night as Model of the Year at the 2013 Style Awards in New York City. And rightly so.
Kate is probably best known for twice being the cover girl for the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, the first time spilling out of an undersized bikini in an infamous image that positively screamed “Bimbo!” It was the kind of photo that can both make and destroy a young model’s career and Kate admitted to Elle that she “felt terrible about myself for a solid month” afterwards.
Only 19 at the time of that shoot, Kate could have become just another one of the disposable bikini bodies that show up in Maxim and similar magazines; or, if she was lucky, an American version of Kelly Brook, the UK model/actress who has built a long but dubious career on the strength of her ample bosom alone.
Kate faced a dilemma common among busty young models: whether to simply cash in on her anatomical assets or aspire toward the loftier (but more distant) goal of becoming an international style and beauty icon.
A lot of Kate’s early work smacked of exploitation by photographers and editorial directors (are you listening, Terry Richardson?) who treated her less like a fashion model than a teenager’s sex fantasy. Sure, it was well-paid exploitation, but it wasn’t hard to envision Kate headed down a career path leading to B-list irrelevance.
In the past year, though, the girl who was once trashed publicly by Victoria’s Secret has made a stunning turnaround.
Her secret? Smart interviews, carefully chosen modeling assignments (no more Carl’s Jr. burger commercials!), and some very, very important friends.
Anna Wintour steered her onto four Vogue covers, Mario Testino re-imagined her as a young Marilyn Monroe (above), and Annie Leibovitz gives her the full Veronica Lake treatment on the 100th anniversary issue of Vanity Fair (top photo) — arguably the year’s most coveted cover shoot.
More importantly, though, Kate achieved all this by (mostly) keeping her clothes on, showing the world she’s more than just a swimsuit model — or a dumb blonde sexpot.
“I’m not a toy, I’m a human,” she famously told Elle earlier this year. “I’m not here to be used. I am a grown woman.”
Commonly regarded as a role model for ‘real women’ because of her curvy frame, Kate Upton is becoming something much more than that: a role model for women who resist the sexist typecasting of the modeling world, the fashion industry and society at large.
She’ll be honored at the Lincoln Center tomorrow night as the 10th annual Style Awards kick off Mercedes-Benz New York Fashion Week.
And lest we forget that Kate Upton is also an in-demand lingerie model, here she is in a recent editorial shot by Yu Tsai for Contributor magazine, featuring styles from Marciano by Guess.