Beverly Sills, the great and earthy American opera singer, was once asked to explain why her husband had given her a T-shirt with a picture of actor Paul Newman on it.
"Every woman should have Paul Newman on her chest," she said, with a huge smile.
That, apparently, was not the sentiment of the famous-for-fifteen-minutes woman from Orem. The one who was so offended by a line of T-shirts featuring photos of scantily clad young women that she bought out the entire $600 stock found in one Utah County shop, lest the "pornography" emblazoned thereon poisoned the tender minds of young men.
The coverage of that story included verbal descriptions of the images on the shirts but, as far as I could see, no actual photos. Leaving many people to imagine visions that were much more explicit than the actual shirts.
Sexy? You damn betcha. But barely, if at all, more ribald than the calendar girls who have graced the walls of garages and Army barracks for the last 70 years.
The glory of the human female form – which is, after all, the whole purpose of the last however many billion years of cosmic evolution — is all too often abused and profaned in popular culture. There are those who would sully women with representations of violence, captivity, rape, the victimization of children or other forms of degradation.
But pointing out that truly ugly stuff, and doing anything to limit its damage, is made infinitely more difficult when anything that is pleasantly erotic is rolled into the same category as vile misogyny or victimization.
The failure to differentiate Venus from Mars, sensuality from brutality, is also to blame for the crime of telling women, and men, that the appearance of an unashamedly beautiful woman in a public place constitutes an invitation to sexual violence. That’s a lie.
The world is not running such a surplus of beauty that it should encourage any woman to hide her light under a bushel, or a burka, lest she be slut-shamed by other women or brutalized by any men.
This is, necessarily, a guy’s point of view. A much more problematic issue is what girls, especially young girls, think. Images such as those in the new 50th anniversary of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition are said to be harmful to some young women who sadly compare themselves to those visages and find themselves wanting.
That is a problem that can be difficult for many males to grasp. Though their are issues with such things a steroid abuse, not so many men and boys are moved to self-loathing or deep depression by the realization that their appearance will never rival the pictures of outrageously fit male athletes that appear on the cover of SI the other 51 weeks of the year.
The bodies chosen for such magazine covers, billboards and other pop culture images – male and female – are not displayed because we are all supposed to look like that. They are placed before us because they are fantastic, as in fantasy, a Platonic – or, perhaps, Michaelangelonic — ideal seldom realized by actual people.
Even those models don’t look like that when they roll out of bed in the morning, before they are set upon by an army of stylists and retouchers.
Wearing a Heartbreaker T-shirt to a middle or high school would be rude. It could indeed break the hearts of too many young women with body issues.
But in other contexts — and context is everything — such images celebrate the most beautiful accomplishment of the universe.
Don’t hide them away from the rest of the world.
George Pyle, a Tribune editorial writer, favors T-shirts that celebrate Dudley Do-Right and George of the Jungle.
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