The Legacy of the Calendar GirlsSubmitted by Stephanie Whalen, Academy Chair, English & Interdisciplinary Studies

As described by Trygve Thoreson in Harper College: The First 50 Years, the predominately male administration’s attitudes regarding gender and identity in Harper’s early years were “firmly entrenched in the times” leaving plans for developing women’s athletics programs “limited” and “Calendar Girls” donning the pages of the student newspaper right along with the calendar of campus events. The “Calendar Girls” were a regular feature of the newspaper, and their descriptions focused on their physical attributes and what they could add to the campus community via their beauty over other qualities such as activities and scholarship. For example, a calendar girl who was a nursing student was described by Harbinger staff as “a really pulsating attraction in white or among the books” and another was called “a fresh beauty of a freshman worth watching…another one of the lovely misses who grace the ivyless halls.”

Although we haven’t seen the likes of a Calendar Girl feature at Harper in quite some time, how far have we come as a society in terms of placing a higher value on other aspects of identity beyond aesthetics and a media-constructed standard of beauty? Additionally, how much does this type of objectification affect the behaviors and interactions among individuals and groups in a professional and academic environment? According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s report published in 2016 on the study of harassment in the workplace (view the report), the prevalence of unwanted sexual attention, coercion, crude or offensive behavior, and sexist comments is jarring with 70% of female participants experiencing harassment. The cultural emphasis on narrowly-conceived standards of beauty causes young female, male, and non-conforming gender individuals to suffer self-doubt and depression linked to poor self-image. As the study reveals, issues of gender harassment and negative body image threaten students’ comfort and safety on our campus and in the larger community.

Embracing the Issue
The Legacy of the Calendar GirlsDr. Pardess Mitchell, Kinesiology & Health Education, seeks to address the problem through a screening of the documentary Embrace and a subsequent dialogue. Embrace addresses the ongoing issues related to society sending young people the message that “beautiful is the most important thing you can be” and promotes conceptualizing the body as a “vehicle” for living rather than an “ornament” for consumption. The film strives to liberate viewers from “agonizing about not having a body shape that the media insists that you should” and redefining what it means to be beautiful.

Please join us for the Embrace screening, participate in the dialogue, and encourage your students to attend. If you know of others who are interested in this topic or young people who are particularly vulnerable to unchecked media influence, please invite them to attend. Dr. Mitchell’s event will provide our campus community much-needed exposure to content that counters the media’s commodification of the human form. We have come a long way since the Calendar Girls, but we have far to go.

Embrace: The Body Movement Film Screening
Embrace is told from the point of view of Taryn Brumfitt as she traverses the globe talking to experts, women in the street and well-known personalities about the alarming rates of body image issues that are seen in people of all body types. In her affable and effervescent style, Taryn bares all (literally) to explore the factors contributing to this problem and seeks to find solutions. This film contains nudity.

  • Date: Thursday, October 19, 2017
  • Time: 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
  • Location: Building J Theatre
  • Free

Check out these links for more on what can be done on campus and in the classroom: