It is important to remember that the The Naked Teacher Principle doesn’t state that pre-college teachers who allow themselves to be seen on the internet in states of undress likely to arouse the lust of their students should and must be fired—though most of them should be—but that they have no legitimate complaint if they are. Teachers who must command respect, serve as role models, and of course, teach, should not permit themselves to become pin-ups and peep-show stars for their students. At very least, they owe their employers and their students’ parents advance notice.
Mindy Jensen, a Utah middle school teacher, has a second (or perhaps first) career as a bikini model and fitness competitor. She came under the cloud of The Naked Teacher Principle the usual way: a student was surfing the web and cried out: “Holy crap! That’s my teacher, and she’s HOT!” The news (and images) spread around the community and student body quickly. Parents called the Instagram photos “pornographic” and demanded that Jensen be dismissed. The school gave her an ultimatum: take down the photos, make her account private, or get sacked.
Jensen made the Instagram account private, then changed her mind. . Explaining her decision, Jensen told ABC Utah, “Why am I taking this picture off, I get comments and messages that it’s inspirational to them and these women like my story. If I put it to private, it’s not going to reach these people that might need and understand me.”
The school has since backed down, opting instead to hold training sessions for parents on teaching kid to be careful on the Web—you know, like avoiding hot photos of their teachers. (Good luck with THAT.)
I think several features of this episode on The Naked Teacher Principle spectrum led to this result. In 2014, in this post about whether the NTP applies to non-teaching bodybuilding mothers, I raised the issue of bodybuilding teachers on the web, and posited this photo as an example for discussion:
I wrote then…
What is this? A fit woman seeking to inspire by showing the results of her hard work and dedication? Or an intentionally provocative muscle-cheese-cake photo guaranteed to spark the fantasies of 8th grade boys and render their ability to concentrate on algebra futile? I would come down on the side of the latter, and argue that if [the bodybuilder] were a teacher, she would have an obligation to 1) let her employers know that such photos existed before they hired her 2) either have a pre-emptive strategy to deal with the issue when such photos became available to her students, or 3) not pose for such photos. Yes…I think this kind of bodybuilding photo triggers the NTP.
But it’s a thin line, isn’t it?
Jensen’s case is revealing, because it shows just how thin. Unlike the athlete above, her photos are usually as non-sexual as she could make them, given that she’s lovely, in great shape, and wearing as little as possible. Her Instagram account is clearly aimed at inspiring herself and others, not titillation. although several of the photos, in being aesthetically pleasing, are certainly titillating. Yes, she’s often shown in revealing clothing, because bodybuilders can’t show the results of their hard work and training any other way.
If Jensen were punished for the photos, she could argue that she would be receiving a penalty for being attractive and fit. I encountered this many years ago in my sexual harassment work when a male employee in a cubicle recieved a sexual harassment complaint because he had a framed photo of a bikin=clad woman on his desk, allegedly creating a “hostile work environment” for other women in the office. Like this:
It was his wife.
I asked the man’s supervisor whether he would be creating a hostile work environment if his wife was less attractive….and the photo looked like this:
“Of course not!” he said. Well, that’s a double standard. The man was being punished for having a beautiful wife. If the company wants to establish a policy banning family photos, bikini photos or beach photos in offices and cubicles, that’s fine. Calling it sexual harassment if your wife happens to be attractive, however, is unfair. Jensen isn’t selling sex on her website, she’s selling fitness and dedication. The fact that she is attractive should not, absent intent or overtly sexual messaging, be held against her. Thus the Provocatively Clad Bodybuilding Teacher Principle may be an exception to The Naked Teacher Principle, but not necessarily.
She still should have alerted the school regarding her other career before it became an issue. She is lucky that she had an open-minded and/or conflict averse school board.