What does it take to be America’s favorite bombshell? Killer curves, of course, but Kate Upton has much more: old-fashioned ambition, digital-age savvy, and personality to burn.
It’s 11:00 a.m., and Kate Upton is staring down a green rubber stability ball at David Kirsch’s private gym across from Madison Square Park in Manhattan. Kirsch, a celebrity trainer who looks a little bit like Mr. Clean, is putting Upton through a series of moves designed to “blast the three As,” he says. “Arms, abs, and ass.”
Upton is more clothed than most of us are used to seeing her: tight black Nike T-shirt; black Under Armour leggings; gray Nike sneakers with hot-pink trim; small diamond stud earrings. She takes Kirsch’s orders with equanimity, her face slightly flushed, her blonde hair in a loose bun. “He only has five days,” she explains—before she jets to Uruguay for her Vogue shoot. “So when he yells at me, I know it’s for me. It’s not for him.”
Kirsch orders her on top of the ball, and she dives into position with an “Uh!” Keeping it beneath her feet and her arms locked, she proceeds to “tuck,” bending her knees toward her chin and rolling the ball forward to achieve something like an upside-down crunch. Kirsch begins to chant: “Ten! Nine! Eight! Seven!” After 20 reps, the cheerful expression has drained from Upton’s face. Kirsch barks, “Hold the last one!” and Upton seems to lose her resolve. “Wait,” she says. “I can’t.”
“Hips up higher, please!”
She steadies her plank position.
“Feel that in your belly?”
She nods, her stomach tense, a bit of sweat on her forehead, a look of determination on her face.
“Good,” he says. “Now do another set.”
It’s official: Being Kate Upton is hard work. If you’ve come anywhere near a newsstand in the last year—or a Super Bowl telecast or a late-night talk show—you know that the curvaceous, effervescent blonde has propelled herself from obscure Florida swimsuit model to viral video star to bona fide cultural phenomenon of the kind that brings to mind the models we’ve gotten to know on a first-name basis: Gisele, Kate, Naomi.
The fact that Upton has become our Girl of the Moment is all the more remarkable given that she’s done it in her own digital-age way. She wasn’t championed, early on, by a photographer like Steven Meisel or David Sims. Riccardo Tisci didn’t put her on the runway at Givenchy à la Joan Smalls. She even bypassed the Victoria’s Secret runway show—which has proved to be a launching pad for the likes of Candice Swanepoel and Miranda Kerr. Instead, Upton has accumulated Sports Illustrated covers and buzzy television ads and—above all—has made canny use of social media.