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The Cold Reality of Harvard's '15 Hottest Freshmen' List

Photograph by Fifteen Minutes Magazine

Yesterday I chatted with a friend while our daughters transitioned from noodling with a science experiment kit that had them investigating primary colors to building a fort and then playing dress-up. We remarked how the princess industry has evolved since we were kids. When I was little, Cinderella was never intrinsically tied to Sleeping Beauty and Snow White in merchandise — kind of like a Justice League of America team — the way she is today.

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But at the same time, while the royal ladies look the same (except for the threesome-ready part), the princess message has changed dramatically. In "Frozen," Anna saves herself through an act of true love for her sister. The most recent version of "Sleeping Beauty" still has Briar Rose awakening from a kiss, but the one that does the trick is from Maleficent, not a prince. Birthday cards these days for little girls still have the sparkle and glitter that I remember from my childhood, but the message is now that they’re just as beautiful on the inside as the outside. Damsels in distress no more.

Leave it to Harvard to be progressive, too, in celebrating its students. Whereas Maxim has a list of colleges with the hottest student bodies (surprise, surprise), Business Insider has a list of schools “where the students are both hot and smart,” and Harvard’s entertainment magazine, "Fifteen Minutes," has a list of the school’s 15 Hottest Freshmen — and it’s not made up exclusively of girls. (Or white people, for that matter).

Instead, the list is full of students who are hot because they’re likely going places. The introduction to the list says in part:

"How hot are they? Our third-degree burns will answer for us. One of our staff writers looked at them and now can’t see beauty in the everyday world. We can’t believe these freshmen exist. Enjoy, but don’t take it too seriously."

Upon close inspection, they needn’t worry about anyone taking the list too seriously. While there are no bikinis or games of beer pong, what the hottest freshmen seem to have in common is the fact that none of them would come in last place in a beauty contest and that some of the hottest freshmen use their extraordinary platform to regurgitate icky stereotypes.

As a parent, lists like these are a reminder to start talking to kids early about only worrying about themselves and not comparing their behind-the-scenes to someone else’s highlights.

Take Swetha Sanagavarapu, for instance. She states a “dowry” as what she’s looking for in a guy/girl (although kudos to Crimson staffers for including both guys and girls when asking both the guys and girls on the list about their ideal mate), and describes herself as a “wannabe Princess Jasmine.” Another list honoree, Mary Brown, says an ideal mate has “Intellect, personality, blah blah blah, mostly just good looks.”

The list has a history, and it’s so deep that editors have said, “It’s one of our most popular issues. The rare times we talk about changing it up, our alumni call up … [the list is] a cherished part of the magazine.”

The editors recently asked the hottest freshmen to name their favorite date spots around town — although a mom (and perhaps also the person footing the tuition bill) and maybe even some other students might have liked instead to read about their favorite study spots. But really, as a mom, I’d rather that the list didn’t exist at all. I’m guessing some of the other students would agree, too.

Shouldn’t every kid entering college feel as if they’re starting out on equal footing? Do comparisons need to be made in the first year of school? Does a good-looking freshman need to be lauded above all others for things like remembering the exact date she “didn’t receive the Barbie dress” (that’s Gussie Roc, and the date was Dec. 25, 1999).

The goal of higher education should be about a loftier way thinking; Harvard’s 15 hottest freshmen list, however, is a reminder that even at the top school they can still swing pretty low on the class scale.

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As a parent, lists like these are a reminder to start talking to kids early about only worrying about themselves and not comparing their behind-the-scenes to someone else’s highlights. But also as a parent, it’s secretly heartbreaking to wonder what kind of damage other, less forward-thinking schools are doing to our kids if even the most progressive ones are scraping the bottom of the self-esteem barrel for attention.

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