Beauty and star factor a real curse in academe

8 January, 2013

Being blonde, beautiful and a star in a TV reality series would normally be seen as an advantage, but not if you are a female academic, Deakin University's Dr Cassandra Atherton told an international conference on celebrity.

Dr Cassandra Atherton said Dr Bonnie Blossman, dubbed the ‘Hottie Doctor’, found celebrity and beauty was a double-edged sword in academia, bringing her university media profile, but creating problems with university colleagues, her students as well as fans of the show and fellow cast members.

“Dr Blossman is one of the stars on the Style Network’s reality TV shows - Big Rich Texas,” Dr Atherton explained.

“The show looks at the glamorous lives of women who belong to an exclusive country club, where huge houses, money and plastic surgery are the norm.”

Dr Atherton said Dr Blossman like the other show participants was a very attractive woman and an advocate of plastic surgery, however unlike them she was an adjunct professor with a PhD in Developmental Physiology, a Masters in Microbiology and a Bachelor of Science in Pre-Medicine.

“Professors or academics with PhDs have been cast members on reality television programmes before but most often they have been an expert providing commentary on the behaviour of the personalities on the show, or as a psychologist employed to assist cast members, such as on Brat Camp,” she said.

“In this case Dr Blossman is one of the personalities on Big Rich Texas.

“Her expertise as a scientist is rarely put to use, but her PhD is often called question by other cast members and viewers.

“Similarly, in the majority of articles in the press and in the way she is introduced to new cast members on Big, Rich Texas, Dr Blossman’s status as professor is always questioned, based on her appearance.

“The constant questioning about her credentials had led Dr Blossman to make the following statement: ‘I did not get my PhD at home depot. I am not even sure if they have an accredited program (LOL). I rec'd my PhD from UNT and my MS, and BS at MSU. Also, I did a 2 year post doctoral fellowship and again, not at Home Depot. I did not sleep my way through my PhD. Enough said, that is absurd. I've been married for nearly 18 years and I am more than happy! ;-)
Also, my school is reputable and I'm sure 40,000 people would agree. I have 5 peer-reviewed publications and of which - one was called a landmark paper in Metabolic Allometry.’”

Dr Atherton said by participating in the show Dr Blossman challenged the popular representation of the austere, introverted and tweedy professor and demonstrated that professors can lead lives away from research and teaching.

“As one academic argued Professors who are considered too good looking can be cast by their peers as lightweights,” she said.

“And Dr Blossman herself has said ‘people tend to not believe that I have a PhD because I do not behave as educated as I am, primarily because I want to fit in and be like everyone else and not act like a science nerd.’”

Dr Atherton said while her university was supportive of her participation Dr Blossman was not accepted by the other female staff.

“In addition to this, since her debut on Big, Rich Texas, Dr Blossman has said ‘The students…don’t take me quite as seriously as they did before. So…I can’t be my silly self as much any more, I have to be more serious.’

“Despite this Dr Blossman argues that currently being an attractive reality television personality working in a University is difficult, but 30 years from now it will be a moot point.”

News facts
  • Celebrity and beauty a double-edged sword in academia
  • Dr Bonnie Blossman "the Hottie Doctor" challenges popular representation of the austere, introverted and tweedy professor
  • While her celebrity brings her university media profile, it creates problems with university colleagues, her students as well as fans of the show and fellow cast members.

Media contact

Sandra Kingston
Deakin Media Relations
03 9246 8221/ 0422 005 485

Dr Bonnie Blossman and her daughter Whitney in a scene from Big Rich Texas.


Deakin academic Dr Cassandra Atherton.

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25th January 2013