Instructions for cover models: Be natural

Sept. 1, 2001
Do you judge a book by its cover?

Do you judge a book by its cover? Do you judge a magazine by its cover? Do you find that patients often judge you based on some stereotype of dental hygienists?

If I'm answering the three questions, the answer is yes. Prior to my introduction to "dental publishing" (in 1985 at age 31), I classified hygienists in two ways: "She hurts" and "She's nice." Actually, I guess there was a third category between ages 11 and 31: "She's pretty; she can hurt me a little bit if she wants to." And there's no question about the first two. If a book or a magazine even hints that its readers probably enjoy shopping for antiques, it stays on the shelf unopened by me.

The trouble with the "yes" answers to such opinions is that we all usually kick ourselves later for being so judgmental. The best example for me is "chick flicks." I may not pick up a book or a magazine that I deem is for "overly sentimental women," but I will sit down with my wife and watch a film that I previously classified as a "chick flick." But more times than not, I will turn off the VCR very impressed with the quality of the script, acting, subject matter, etc.

Here's a tangent for you. I watched West Side Story with my wife. Afterwards, she asked what I thought. "It was cute," I replied. She went ballistic. She proceeded to point out that a contemporary adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, a tragedy, isn't "cute." Yeah, I got all that. But all that dancing and singing was cute, right?

To this day, she rolls her eyes in exasperation if I say "cute" in any reference. "Our daughter looks ... (here's where I run and find the thesaurus) delightful, charming, bewitching, fetching, lovely, or winsome in her new outfit. You guys did a good job in picking it out."

Those synonyms are OK, I guess, but I used to prefer just saying "cute."

I think RDH covers are often cute. Since my wife doesn't read the magazine, I get to use that word again. We ask readers if they want to pose for the cover. More readers than we have covers for raise their hands, figuratively speaking. Then it's just a matter of finding a photographer and a setting that the model feels defines his or her life outside the hygiene operatory. We've had some fun doing this. Does the cover accurately define dental hygiene? Probably not. I doubt all hygienists like to acquire collector's items as this month's cover model does. I doubt they all jog on nature trails, which is what the sisters on the August cover were doing.

I know with absolute certainty that not all hygienists sing.

Since I'm hearing impaired, I'm the last person who will pass judgment on your vocal chords. No, the reason I'm certain about the lack of singing courses at dental hygiene schools is because the July cover model, Stephanie Pietrantonio, likes to sing.

She posed leaning on a grand piano, and a stage light accented her tossed-back blonde hair. She was wearing a low-cut black evening gown that I'm sure a few of her male listeners find cute — no, I'll do better than that — captivating. Quite a few of you didn't like that. Here's an attractive blonde on the cover of a magazine for a group of dental professionals who often have been wrongfully portrayed as blonde bimbos by the entertainment industry.

While I respect the opinion of anyone disturbed by an RDH cover, I didn't feel any regrets about the July cover. Pietrantonio's pose is what singers do. If you croon love songs, you set the mood for romance. By day, she's a compassionate hygienist. By night, she's a passionate singer.

As Paul McCartney would ask, what's wrong with silly love songs?

Technically, the lyrics for love songs do not appear in any official definition of dental hygiene. Despite the persistence of the awful stereotypes of the "girls in the office," I've recently witnessed many positive, small steps taken by individual hygienists or dental hygiene groups to boost the image of the profession. Some of these steps are described in Shirley Gutkowski's article, "Raising the level a notch higher," in this issue. These small steps continue to promote a more progressive public image for dental hygienists.

Good things are happening for the profession. People like you and accept you as a health educator in their lives. You are the primary motivator in the office, and you're quite good at it. One reason you're good at it is because you do come across as being "human," something you have to wonder about with the other so-called "professional" occupations.

I watched the video of Cast Away recently. If I am stranded on an island and could have one person stuck there with me, who would it be? I would not particularly care to have a doctor with me. Unlike Tom Hank's character — who removed an abscessed tooth with the blade of an ice skate — my teeth are in good health. My family, of course, would be pleasant company, but I wouldn't wish the misfortune on them. I just might pick a hygienist. Just don't start writing me about the stereotype of a blonde hygienist on a tropical island. I'll go ahead and wish for a male hygienist with black hair, a scraggly beard, and a potbelly that matches mine.

It'd be just a couple of fat guys chatting on the beach. Both of us would fail anyone's definition of "cute." But the conversations would be good ones, right? That's what counts — the soul of dental hygiene, not its outward image.

Editor Mark Hartley can be contacted at [email protected]