Pietro Boselli, 26, a model and visiting lecturer at University College London, rose to viral fame last month as the nation’s ‘hottest maths teacher’. Here, he tells Grazia how he has become a victim of male objectification.
Standing in front of a packed lecture hall, I braced myself. I’d just delivered an hour-long lesson on advanced mathematics for engineering and knew that questions were inevitable. Only, in my class, they didn’t always stick to the subject. ‘I have a question,’ one student said, inquisitively. ‘How did you get those biceps?’
I wasn’t surprised. Students have asked about my body, my face – I even regularly notice some of them sneakily taking photos of me while I’m trying to teach. Because I’m not just a PhD in chemical engineering and university lecturer – I’m also a model.
In academia, being a model is not an accolade. In fact, my looks mean I’m often overlooked in my profession. Fellow professors and students have taken me less seriously because of my modelling career – so much so that I’ve felt ashamed of it at times. Which is why, when Game Of Thrones actor Kit Harington recently spoke out about being objectified by women, I could relate to him. ‘To always be put on a pedestal as a hunk is slightly demeaning…in the same way as it is for women,’ he said.
I couldn’t agree more. Increasingly, male objectification is in the ether, and I’m living proof that it’s alive and well. There are, of course, differences between men and women being cat-called or approached by strangers – when a woman grabs my bum, or a group of strangers try to remove my clothes in clubs, I don’t feel in physical danger, where a woman certainly would. But women can be just as sexually explicit and make you feel equally uncomfortable. If a guy did to a girl some of the things I’ve been subjected to, everyone would agree on how out of line they were – yet it’s often accepted the other way around.
I started modelling at six, when an agent saw me with my parents in my hometown of Brescia, Italy. I was told to go to the casting for the Armani Junior campaign, and I was signed immediately. Apart from a few years’ hiatus when I transitioned from junior to adult modelling, I’ve been doing it – and enjoying it – ever since.
It wasn’t until I moved to London to go to uni at 18 that I really noticed how much looks affect other people’s behaviour. Being attractive has its upsides – you make friends quicker, you have natural confidence. Of course, I get a lot of attention – some people even stop me in the street for a picture. But it has plenty of downsides.
People generally assume you can’t be intelligent if you’re a model. I was so scared of being undermined or taken less seriously than other students when at university that I kept my modelling career under wraps. I cancelled my contract with the agency, took my pictures offline and erased my modelling experience from my CV.
Inevitably, people found out and, occasionally, my fears were realised. When I told a tutor who wanted me to collaborate on a project with him that I had a prior commitment, he replied snarkily, ‘Is it with Armani?’ It felt incredibly demeaning.
I felt people were talking about me not for my academic achievements (I gained consistently high marks) but because of my looks. I had to work harder to be taken seriously and stand up for myself more.
Lecturers aren’t the only ones who have taken me at literal face value. Last month, a picture posted by one of my students as I was teaching went viral and I ended up the subject of national headlines asking, ‘Is this the ‘Is this the hottest maths teacher ever?’
Mostly people are complimentary – and the majority are nice to my face. But I’ve found that male friends often just want to hang out with me as they think I’ll attract the best-looking girls. It’s made me defensive because I have to prove my personality. Most of the time, the first question people ask me is if I’m a model, to which I reply, ‘Sometimes’.
And girls can be cruel, too. It gets tiresome dating someone who’s only interested in showing pictures of your abs to her friends, and who never wants to talk about work or anything interesting.
I’m in a great relationship now, but jealousy has been an issue in the past. It’s not easy to walk down the street with your girlfriend and get lots of attention from other women. Yet I hate it when women assume I’m a ‘player’ and refuse to trust me, because that’s just not who I am.
I can’t help the way I look, the same as anyone else, and I don’t feel I should keep my body hidden away when I love working out – it’s my hobby, and the sculpted physique that is a product of that is a source of pride. Just like singers might put videos of themselves on YouTube, I put my six-pack on Instagram.
I know I’m good-looking – to deny it would be a false modesty. I recognise that I’m genetically blessed and I know that can open doors for me. People say I’m full of myself for saying that, but it is just reality. As much as I’ve tried to deny it and don’t want to be judged solely on them, I realise that looks do matter. We live in a shallow world. But I also know they won’t last, and how important it is to build something that will. Which is part of the reason why I can’t understand it when people ask me why I work so hard when I ‘could do nothing’ – by which they mean just model. I love modelling – it’s helped pay my university fees, and it’s refreshing to be with different people in a different environment. I’m happy in both my careers, and now I’m just concentrating on making a success of them both. My only wish is that people would not just see me as something nice to look at, but for what’s under the surface, too. I try to look for the best in people – I wish they’d do the same for me.
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