Guys – Ashley Graham is a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Model now! She even has a cover!
For those of you who do not know, Ashley Graham is a plus size model. She has modeled since about the age of 13 (she’s 28 now), working with big names like Nordstrom, Bloomingdales and Old Navy, but is best known for her work with plus size clothing retailor Lane Bryant. Ashley has also made the Forbes Magazine’s “30 Under 30” list and, as I have stated, is now a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Model.
Let me start by saying: I love Ashley Graham. I think she is stunning, seems to have a good head on her shoulders and has made quite an impact on the female plus size community; not because she is plus size but because she has forged quite a path for plus size fashion and, most importantly, body image positivity.
That being said, I am happy for Ashley’s success and her ability to pave the way for plus size women in the fashion and modeling industry, however, I am concerned about what the definition of success is for women. I mean, there is no clear cut definition of success for an individual. For some women success may mean getting married and starting a family, for others it may mean earning a degree, and for other ladies, it may be achieving fitness and weight loss goals.
Success does not look the same for any one person and, often, it is a combination of several different things.
I cannot say that any form of success is right or wrong but I can have an opinion on it – and I do not think a plus size model gracing the cover a men’s magazine is success.
Let’s not even focus on plus size women for a second, let’s just focus on women. It’s no secret that women have a constant struggle with expectations that society has for them. There are these insane standards for people, as a whole, but specifically for women. The part that sucks the most is that it is not a consistent standard; depending upon who is famous at the time or what popular trends are occurring, women are told they need to fulfil a plethora of body standards at any given moment– a woman needs:
- To be thin but not too thin
- To be skinny but also be curvy
- To be curvy but only in the right places
- To have a big butt but small hips
- To have big breasts but a small waist
- To be in shape but not muscular
- To be tall but not too tall
- To have long lean legs but be short
- To be curvy but not have stretch marks
What ridiculous, completely unreachable standards! Whether you are 13 or 42, you’re going to think: wait – how can I be okay with my body just the way it is?
The answer is – you can.
You don’t have to abide by these standards. You know that – I know that – but if only it were as simple as Gina saying: “ladies, you’re fine” and then all of a sudden you have this instant feeling of acceptance and overwhelmingly high self-esteem. This is equivalently realistic to the fantasy I had as a teenager in which Snickers bars had the same nutritional value as veggies and I could eat them everyday and be thin.
In my opinion, Sports Illustrated offered Ashley Graham this feature in an attempt to say “hey women – even if you are plus size – you can be accepted now”, more specifically: “you can be accepted by the readers of Sports Illustrated that are about 76% male”.
Oh my gosh – Sports Illustrated – thank you SO much. Thank you so much for allowing ME, a plus size woman, to see someone of my kind on the cover of your magazine and therefore show me and the rest of society what is acceptable in terms of beauty.
Thank you also for acting as if having a plus size woman on the cover shows that Sports Illustrated believes beauty comes in all different shapes, sizes, shades and backgrounds. That the magazine is diverse in the types of women they choose to be apart of their magazine.
Considering that the lineup of 21 models includes ONE African American model and NO models of Asian or Indian descent, I am not sure that the supposed mission was accomplished.
Okay, let me reign it in and stop yelling at the imaginary Sports Illustrated staff.
My point is that, in 2016, success for women, is still being displayed as appearance based. In 2016, success for women, is that someone with a curvy figure is acceptable to be featured on the cover of a men’s magazine.
Success in 2016, is thousands of men saying “sure, I can accept this right now, curvy women, come out of hiding, you are okay with us guys at this time”.
By the way, I don’t think Ashley is thinking about this in the same why I am, nor do I know that she should be. Like, enjoy the success, I am not trying to take that away from her (nor am I famous enough for her to read this resulting in her second guessing her Sports Illustrated venture). This is not about Ashley, this is about society deciding what is acceptable for women and, more importantly, the men of our society deciding what is acceptable for women.
So, congrats to Ashley on all her successes thus far, particularly her work helping women struggling with their own body images.
But, Ashley aside, don’t think it hasn’t been made clear what this cover actually means: one small step for curvy women and one giant step for misogyny.
**Photo from stylenews.peoplestylewatch.com/2016/02/13/ashley-graham-sports-illustrated-cover-2016/