Ashley Graham, first-ever plus-sized model, graces the cover—is she really “plus-sized?”
The 52nd Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, with three unique covers, is making headlines this winter. This year, the headlines are about Sports Illustrated’s decision to feature, on one of the covers, rookie plus-sized model Ashley Graham.
Truly speechless!!! This cover is for every woman who felt like she wasn't beautiful enough because of her size. You can do and achieve anything you put your mind to. Thank you so much to the entire @si_swimsuit team! I'm so excited to be a part of your family. I love you all!!! #siswim #beautybeyondsize
While one of the other covers features an actual female athlete, MMA fighter Ronda Rousey—itself unprecedented as far as I can tell—more attention is on 28-year-old Graham. At a US size 16, Graham, from Nebraska, is the first ever Sports Illustrated cover model who meets the nebulous definition of “plus-size,” generally considered above US standard sizes 6-10. However, size 6-10 is smaller than the size of the average American woman, pointing to clear weight bias in the modeling industry. While lower weights are the norm, there also seems a penchant for models with at least a smaller frame. This is not exactly news for women or US models.
Graham was also in Sports Illustrated’s 2015 issue, though because she was in an advertisement, the model who gets credit as the first plus-size featured model is Robyn Lawley, also included in the 2015 edition. Of course, plus-size models are not new. In 1993, Anna Nicole Smith was named Playboy Playmate of the Year, which comes with its own cover, albeit a different magazine, and perhaps demographic than Sports Illustrated.
With plus-size models such as Graham, Lawley, as well as model Tess Holliday (formerly Tess Munster), receiving media attention in recent years, it’s clear the fashion industry is embracing taller, heavier and/or bustier women. For her part, Graham spends a lot of time promoting body positivity. With respect to the Sports Illustrated cover, Graham said, this “is for every woman who felt like she wasn’t beautiful enough because of her size.”
In a sold-out TEDx talk last year in Spain, she also spoke out against the term plus-size.
“The fashion industry may persist to label me as ‘plus-size,’ but I like to think of it as ‘my size.’” “Curvy models are becoming more and more vocal about the isolating nature of the term ‘plus-size.’ We are calling ourselves what we want to be called–women, with shapes that are our own.”
As a self-described feminist, I am so happy for all women who have such a beautiful role models to look towards. A woman who is beautiful to look at, but who also uses her position to lift others up and speak out against the way our culture treats women who aren’t perfect—itself a completely arbitrary concept.
Graham, who also has her own lingerie line and uses the motto “Stand up for curves. Confidence is sexy.” on her website, also said in her talk:
“I felt free once I realized I was never going to fit the mold that society wanted me to fit in. I was never going to be perfect enough for an industry that defines perfection from the outside and that’s OK. Rolls, curves, cellulite, all of it–I love every part of me.”
It’s important to note that body positivity isn’t skinny-shaming. Some people take, “I love (fill in the blank)” to mean, “I hate (fill in the blank)” or “Anything other than (fill in the blank) is wrong.” That’s clearly not what Ashely Graham feels and it’s not what I feel either. Graham wants to do away with the “real woman” phrase that genders stereotypes and excludes. To Elle magazine, last year, she said:
“I don’t like to use the words ‘real women,’ honestly. I like to use the word ‘woman.’ And I say that because there are so many women out there who are naturally thin, or are naturally curvy. I think when we start putting a label on the type of woman it gets misconstrued and starts to offend people. At the end of the day we just all want to be known as women or models or actresses or whatever.”
When the hashtag #BeachBodyReady trended on Twitter last Spring, Ashley tweeted an image of herself in a swimsuit reversing the question “are you beach body ready?” by asking if people were ready for her beach body.
That is confidence! That’s a woman I want my daughters to look up to. Finding beautiful people isn’t difficult. Finding good people is a bit harder. Finding someone whose beauty can be found at every layer of their being; that’s worth celebrating.
Photo Credit: Getty Images