Tuesday, February 16, 2016

It's a Good Step

So, guys, this happened. Ashley Graham has become the first plus-size model to be featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition. To be perfectly clear, there are three covers out this February and only one features a plus-size model, but this is still a big deal for a number of reasons.

1) Body diversity. Yay! Let's keep it going! I hope next SI does a cover story about fat athletes.

2) Mainstream. SI is a popular, reputable magazine. There is no danger of it being called "feminist" (said with a sneer) or other dirty words that make otherwise veritable people and publications lose credibility whether or not it's actually deserved.

According to many sources, Graham has dedicated this cover to "all of the women out there who never felt that they were beautiful enough, who never felt like they were skinny enough, and who never felt like they were going to be able to represented in a society like this. Because now we're being represented." Graham is correct. SI is a big step in representation, which is not to say that there are not other reputable, respected, and famous plus-size models, Whitney Thompson (of ANTM fame), Tess Holiday, Denise Bidot, and Emme to name a few.

While I'm writing this post with the intent to say well done to Ashley Graham and revel in an more diversified world, I'm also writing with two other intentions.

Firstly, it's only one day later and I'm already seeing really problematic things being posted like, "Finally a real woman on the cover" or "So much better than the bones that SI normally has." BLURGBLUDALGJADLJ PATRIARCHY STOP HATING.

I've calmed down.

In other words, one of the reasons that western society is still so invested in marketing beauty is because women are taught view beauty as a competition. We become consumed with making ourselves "better" than other women by buying x,y, and z products and engaging in a,b, and c behaviors that we lose sight of things that actually matter. Like equal pay. And all the discrimination. Ashley Graham is not better or worse than any other SI swimsuit issue cover model that has come before her. She is just different.

While it's very tempting to use terms like "real woman" and throw back what has been thrown at fatter women for a long time, that's fire with fire and it's not necessary, productive, or helping. At all.

Also, a "real woman" is someone who is biologically born as a woman and still identifies as such or identifies now as a woman. It has nothing to do with someone's size.

Secondly, although this is a great step, I still can't help being dubious. Ashley Graham is "plus size" relative to an industry standard but is hardly representative of a - forgive the choice of words here - wider audience. From what I've read, her cover shot is virtually untouched, and I see trim arms, legs with little to no cellulite, and a belly that, though larger than most models', would barely be considered paunchy by most women.

What I hope is that size diversity will continue to expand its perceptions of size and that, in the near
future, we'll have a Tess Holliday on the cover. Or better yet, SI will start to feature more female athletes, fat or otherwise.

So, take this small victory in stride. Well done, Ashley Graham but we've still got a long way to go. 

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