Nearly 500 readers e-mailed and Facebooked me asking for a post about this, so here you go! For the first time ever, a “plus size model” (or, as I like to call them, models) is on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Edition.
Now there are any number of issues that one might have with the concept and execution of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, I certainly have many, but for now I’m going to set those aside to talk about this. Ashley Graham, a size 16 model, is on the cover of a magazine that is known for highlighting the most “beautiful” women in the world as dictated by the current stereotype of beauty. And this year, it’s a woman who, while she meets that stereotype in many ways, is definitely larger than the stereotype dictates.
One of the things that can happen when people challenge the stereotype of beauty – even a little bit- is that those who have been benefiting from the former stereotype can get really bent out of shape. We all live in a culture that tells us that we’ll never be enough, and that suggests that we should try to feel better about ourselves by trying to put others down.
So let’s say that someone derives their self-esteem from – just as a random hypothetical- the fact that they are thin enough to be a Sports Illustrated Cover Model and their belief that it makes them better than other people. Then let’s say, again hypothetically, that a plus sized woman becomes a Sports Illustrated Cover Model. That can cause a massive issue for someone who thinks that they are valuable because they are thin. It presents a direct challenge their sense of self-esteem and value. (This is one of the ways that a culture of fat hate and weight bias hurts everyone of every size, by the way.)
Enter Cheryl Tiegs. Perhaps she is being driven by jealousy, or by what she perceives as an attack on what makes her valuable, or something else. I know that these can certainly be reactions, but of course I have no idea what is going on in her mind. What I do know is that what is coming out of her mouth is fat shaming, healthism, and pure wrong. When asked about Ashley’s cover, Cheryl spewed the following:
I don’t like it that we’re talking about full-figured women, because it’s glamorizing them — and your waist should be smaller than 35 [inches]. That’s what Dr. Oz said, and I’m sticking to it. I don’t think it’s healthy.”
To quote Nora Crotty who did a great piece about this for Yahoo! Style “It should be noted that a 2014 study published by the British Medical Journal found that at least half of television Dr. Mehmet Oz’s medical advice is either without base or entirely wrong.” Waist size is not health, body size and health are two different things. As far as I’m concerned, there is no reason to believe that Cheryl Tiegs is a psychic doctor. Also, Dr. Oz is a sell-out quack, and anyone who quotes him has some serious credibility issues. But that’s not really the point here.
The point is, if you think that only people who meet your definition of “health” should be allowed to be photographed for magazines, then you are a healthist, and an asshole. Period. Ashley Graham’s health has fuck all to do with this situation. And Cheryl does not get any bonus points for rehashing all that “promoting fatness” bullshit. I also think it’s pretty telling that Cheryl thinks that it’s people talking about women that “glamorizes” them. Ashley Graham is glamorous whether people are talking about her or not.
And the icing on the bigoted bullshit cake? Cheryl saying that Ashley’s “face is beautiful.” Newsflash Cheryl, telling fat women they “have a pretty face” is the most back of backhanded compliments, so why don’t you skip it and at least have the guts to stand there and be the healthist, weight bigot you are.
It’s unfortunate, but as fat people demand and exercise our right to exist and participate fully in the world, this is the kind of fatphobic, handwringing, healthist bullshit that we’ll have to face. But we’re going to keep moving forward and things are going to change, and the Cheryl Tiegs of the world will either have to deal with their issues and change with it, or be left to whine about it with the rest of the people desperately clinging to their healthist, sizeist views.
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