Ashley Graham is a beautiful and confident role model for women, as long as you’re under a size 20, are healthy, and love calling yourself curvy.
Graham herself is a successful young woman with great public speaking skills and someone I find incredibly inspiring. I applaud her for overcoming self doubt and body hatred. I think her advice of “speaking life” into your body is hands down some of the best body positive advice I’ve ever heard. She describes speaking life as feeding positive energy into yourself as you think about your body. If you’re constantly saying “my body’s gross,” you’re going to start to believe it. She has had to deal with some fat shaming of her own not only in private I’m sure, but very publicly as well. (ref: Nicole Arbour, Cheryl Tiegs, agent)
Graham is a self-described “body activist” and spreads her battle cry of “#beautybeyondsize” wherever she goes. She has quickly become the most well-known plus sized model in recent history. Graham has been on the cover of Glamour, Sports Illustrated, Elle, and Maxim, just to name a few. She’s been backstage at Miss USA, in a music video for DNCE, all over social media, and possibly even in your closets. She’s known for her curves and speaking out against the fashion industry’s label of “plus size.”
Last year at her TED talk, she dropped some knowledge on us. She states that the plus size fashion industry starts at a US size 8 and goes to a US size 16. This shocked me so much I had to stop the video for a second and do some research. I went to my trusty Wikipedia and found that according to PLUS Model magazine; "In the fashion industry, plus size is identified as sizes 12-24, super size as sizes 4X-6X and extended size as 7X and up" So possibly in terms of modeling, where the typical runway model is between a 0-4, a size 8 is considered plus size. But to the rest of the world, plus size means you have to shop in specialty stores or at least at the end of most core ranges.
Graham is the “in betweener” size where she’s on the fence between core and plus. It’s easy for her to shirk the “plus size” label, just as it’s easy for the world to embrace her “curviness” on the cover of magazines. Graham is 5’7” and has ranged from sizes 14-18 in her modeling career. According to her current measurements on her IMG Models profile she is measuring 38” 33.5” 48” making her a US 14 top with a size 14 waist and size 20 hips going by the Lane Bryant size charts. Most core fashion brands go to a 16/18 or an XL/XXL. She is significantly larger than the typical runway model; however, she is basically the size of the typical American woman with the added advantage of beautiful face, height, and good proportions. Graham has also admitted to wearing shapewear 80% of the time so that doesn’t hurt her figure either.
When asked why she doesn’t like the label “plus size”, she answers and generously gives us her definition of “fat” as well.
"The things that I don't necessarily like about it is all the negative stigmatisms that go with the word plus-size -- you're fat, you're lazy, you have no drive, no determination, you're constantly eating," she explained. "Honey, I work out. I work out three days a week. I lift. I do barre. I do it all." (Reference: ETonline)
In response to criticisms that she’s “making fat cool,” she says “it doesn’t matter what shape you are, it doesn’t matter what size you are - you have to be comfortable and healthy in your own skin.” During her interview with Katie Couric (ref: Katie) and in many other interviews, she’s quick to point out how healthy she is despite her size 16 tag. She points out that she was even “a little bit healthier” than the size 2 woman she did exercises with on GMA. She emphasizes that you can’t tell someone’s health by the number of the scale.
While I agree with her ideology of dropping diet culture, she’s tying self worth and love to health. Health is something that should be important because it keeps us alive, but you don’t need to work out every day to deserve self love. She’s also implying it’s okay to be curvy and healthy as long as you’re not fat, what she considered lazy.
Even with her body shamers, most people don’t think “fat” when they see Ashley Graham. The majority of women in the world have cellulite and stretch marks and they jiggle when they move, but when people see her, they see a woman – a very beautiful woman at that. There are plenty of women in the body positivity movement that would be described as fat, myself included. There might be some other adjectives in there as well, but fat would not be left out when describing me. I would rather be called plus sized then “curvy, sexylicious.” My body love is not defined by my sexuality or what others think of me. I need the term “plus sized” to be able to find my section in stores. And I need the already small plus size section to be more than “sexylicious” bras and tight evening wear.
Graham made have found her way into your closet through her lingerie or swimwear line. What I found when perusing her clothes made it even clearer that she doesn’t really care about inclusivity of all fat women.
She told Daily Mail Online that “'I think everyone should wear a bikini and be comfortable in their skin;” (ref: Daily Mail) however, her Swimsuits for All line carries nothing above a size 24, even though the company goes to a 34 in other styles. She has four out of eleven styles available in a 22, 24 – the rest only available to those sized 10-20. Her AdditionElle lingerie line only goes up to a 3X on the panties, though her largest bra size is a 42H.
In her interview with Katie Couric, she says “the best thing about Swimsuits for All is that it’s all online so you don’t have to stand under any unflattering lights.” Her first tip to trying on swimsuits is to “get a good spray tan,” because obviously if you’re pale that’s as bad as being fat. Her second tip is to bring a friend so they can take pictures of you in your potential swimsuit from all your unflattering angles. The problem there is body positivity should not be limited to the perfect lighting with your hand on your hips and makeup on. It should not be limited to your curated selfies. Body positivity should carry into the stores, into the dressing rooms that hold so much negativity when you hate how you look.
During her TED talk, she informed the crowd that “the majority of this room is considered plus size.” That’s according to her fashion industry standards as stated above. Then she asked “how does that make you feel to be labeled?” If being plus size wasn’t a negative to her, this would not a question she posed. My clothes are plus sized. My body is fat. I am a woman. I have freckles. It’s not any more complicated than that. Instead of focusing on words and labels, she should be focusing on being an ally to women that are less represented. Health at any size is not a bad platform, but self love at any mental or physical state is so much more important. When you have self love and you’re thinking positive thoughts, for most people you naturally start treating food and exercise different. She might not be saying the words “fat is bad,” but by pushing to “drop the plus” and call women “curvaceous” she’s further stigmatizing fatness. Graham is easier to swallow at a relatively small size (compared to most actual plus size customers) and has far more access to the media than we do. I hope in the future she’ll use this power to be an ally to the actual body positive community and not just the hourglass figures who lift.
Until Next Time,