Ashley Graham became the talk of the town this week when it was announced that she would be the first plus-sized model to appear in Sports Illustrated‘s accepted form of soft core porn, the Swimsuit Edition.
The paid advertisement that will be running Ashley’s photo is for a company called Swimsuits for All and they specialize in swimwear that ranges from size 10 – size 26. Now this may come as a shock to everyone, but studies have shown that the average size for women in America is size 14, so this website isn’t actually catering to some sort of underground big girl minority. They’re servicing a huge percentage of swimsuit wearers. Ashley — a size 14 — is the ‘biggest’ girl to be in SI was Kate Upton, who nabbed a cover shot in the 2014 Swimsuit Edition. It was the cover heard around the world as people doled out their opinions on whether Kate was too fat to be in such a skimpy bathing suit.
Why is this not actually a big deal at all? Because adding the image of an average-sized woman to a magazine that has an ENTIRE ISSUE devoted to the objectification of women’s bodies is not progress. It’s just another day. But, now, at least men are objectifying “our” body type, too!
As women, we are trained from birth to buy and sell and trade on our looks. It starts young and no matter how feministxcore we want to be, this thing keeps going until we die. It’s chronic and it’s a condition that is exclusive to people that identify as women. Everywhere we turn, there’s some kind of skinny white model in our face reminding us that this is the standard of beauty. This is the level to which we need to bring ourselves to gain the approval of those around us and, most importantly, the men around us. Those giant pictures at the Victoria’s Secret in the mall are there to remind us that this is what our boyfriends and husbands want to see underneath the frumpy shirts that get sold at the Old Navy across the way. This subliminal sexual advertising eats away bit by bit at a woman’s self esteem, until it gets to the point that she doesn’t feel comfortable being seen by her mate unless it’s completely dark and she’s covered in a sheet. A sheet with a picture of Kate Upton on it.
We are quite literally living in a time where weight and body shape are the sole measuring points of sexual value and desirability. Your stock value as a woman is directly proportional to your waist measurements, the size of your butt, the shape of your breasts, and how you choose to display each of these things. Honestly, what is even the purpose of the Swimsuit Edition? SI doesn’t even sell bathing suits!
Ashley is not some mysterious woman that was found on the street and is now making a valiant claim to fame. She is a professional model who’s been paid to do several ads for large retail companies like Levi’s, Target, Hanes, Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom, Macy’s, and Old Navy. This is her job. Her job is to sell items, whether they be bathing suits or a pair of jeans. She’s not a “plus-sized model” — she’s a model. My doctor is considered “plus-sized,” but that doesn’t mean I’m going to refer to him as a plus-sized doctor. Size is not and should not be relevant to one’s occupation.
So, why all this hoopla over just another ad in just another magazine? Why do we have this sick fascination with who gets to be pretty and who is forced into the shadows? Why are we cheering, commending, and instigating women to compete against each other to be objectified by the male gaze? Because female beauty is not just a commodity, it’s a form of currency.
Women are so desperate for representation in the media that we’re willing to worship people like Ashley Graham and Kate Upton and Tyra Banks because we think they’re expanding the meaning of beauty. They’re not! These are highly paid, highly photoshopped women who had the wits to commodify their bodies so much that they can make thousands off of one picture.
When it all boils down, Ashley Graham is doing what models do: selling a garment. We’re the ones endowing her photo with deeper meaning than is necessary. Sports Illustrated is not doing anything bold or new — they’re just keeping their magazine running through exploiting women’s bodies.