I’m the kind of girl who grew up feeling inadequate in her own skin. How could I not have been? All throughout high school and college I was surrounded by pretty girls who had guys lining up to court them. They glided around with their salon-perfected hair, their well-moisturized skins, and their latest outfits straight out of the racks of Forever 21. Somehow they were effortlessly resembling the gorgeous models whose images fashion magazines loved to bombard us with.
Then there’s me. The unrepresented me. Petite, thick-haired, and unable to fit to a size two despite having people tell me I was “skinny.” In one category I looked like one of those gorgeous women in those glossy pages. But I still didn’t feel enough. I didn’t feel represented by any of these women. I didn’t see diversity in them.
Eventually, I grew to understand that beauty indeed does come in all shapes and sizes. We’ve had women built with athletic bodies grace the covers of popular magazines–from UFC Champ Ronda Rousey to WWE Diva Charlotte showing that brawny can be beautiful–to women of color being in the covers of the fashion magazines who once made me feel inadequate.
And recently, a full-figure model had the honor of gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated‘s Swimsuit edition, an honor similarly held by the likes of diverse women like Ronda Rousey, Tyra Banks, Beyoncé, Chrissy Teigen, and Kate Upton. This year, a new kind of diversity is being added to the mix when full-figure model Ashley Graham graced the cover this year as one of three models featured in the first issue with multiple covers. Graham shares the honor of being in the cover alongside Rousey and Hailey Clauson, but the world is celebrating Graham for being the first full-figure model to be in the cover.
The world welcomed the move with open arms, but, as with most things, the move was also met with backlash. One particular backlash came from SI‘s own cover girl, Cheryl Tiegs.
In an interview with E!, Tiegs wasn’t exactly waving her arms in praise of the progressive move. “I don’t like that we’re talking about full-figured women because it’s glamorizing them because your waist should be smaller than 35 [inches]. That’s what Dr. Oz said, and I’m sticking to it,” she said. “No, I don’t think it’s healthy. Her face is beautiful. Beautiful. But I don’t think it’s healthy in the long run.”
It’s a sad thing to say about another woman, coming from a woman who was privileged enough to fit in to the industry’s standards of “beauty” by being pretty, blonde, and skinny. Tiegs has gone on to clarify that she was only pointing out health concerns, but what she has said had made her seem like she took a couple of steps back in our progress for redefining beauty.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, in case Tiegs needs to be reminded. She’s not Graham’s or anyone’s doctor, so she’s not qualified to make the comment. She even quoted Dr. Oz, whose own reputation as a doctor has been slammed for perpetuating misleading claims on his own TV show (but that’s another story on another day). Tiegs’ concern for models’ health is a logical concern, but she’s targeting the wrong people.
Graham, by being in the spotlight, has broken down barriers and could very well have woken up the confidence of shy, insecure women who never felt like their kind of beauty was represented by the beauty and fashion industry.
Because at the end of the day, if that’s what Graham’s magazine cove will accomplish, then Tiegs’ comment won’t scratch anyone hard enough to leave wounds.
“I am hopefully going to change the lives of so many different young women,” Graham once told E! News. “So many young women who have been told that their cellulite is ugly; that their inner-thighs that jiggle and touch are ugly because I have all those things, and I’m on the cover of Sports Illustrated. So they must be beautiful!”
They are, Ashley. You are beautiful, they are beautiful, we are all beautiful.