The internet is buzzing with the talk of the first plus-size model appearing in the upcoming February 9th issue of none other than the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. Her name is Ashley Graham and if you ask me, she is absolutely stunning.
Ashley appears in an ad in the magazine that is part of online retailer swimsuitsforall campaign with the tagline “You’ve Got It. Flaunt It.” The bikinis from the Swim Sexy line range from sizes 10-34, featuring #CurvesInBikinis. Ashley is a size 16 and is not to be confused with Robyn Lawley – a size 12 plus-size model – who has been named the actual first plus-size model (and not because she’s expecting a baby any day now per her Instagram) to be included in a Sports Illustrated editorial feature. Robyn will be seen wearing a swimsuit from her own swimwear line. Is your head [pardon the pun, I couldn’t help it] swimming yet?
For the record, I think both women are beautiful, and I applaud them for their hard work and dedication in staking a claim in an industry that I can only assume in exceedingly competitive with extremely high standards, including an extreme expectation of how beauty should look that often appears to be entirely unattainable for the everyday woman.
That being said, the images of size 16 Ashley are the ones that have captured the most attention, including my own.
In these images, Ashley appears more like me than any model I have seen in recent history anywhere noteworthy. She has curvy hips and thighs, big boobs and a tummy that protrudes ever so slightly. While I am sure these images are photoshopped in some way, I even think I see a small imperfection on her thigh that might (oh my God) be cellulite.
The rapid internet fire surrounding the ad has been pretty evenly divided between “What are they thinking promoting obesity?” and “Finally! That’s what a real woman should look like!” The comments themselves range from enlightened to hysterical to absurd to downright hurtful. I am saddened to say the most criticism, no scrutiny, has come from the fitness community that I consider myself to be a part of. A community that welcomed me as a plus-sized runner, who now undoubtedly was also entrusted with the expectation that I would one day be something other than a plus-sized runner and therefore my looks were, well, overlooked for the time being.
We’ve heard it said and proclaimed it ourselves that health is not a number, it’s not a size and it is not a result of one factor alone. Health is not exclusively your weight or your jeans size, any more than it is your shoe size. Yet, people have deducted that Ashley must be unhealthy according to her curves. We, in fact, don’t really know if she is healthy or not – and it doesn’t really matter what we think we know. Ashley herself reports that she works out with a trainer multiple times a week, eats well and doesn’t deny herself every last treat, every last time. She is a self-proclaimed “body diversity ambassador” and states confidence, not size, is sexy. She radiates positivity about her body and speaks about she has overcome a long self-esteem battle born of the number on the scale and expectations in her early modeling career. She even has her own Curvy Fit Club.
Both Ashley and Robyn have spoken about how the plus-size label should not be defining of who they are as individuals. The modern idea of what women should look like, garnished from TV, movies and print, has conditioned us to see women like Ashley and Robyn as plus-size, indicating they do not look like they should and therefore, there is something wrong with them. Even when I look at Ashley I think she looks bigger, curvier, fuller, etc. but not ugly or unhealthy.
In reality, Ashley might be completely healthy – even more so than the slender woman you see – and at the end of the day, it’s health that should be the one thing that matters to us all. I can’t really think of anything more valuable than my health, especially since I myself came dangerous close to the ultimate penalty of poor health (self inflicted or not, as in my case), which would be death. It was not until I suffered a life-threatening blood clot in my lung two years ago that I understood exactly how important my health really was.
So, from here and for the first time ever, I am talking about my size. And I don’t mean I have decided to announce it on the World Wide Web either – for the first time in, well, ever, I told my husband last night…
I am a size 18.
(And you know what he said? “Oh, okay. I don’t get women’s sizes anyway.”)
Life went on. The Earth kept spinning. Nothing came from the sky and swallowed me whole.
I am a size 18. And, thanks to Ashley, I am ready to talk about it. All of it.
I’m no longer striving to be a size. Nope, no more. It ends right here, right now. While I am not quite the picture of health right now, a size is not the picture I am going to continue aiming for anymore. My picture looks like healthy – no numbers, no sizes, no measurements.
Truth be told, I am healthier than I was three or four years ago when I first started running. My blood sugar is normal; I’m not currently insulin resistant (and therefore at an increased risk for diabetes); and my triglycerides and cholesterol are normal. Still, I have improvements I want to make. I want to feel better. Even though I feel better than I did, I don’t always feel well. I want to regularly exercise, eat to heal my body and yes, I want to lose some weight to help achieve these things. I want to build back my endurance, my cardiovascular health and I want to have strength in my arms and abs again. But, I am no longer striving to be a number on the scale.
I’ve been hard on myself, downright hateful. When, the truth is, most of the time I strive to look pretty – even beautiful – and enjoy dressing and accessorizing to do so. I wear things I am comfortable in, but also things that flatter my curves. My husband thinks I am downright sexy and you know what? Maybe he is right. I do not see what he sees most of the time when I look in the mirror, but now thanks to Ashley, I am starting to see things a little differently. Curves are beautiful. I dare say that extra weight is beautiful. Boobs and butts are beautiful. And maybe even a little tummy is beautiful. We are women, after all. And even more beautiful than all of that? A woman who is healthy, happy, confident and comfortable in her own body, regardless of the number on the scale.
Until the next mile marker,