Body activist and model Ashley Graham, despite being a size 14, has been given a seat at the fashion table and thus exists in a pivotal, yet unfortunately, limited space. As theCURVYcon founder Chastity Garner Valentine aptly put it in an interview earlier this year, when it comes to the industry’s slow march towards inclusivity, girls like Ashley represent concurrently both the change we’d like to see in the fashion world and the maintenance of the status quo: “I feel like mainstream fashion is becoming more inclusive of plus-size fashion and plus-size people, but only a certain type of plus-size girl. She’s hourglass, tall, a size 14 and, most times, white. A lot of the growth and attention in the plus-size industry has come from the bottom up and from women of color, but once plus-size became mainstream the less diverse the industry has become. The plus-size fashion industry feels, as it relates to fashion, like it’s a different side of the same fashion coin, where only a few people who look the same are allowed in the door.”
However, the fact that Ashley’s image conforms to a certain standard does not make her body activism any less important. That said, within and without the plus-size community, it does make her something of a divisive figure. In a recent essay for Lenny Letter entitled “Shamed If I Do, Shamed If I Don’t,” Ashley explains her frustration at being constantly judged for her “neither here nor there” status.
For instance, while on set filming America’s Next Top Model in July, Ashley, feeling her two-piece look and grommet-lined Balmain leather jacket, asked her hairstylist to snap a photo for Instagram. The high-angle, flattering shot quickly went viral, garnering over 108,000 likes, not because she looked (damn) good, but because she appeared to have lost weight. Ashley describes the incident in her essay:
While I was on set filming America’s Next Top Model, my hairstylist snapped a picture of me in a white knit skirt, matching crop top, and an amazing Balmain leather jacket that I absolutely loved. It was one of those photos where you look and say to yourself, “YESSSS, HONEY! I look damn good!” I didn’t give it a second thought when I posted it, but soon the image went viral. Not because of how good I looked wearing a high-end designer that doesn’t usually market to women my size, but because of people’s misguided views on women’s bodies and who owns the rights to them. Here is some of my feedback:
“I am so disappointed in you.”
“You don’t make plus-size dollars anymore, you make backstabbing dollars.”
“You don’t love the skin you’re in, you want to conform to Hollywood, you believe being skinnier is prettier.”
“You used to be a role model and I looked up to you.”
According to the comments, some people were upset because I appeared to be slimmer. (Knowing my angles is one thing, but I must be a magician to make people think I went from a size 14 to a size 6 in a week!) The reality is I haven’t lost a pound this year. In fact, I’m actually heavier than I was three years ago, but I accept my body as it is today. I work out not to lose weight but to maintain my good health. And anyway, if I did want to lose weight, it would be no one’s decision but my own.
Years in the industry have toughened Ashley’s skin and made her realize you cannot hope to please everyone. “When I post a photo from a ‘good angle,’ I receive criticism for looking smaller and selling out. When I post photos showing my cellulite, stretch marks, and rolls, I’m accused of promoting obesity. The cycle of body-shaming needs to end. I’m over it,” she states in the essay.
While it is important for the industry to accept all forms of curvy women into its fold, any instance in which women are cut down based on their size or appearance isn’t helping the cause: “Body shaming isn’t just telling the big girl to cover up. It’s trying to shame me for working out. It’s giving ‘skinny’ a negative connotation. It’s wanting me to be plus size, or assuming I’m pregnant because of some belly bulge,” Ashley writes. “What type of example are we setting for young girls and their self-esteem if grown adults are on Instagram calling other women ‘cowards’ for losing weight, or ‘ugly’ for being overweight?”
Ashley concludes her essay with a powerful call for unity and a reclamation of her body: “We can’t create change until we recognize and check our own actions. If you see another woman taking a selfie or a photo in her bathing suit, encourage her because she actually feels beautiful, don’t give her the side eye because you think she’s feeling herself too hard. Why waste time and energy spewing negativity? Let’s worry about our own bodies. My body is MY body. I’ll call the shots.”
And this is why we will love Ashley always and forever, regardless of her size.
[ via Mic ]