On Cheryl Tiegs, Sports Illustrated & Fat Acceptance

You might have read my post a while back on Dillard’s, Spanx, and the Fat Acceptance Movement.

If you did, you know that even as a former fatty (and arguably as a current slight fatty), I take a harsh approach to the Fat Acceptance Movement.

Which isn’t to say that Fat people aren’t beautiful. Every creature on this earth is beautiful. Every single human being is a precious snowflake. Yes, even the fat ones!

And I like the idea of body acceptance! But I don’t love the idea of Fat Acceptance. Especially when the movement attacks doctors for insisting overweight people lose weight.

Today The Controversy Continues.

Again, the media is abuzz.

First, Sports Illustrated features a plus-size model Ashley Graham on the cover. At 5’9” she’s a size 16, 170 pounds, which puts her just over a 25 BMI (basically the cut-off between average and overweight). She used to be a size 18, but has lost weight through diet and exercise.  In any event, I’m not a huge fan of BMI. Just trying to offer some perspective.


I happen to think she’s gorgeous. And I also think she’d look better if she lost a few pounds, but hey – I’m not God. I’m also not the editor of Sports Illustrated, and most importantly – I’m not Ashley Graham. In all honesty, I feel a little gross even sitting here discussing her measurements as if those things define her. Her looks and health are her prerogative, and the decision to put her on the cover of Sports Illustrated is theirs.

Along comes former top model model Cheryl Tiegs. She doesn’t specifically call out Graham, but she is quite obviously referencing the SI cover. Here is what she says to E!:

“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),”

Regarding Graham specifically, Tiegs says:

“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.”

So basically – Tiegs is doing what Fat Acceptance Advocates HATE the most – invoking “health” as a way to put someone of larger proportions down.

I guess I should note here that Tiegs once modeled for cigarettes.  (Virginia Slims, appropriately enough). And let’s not forget her 1968 ad for tanning oil:


In all fairness, I suppose that cigarettes and skin cancer are, in fact, pretty cool…

Plus Size Models and The Average Woman

Some people say that plus size models represent the average woman. But should they? And what the hell does it mean to be the average woman anyway?

Sure, the average woman is not rail thin. But she also doesn’t need to be a size 16.

People come in different shapes and sizes. And at 5’9”, a size 16 isn’t unreasonable, especially for someone with wide set hips. I have a very wide bone structure myself, so I could see how on a  rare occasion, someone might even be that size without having excess body fat.

But Graham does look a bit on the chubby side to me. And that’s OK – as long as she’s happy.  It seems that Graham is active and happy, and so I am not one to judge. And she’s still stunningly beautiful. So why NOT put her on a magazine cover?

On the other hand, Graham does NOT represent the average woman. I HATE this talk. The average woman is not a size 16, nor should she be. For the average woman, a size 16 is NOT curvy. It’s fat. Let’s not get it mixed up.

Which isn’t to say that MANY women aren’t a size 16. Of course many are. And for most of them, it’s not the healthiest place to be. Which is why, to some extent, I understand what Tiegs is getting at.  I still think she’s kind of a bitch.

Since When Do Models Represent HEALTH or Averages?

But here is what I’d like to know from Tiegs. Since when are models a picture of health? They’re not. They are very often exaggeration of an “ideal” body type. And they are very often pre-pubescent.

My point here is that NO, plus size models don’t (and shouldn’t) represent the average woman any more than regular models do. But so what?

Do ANY models represent the average woman?

And to Tiegs point – is it really any healthier to eat cotton balls and be rail thin? Is it particularly healthy for a 13 year old size 4 girl to be told she’ll be fired unless she loses weight?

…Watch the movie “Child Model” and tell me that models are a healthy bunch.

So, sure by medical standards, Graham is probably slightly overweight. Big deal. By society’s standards, Tiegs is probably a slight bitch. Luckily, there’s enough room on magazine covers for both of them

It’s Not Enough to Be Beautiful

The real problem is this.  It’s not enough to be beautiful or accomplished to end up on a magazine cover in the US. You must also be “perfect” with regards to your demographic.  And lord knows what “perfect” means.

Why is it that models are either insanely tall and microscopic or insanely tall and plus size?

Why is it that celebrities, who are insanely beautiful to begin with must be airbrushed thinner? Not only is it stupid, it’s also insane.

Where the hell are all the real human beings?  You know – the one’s who popped out of a vagina, and who might be perhaps – a size 8 or a size 10 or a size 12? The ones who occasionally eat pizza?

Why was a beautiful 13 year old girl (a size 4) told to either LOSE weight, or to gain weight to be plus size. She was scouted at her natural size 4. Why is she now modeling as a plus size?

Working in NYC, I am always amazed how many beautiful girls I see just walking the streets. Beauty really does come in all shapes and sizes. And in all races and at all ages.

People here are fashionable, they’re gorgeous, and they have character. Not everyone needs to be a stick. And not everyone is trying to be a size zero. Not everyone is flawless. But they are all worth celebrating. They all look great.

The Truth is This

It would be great if magazines celebrated the bodies of all kinds of women.

But Fat Acceptance isn’t that. Fat Acceptance is cool. It’s controversial. It’s good PR.

Sports Illustrated isn’t particularly brave or praiseworthy. And neither is Graham. They are just taking advantage of the zeitgeist. It would be stupid for any publication or model not to.

What would be praiseworthy in my mind?

To take a girl who is a size 4, or a size 8, or a size 10 – and feature her as she is. Without telling her to lose weight or to gain weight so that she could fit into a category. Without calling the bigger girl “plus size.”

And on the other hand – to stop using euphemisms like “full figured” and “curvy” to describe people who, in reality, are overweight. To stop pandering to people who would probably be better off if they loved their bodies enough to take care of them.

There are plenty of people who are “full figured” and “curvy” who are NOT overweight. There IS a difference.

The Pandering

If you love yourself and you’re overweight, that’s great. Everyone should love themselves.

But if you think any part of this whole “body acceptance” thing is about ACTUAL acceptance, then just know that you ARE being pandered to.

If this weren’t the case:

  •  a size 8, 10, or 12 would be just as acceptable to Sports Illustrated as a size 16. And yet it isn’t; AND
  • a size 6 would be just as acceptable on the runway as a size zero. And yet it isn’t.

What do you think?


If you love Fat Girls Fitness, subscribe to our bi-weekly newsletter.
(We won’t spam you)

And/or follow Fat Girls Fitness on Facebook 🙂


15 thoughts on “On Cheryl Tiegs, Sports Illustrated & Fat Acceptance”

  1. I agree that it would be wonderful if magazines could represent people of ALL sizes. Heck it would be awesome if retailers like Lane Bryant would use models who represented the sizes they sell (up to 28) but they don’t because society isn’t ready for it. Just look at the brouhaha with Cheryl Tiegs saying that a size 16 model shouldn’t be on the cover of SI. What would be said about someone like Tess Holliday gracing its cover? I hope that day does come, though… that people can respect the fact that bodies come in all sizes. And who’s to say what’s “natural”? If you look at ancient statues of goddesses, they are fat.

    I also agree that size acceptance should be for ALL bodies which is why I have a Facebook page to promote it. Admittedly, there is emphasis on fat acceptance (and I don’t shy from the word “fat” as don’t a lot of fat acceptance activists) because we bear the brunt of the prejudice, bullying and shaming.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’d love to see your Facebook page!!

      Maybe I’m just being idealistic – but I hate the idea of “plus size” versus regular models. I also think it’s absurd how tiny regular models are, and that it’s absurd that some fit girls are pressured to get bigger to become plus size, because they can’t get small enough to become a standard model.

      You bring up a great point about Lane Bryant. The way I see it is this – if a store sells up to a size 12, why not have models up to a size 12? I mean are size 12 girls never attractive??

      If a store sells up to a size 28, why not have models up to a 28? To me, that just seems reasonable.

      As far as your other points. I don’t doubt that overweight people face discrimination, I’ve personally experienced both sides of it.

      Still – some aspects of the “fat acceptance” movement just drive me crazy – like people who are upset at doctors for insisting on weight loss. I think that with even a little excess weight, it’s very common for health issues to happen. Even someone who is only 30 pounds overweight might be likely to experience menstrual issues, hormonal dysfunction etc.

      I actually feel so much better now that I lost weight, and I only wish I had a doctor who one day said to me “You know what – you should try whole foods, and cutting out processed foods” Instead, I learned about all this stuff from books.

      But anyway – I’m always interested in differing points of view. Would love to learn more about your facebook page.


  2. I fully agree with you and I posted a similar blog about a week ago. My husband who is an ER doctor looked at this picture on sports illustrated and he and I both had a hard time even believing she was at 170lbs at 5′ 9″ ” – something is not quite adding up there. I am 5’0 and 106=/- lbs and have almost a 26″ waist. So how does she have only a waist 4″ bigger than mine (this was one stat we read)? Hmmm. My husband’s take was that she was pushing 200lbs (he has seen a lot of this believe me) in that picture – even with the photo shopping lol. As a previous 25+bmi overweight girl I would never endorse this EVER. It is unhealthy – period….


    1. I love how you note the pandering in this fat acceptance movement. I agree that too many people are coddling obesity by replacing it with the euphemism curvy. I think our society has become overreactive and hyper-sensitive to the point where, seemingly everyone is quick to reply when a comment that’s something they DON’T want to hear comes at them. People have seemingly forgot that one size does not fit all and, it doesn’t mean it’s discrimination, it’s simply called: find a tailor!
      As for Cheryl Tiegs, the fact she’s attempting to contain the notion of healthy under a 35 inch waist umbrella is just preposterous. I used to model. I did print, runway and some TV and I can tell you that, there’s a reason eating disorders exist within the industry. It’s nobody’s fault per se, it’s just a culmination of pressures from society, sometimes the designer themselves and the image they want to come to fruition on their model, and a myriad of other factors. Maybe that will be a future post of mine.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Camille –

        Thanks for your comment. It’s great to hear from someone in the industry.

        I think you are exactly right about it being no one’s fault in particular. I think we’re starting to see now the diversification of bodies, partially because of consumer demand – and I guess partially due to this hyper-sensitivity (which I guess is the good side of it).

        We humans can be so trapped in our thinking. I think as more people begin questioning assumptions as to how any of this makes sense, it will inevitably get better and better.

        I completely understand why a designer might want a particular look for their model. I just think it’s so odd how incredibly narrow that look is across basically every designer. But I think eventually it will be a relic. Overall, I think we’re on a pretty good track.

        Would love to hear more about this from you, so if you do a future post, definitely let me know 🙂


    2. Thank you 🙂

      I’ve actually been thinking about how it would be cool to have places that do body-fat-percentages and various metabolic tests in malls.

      BMI, for me, is definitely a bit of a sham. I don’t know if it’s bc I have a large frame and short height, but it just seems a bit higher than it should be. I’m not big into tracking, but I go by measurements more so than anything.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on Four Comfort Walls and commented:
    This is really awesome. We need more posts like this, fat shaming is happening so much lately. Ashley Graham’s debut as the Sports Illustrated model helps other plus size girls out there to be comfortable in their own skin. Thanks for posting.


  4. Generally the problem is mankind. We’ve always got to have someone to pick on. We’re a naturally aggressive creature. And though the ideal is for all mankind to get on, it won’t happen because we are naturally wired to pick on anyone who doesn’t fit our ideals.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s