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.

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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:

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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?

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