Home Beauty When it Comes to Plus Size Models, We’re Asking the Wrong Questions

When it Comes to Plus Size Models, We’re Asking the Wrong Questions

by Erika Nicole Kendall

During my miserable, miserable, miserable bout with the flu, I missed this piece of randomness:

But [Cheryl] Tiegs, who has been featured on Sports Illustrated‘s covers multiple times, doesn’t agree with the magazine’s choice to feature Graham. Tiegs opened up to E! NewsSibley Scoles Wednesday at the 13th Annual Global Green USA Pre-Oscar Party and said she felt the magazine was promoting an unhealthy lifestyle by featuring her.

“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 explained. “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.” [source]

Now, I would’ve let this go a long time ago —a loooong time ago, trust me—except Eddy sent me this:

Model and body activist Ashley Graham’s latest ad for Lane Bryant is not on the level of NBC and ABC’s advertising division—which is to say, the opinions of TV ad dudes are about as pertinent as the opinions of Dr. Oz’s number one expert occultist, a human named Cheryl Tiegs. Both networks have rejected a 30 second commercial spot from the plus-size retailer on the grounds that it “[does not] comply with broadcast indecency guidelines.”

According to TMZ, the flagship commercial in question was made for Lane Bryant’s “This Body” underwear marketing campaign, and features Graham, other full-bodied models, a woman breastfeeding, and nudity more or less on par with a Dove commercial. [source]

See, here’s my thing. These two are connected, without a doubt.

Cheryl Tiegs, when asked her perspective on the series of covers that Sports Illustrated did at an Oscars party — she’s still being invited to those? — went on a tirade about her health. And, in the middle of this anti-thesis of a compliment sandwich, she goes on to call Graham “beautiful face,” but puts the bun on it with “but I don’t think it’s healthy.”

Undoubtedly, this is part of the same mentality behind what made ad execs turn down Lane Bryant’s ad: the inability to look at these women and simply see beautiful women. No, instead we look at these women and cannot resist seeing anything but health maladies and “Dr. Oz said your waist shouldn’t be larger than 35 inches!!!111111ONE”

I’m curious, though. Do we look at Kate Moss and tell ourselves, “Gosh, that doesn’t look healthy?” Moss was an admitted coke addict—as are, unfortunately, many of the models we see on the runway and in print—and is a huge part of what we identified once as “heroin chic.” I spent a good amount of time looking for supermodels, past and present, who’ve spoken out against that trend. Cheryl Tiegs wasn’t among them.

Nowadays, there are countless images of models pushing the envelope of what constitutes “appearing healthy,” and it’s something that modeling agencies actively court. Models are consuming non-digestible items simply to quell the rumbling in their tummies, because starvation is the only way they know to maintain the body that will keep them employed. I spent a considerable amount of time looking for quotes from supermodels, past and present, who’ve spoken out against that trend.

Again, Cheryl Tiegs wasn’t among them. Why didn’t we ask Cheryl Tiegs to opine about that? Did she not care about the well-being of women then? Or does she only care after social media outcry pointed out her hypocrisy? (Tiegs wrote, “To clarify re bodyweight. Being anorexic/bulimic/overweight all connected to health problems. I want all to be as healthy as they can,” before deleting the tweet. As far as I’m concerned, it’s too little and too late.)

Here’s my thing. Her statement makes it pretty clear that she believes there is an aspirational aspect to what models do, because she fears what a plus-size model will teach people to aspire to if she is even seen. Models present and create fantasy. Models serve as mirrors, intended to reflect back onto the world what they want to see most. That’s why it’s so hard for brown skinned, brown-eyed models to break into the world of supermodeling—on a crude level, marketers look at these girls and think to themselves, “who wants to look like that?”

We’re apparently okay with these models presenting fantasy that results in women stabbing themselves with stainless steel tinsel, covered in butt paste to hide their stretch marks, and going on liquid diets in order to protect the sanctity of the fantasy. We’re apparently okay with the consequences of these images: a billion-dollar diet industry, countless women’s self esteem flushed down the toilet, and young girls growing up believing the path to beauty is through thigh gaps and cheekbones sharp enough to slice a wedge of cheese. We’re okay with what the thin models teach us. Because at least they’re still telling you to be thin.

What an Ashley Graham represents, however, is beauty sans the pressure of “aspiration.” She makes beauty more attainable for us all through her activism. She’s saying beauty doesn’t have to come with the pressure of acquiescing to a size-conscious society, that it’s all within our grasp. She’s saying we deserve to be seen at every size, and that’s meaningful.

Graham told E! News,

Cheryl Tiegs may have said what she said and it may have hurt a lot of peoples feelings,” Graham began to tell E! News, “but my skin is so thick. I kind of rolled my eyes, I was like, ‘Oh whatever, another one of these ladies.’ But what’s great is that—the fact that she said it—it means that other women think like her. And what that means is that we really need to change the industry.”

She adds, “There are too many people thinking they can look at a girl my size and say that we are unhealthy. You can’t, only my doctor can!” [source]

Considering how both ABC and NBC rejected her LB commercial, it’s not only the modeling industry that needs a change.

It’s to the credit of the plus sized social media community and blogosphere that so many women are stepping out of the very shadows Tiegs and these networks continuously seek to put them/us in. Women deserve to be seen, admired, appreciated, and valued at every size. There’s no reason to diminish that by quoting Dr. Oz or talking about 35″ waists whenever we see Graham or any other model who happens to be plus-sized.

We need to start asking the right questions, here. We need to ask why we can only muster up the courage to ask health-related questions when the model is full-figured, and why we don’t seem to think that models who are so heroin chic they might need a methodone clinic need special attention, too. We need to ask why our society’s reaction to full-figured women even being seen is to say they shouldn’t be glamorized, or feel glamorous, all because of their size. And, most of all, we need to start asking why this mentality never seems to pass itself onto our male counterparts. Maybe then, we can stop having conversations about the health of strangers and start leading people with support instead of shame.

You may also like

1 comment

Karen McNeil March 31, 2016 - 10:50 AM

Just discovered your blog, Erika, and really like it. (I was doing a search on “whiteness of food movements” and landed on one of your posts from a few years ago.)

I think the bigger issue, here, though is the commodification of women’s bodies in general. Whether (supposedly) plus-sized or super skinny, what does it say about us that in 2016 a popular magazine’s most popular issue is one that has a bunch of pictures of nearly naked women?

Comments are closed.