The Sad Double Standard Behind the Ashley Graham ‘Sports Illustrated’ Ad

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This year’s upcoming Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition will make history for featuring plus-sized model Ashley Graham.

Born in 1987, Graham is a gorgeous model that has gained recognition for her many plus-sized model advertising campaigns, appearances on talk shows, and for being a Made coach on MTV. In 2010, Graham drew a lot of attention after accusing some television networks of purposely not airing a provocative Lane Bryant commercial in which the larger model appeared in lingerie:


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Graham, who wears a size 14-16, will appear in the swimsuit edition, which is set to launch this coming Monday, Feb. 9. Following today’s release of the commercial preview, however, the public is showing generally favorable reactions to Sports Illustrated‘s decision to feature the plus-sized model, clad only in a bikini.

On the other hand, there are also a fair amount of skeptics:

Seeing how great she looks in a bikini, it is hard to believe that this photoshoot is going to make history. Yet in the fashion industry, “plus-size” is considered a 12-24. According to Ashley, the most important thing is to be healthy, regardless of your size.

I think that you can be healthy at any size and my goal is to help and educate women on that. It doesn’t matter if you’re a size 2 or 22 as long as you’re taking care of your body, working out, and telling yourself, ‘I love you’ instead of taking in the negativity of beauty standards.

Still, an underlying problem persists here. Aren’t we constantly being told not to sexualize one another, especially not women? Which brings up the question: is the significance of Ashley Graham’s appearance in the swimsuit edition a matter of declaring that “plus-sized” women can be sexy, and thereby sexualized, too?

If the issue is equality regardless of body type, then a painful double standard still exists in this Sports Illustrated ad: the men. While the public praises the importance of having Ashley Graham don a bikini in the foreground, the drooling men behind her are chiseled, handsome, and dapper; the very images of masculinity. That is, what our society perceives to be ideal masculinity.

According to the National Eating Disorder Association, studies carried out in the ’90s and early aughts show that “male body image concerns have dramatically increased over the past three decades from 15% to 43% of men being dissatisfied with their bodies; rates that are comparable to those found in women.”

What we look like, what we’re told we should look like, and what we want to look like are very complicated issues in all of our lives from the time we’re socially conscious to the time we’re old and grey. Body image and socially constructed gender norms are also extremely easy to complain about; pointing fingers and comparing apples and oranges. But if we’re trying to modernize and equalize our concepts of beauty and health (which we so dangerously associate with happiness), shouldn’t it apply to everybody involved?

Come the day when Sports Illustrated can put all body types and all sexes in swimsuits and have audiences accept what they see as both beautiful, healthy, and normal, that’s when real history will be made.

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