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There's an ugly backlash against the plus-size model Sports Illustrated put on its cover

When Sports Illustrated announced that curvy supermodel Ashley Graham would be featured in its annual swimsuit edition, there was a lot of positive feedback.

After all, Graham would be the first truly plus-size woman to be featured in its pages. (Last year, Graham appeared in an ad in the magazine, and Robyn Lawley was the curviest model Sports Illustrated featured.)

If Sports Illustrated — a magazine that targets men — could classify Graham as beautiful, then that marked a huge step for curvy women, who have long been struggling to get marketers and retailers to view them as such.

When it was revealed that she would not just be featured between photos of scantily clad thin models but on the cover, it marked an even bigger step for curvy women. Plus-size clothing chain Lane Bryant might have been loudly declaring “Plus is Equal,” but this said it even more clearly. 

Still, despite the celebration surrounding Graham’s success, some vocal outliers have criticised Graham.

Recently, former Sports Illustrated model Cheryl Tiegs lambasted Graham to E! Online.

“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,” Tiegs told E!. (While Dr. Oz’s credibility has been called into question, Reuters has reported that a waist size of more than 30 inches puts women at increased risk of metabolic syndrome.)

“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,” Tiegs said.

The joke’s on Tiegs, though, because when Graham appeared on “Good Morning America” in November alongside a size 2 model, several tests revealed that both she and the thinner model had healthy blood pressure, HBA1C, and LDL levels. They both were in good shape, too.

Moreover, Graham told Business Insider in August that she has a 32-inch waist. According to her IMG page, she has a 30-inch waist, which suggests she might have even lost a bit of weight over the past few months — or that her weight just fluctuates.

Regardless of Graham’s waist size, Tiegs is not the only person to publicly criticise the plus-size model’s success.

The notorious “Dear Fat People” video blogger, Nicole Arbour, released another video directly targeting Graham, called “Dear Fat People 2: The Second Helping.”

She full-on attacks society’s acceptance of women of all sizes including Graham, going to so far as to denounce the new curvy Barbie, saying the original Barbie was “thin-shamed.”

Arbour’s biggest problem is how “everybody gets a gold star” these days; she longs for the beauty stands of yore.

“I want to eat cookies and still be a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model; what’s next, you can be a midget and a Rockette? What’s wrong with having a physical standard for something?”Arbour cries.

Arbour also makes some bold, derogatory claims about Graham’s career. 

“If any of the other models showed up looking like her, they’d be fired. How the f*** is that fair? The truth is if she worked out a little bit more, she wouldn’t be plus size any more, which means she can’t sell s*** to plus size women who’ve turned her into their hero. So to make money, she’s keeping the weight on.”

(Arbour separately claims that despite the “feel-good claims of body positivity,” Graham is Photoshopped; Graham has denied this to Access Hollywood.)

Arbour serves as a representative of a group of people who have resisted the so-called body positivity movement. In August, Graham told Business Insider about how she occasionally gets accused of “promoting obesity,” which, she explained on “The Ellen Show” (via Elle), she’s not doing at all — especially considering there are two dangerous extremes right now.

“There’s a double 0 now. It’s a little scary on both spectrums of weight. I’m not a promoter of anorexia. I’m not a promoter of obesity. I think we have to promote women to be healthy at every size as long as they’re getting off the couch and moving their body,” she said to Ellen DeGeneres.

Arbour denounced Sports Illustrated for putting Graham in a “sports magazine that celebrates athleticism,” but Graham works out. A look at Graham’s Instagram page proves that’s true.


Both Arbour and Tiegs fail to recognise that society has changed and expanded its definition of beauty. Companies like Aerie have nixed Photoshop, and body positivity — not uncontrollable snacking — has become the new norm. Graham serves as an ambassador for that expanded concept of beauty; she doesn’t only represent plus-size women.

Besides, Graham hates the term “plus-size,” anyway. As she told Ellen (via Elle), “[she likes] to call it, like, curvasexalicious.”

NOW WATCH: Plus-size model Ashley Graham: The new ‘curvy’ Barbie is ‘so important’

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