Ashley Graham Just Failed Plus-Size Women in a Big Way

ashley graham selfies
theashleygraham/Instagram
As someone who was enamored of Ashley Graham from the moment she graced the cover of Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit Issue, I feel like it pains me to say this: Ashley Graham has failed fat women. 

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personally have found Graham to be a generally praise-worthy person. She carved out a niche for women who were never lauded as "beautiful," and brought awareness to body positivity in a way the movement hadn't had before.

More from CafeMom: Ashley Graham Doesn't Think She Is Brave for Wearing a Bikini & You Shouldn't Either

Sadly, that awareness turned a once political movement into a diluted marketing tool that Graham herself utilizes but doesn't fully even grasp.

And how do I know this? A simple sentence she ignorantly uttered to People magazine when she was discussing how even she struggles with confidence:

"There are some days I feel fat."

In seven words, Graham crapped all over everything body positivity and fat activism has ever stood for.

"Fat is not a feeling," body positivity coach Michelle Elman explains to CafeMom. "You are either fat or you are not. Fat is a descriptor. The way she used fat was again equating fat to ugly or insecure and perpetuates the idea that all fat girls feel bad about their bodies."

michelle elman
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While everyone is absolutely entitled to feelings of insecurity, equating "fat" to something negative is undermining the entire point of self-love. 

Melissa Gibson, who is better known as "yourstruelymelly" on Instagram and just recently completed her masters with a focus in body positivity, says that's Graham's statement isn't actually all that surprising considering she's never really explicitly aligned with the movement. 

melissa gibson
yourstruelymelly/Instagram

Gibson clarifies to CafeMom:

"She identifies as a body activist. I'm not sure what that means, but it is not the same as a body-positive activist ... I think what often happens is the body-positive community sees plus-size models, singers, and actors and gives them the title of body positive just for being 'bigger' than the average celebrity. Ashley has used this to her advantage, not refuting it, but again she has used her platform to consistently promote diet culture, value 'healthism,' exclude fat people from access to her clothing and swim lines, portray herself as plus size and sell to that market, but actively distance herself from the plus-size community and the word itself." 

And this is entirely spot-on, as the model has repeatedly noted she doesn't want to be labeled as plus size.

"She has never acknowledged her body shape privilege in her success," Gibson continues. "I know she worked hard, I am not discounting that, but to say the Ashley Graham is body positive in any way when she has never identified as body positive herself is something I'm not willing to do, especially when she contributes to the hierarchy of bodies that devalues and dehumanizes fat bodies."

More from CafeMom: Here's Why This Lingerie Brand's Body-Positive Sizing Is Kind of BS

That isn't to say Graham hasn't experienced "hate" herself or has turned a blind eye to the movement entirely. Many people regularly comment on her body and she has often defended herself (and other women) by saying we all have a right to live the way we want.

But her hesitancy to explicitly comment on the treatment of fat women -- and the fact that she casually equates that descriptor with a negative feeling -- really does damage the movement as a whole.

As Gibson tells us:

"Because of that the face of the movement has become thin, white women who do not experience the systemic marginalization, stigma, and dehumanization that people with non-normative bodies face daily in which 'self-love' won't cure. Because of that people have settled for self-love as a solution for all [people] who have a negative experience within their bodies. The problem is, self-love is much less of a solution and more of a means of survival within a system that values thin, white, able-bodied, cis-gendered, and young bodies and sees everyone else as unnatural."

The words, images, and representations surrounding body diversity matters. And if we are going to effect change, we need to start with how we speak -- especially someone who is as visible as Ashley Graham.

ashley graham bikni
theashleygraham/Instagram

"When she talks about feeling like the fattest girl in the room, she in turn marginlizes the woman who is the fattest in the room," says Elman. "How we use words matters and I think it's time we retire fat as a synonym for being insecure."

Whattya say, Ashley? You game?

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