There’s a lot to be discussed when it comes to models’ sizes, and we can start by looking at the recently released Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. Of course, the traditional archetype for Sports Illustrated is just as thin as any sample-size runway model, but many are commending the publication for running ads for swimwear label swimsuitsforall featuring size-16 model, Ashley Graham. There’s no denying the progress being made by finally showing the world something other than the traditional imagery we’re given, and Graham looks fantastic. But there’s one thing we can’t help but ask: why do full-figured models have to be represented almost exclusively in a sexual context?
This is nothing new. Remember that Vogue Italia cover story and accompanying spread that featured a series of plus-sized models? The styling was virtually all lingerie. Even if you look up a campaign that promotes body diversity, women will constantly be featured as close to nude as possible. Of course, it’s great to show the public that swimwear and underwear both look equally good on various different body types, but why can’t these women be shown in the same high-end garments as their thinner counterparts?
Another issue that arises is the term “plus-sized” itself. Labels are always problematic, especially when used to categorize and identify other humans’ bodies. The latest release from Sports Illustrated also features the first “plus-sized” model ever, that being Robyn Lawley. Lawley was also the first “plus-sized” model to appear on the cover of Australian Vogue, as well as in ads for Ralph Lauren. But at a size 12 and still appearing relatively thin in photos, can she really be considered “plus-sized?” The same problems arose with Crystal Renn, who after battling with eating disorders left the industry to return as a “plus-sized” model. Since then, her career has flourished, but her size has fluctuated, leading to an abundance of criticism regarding her inability to fit a specific category.
Even more troubling than the prevalence of the super-thin look as the body image ideal is the commonality to distinguish women based on their size. If a model is larger than a certain size, she’s expected to appear completely sexual, if she’s allowed to appear at all. Anything outside of size norms is dismissed or scrutinized; there appears to be no middle ground. It goes without saying that these diametrically opposed extremes place a huge amount of pressure and insecurity on women, and their perpetuation by the media is detrimental to the average woman in society.
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