The internet’s been all abuzz with the news that Sports Illustrated‘s 2015 swimsuit issue will include an ad featuring plus size model Ashley Graham.
As much as I care about fat representation in media, and as much as I think Ashley Graham is gorgeous and probably a lovely person, I can’t bring myself to care. This doesn’t feel like a step forward to me, for three reasons.
First, although Graham is a plus size model, she’s smaller than most women who actually wear plus sizes. In fact, as a tall size 14/16, she is likely thinner than the average American woman. Magazines have been including token hourglass-shaped, barely-plus-sized models for years; more of the same doesn’t feel particularly revolutionary.
Second, she is appearing in a Swimsuits for All ad, not a magazine feature. SI didn’t say, “Hey, let’s feature a (marginally) more diverse group of women;” they just accepted an ad from a company that was paying them to do so. They’re getting all this positive attention for something that took no effort on their part, and in fact is making them money.
Third, and most important: I don’t feel that it’s progress for fat women to be objectified too. SI‘s swimsuit issue is pretty much the epitome of the male gaze: its entire purpose is putting women in skimpy swimwear for men’s enjoyment. Even if SI had included an actual fat woman in an actual feature–even if, say, they had put Tess Munster/Holliday on the cover–I’d still be less than thrilled.
I just can’t see more objectification of women as a thing to celebrate. I’d rather see SI‘s swimsuit issue stop existing, or at least become culturally irrelevant–or be complemented by an equivalent, equally popular issue full of guys in skimpy swimwear. But a slight expansion in the standards of the sexist status quo just doesn’t do it for me.