Come On, Sports Illustrated
I saw a headline the other day that read: “Meet Ashley Graham, the First Plus-Size Model to be Featured in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.” I had never heard of Ashley Graham before, but my first thought was “Wow! This is fantastic.” According to all of the media hype, Graham was making Sports Illustrated history as the first “plus-size” model to be featured in the magazine’s annual swimsuit issue. Then I read the article: Graham isn’t being featured in the magazine. She’s being featured in an ad in the magazine for a new “Swim Suits For All” campaign called #curvesinbikinis—those are two very, very different things.
I completely back the body-positive campaign and think that this is a huge step in the right direction in terms of incorporating women of all shapes and sizes into a magazine that is renowned for featuring some of the world’s “sexiest” female models on its pages. The media response to this historical/cultural landmark has been fairly positive, but for me, it’s almost had the opposite effect. I can’t help but feel a little bit sad that Graham is making history simply by starring in an advertisement in the magazine. I have no doubt that the gorgeous model belongs in SI… but not in this context.
Sure, Graham’s face and body will be sandwiched between spreads of Kate Upton and Chrissy Teigen, but the fact that it is merely for an advertisement seems to taint all notions of excitement and progression for me. It’s the level of dissociation with the SI brand that really bothers me: she’s in the Sports Illustrated magazine … but not really. At least not in the way that I—and many others—wish she was. I’m disheartened that the media has painted this to be a brighter picture than it actually is: The “plus-size” woman’s first venture into the pages of SI has been through an advertisement, suggesting that the curvier woman has to work extra hard, and take that extra step, just to have a shot at getting a real editorial.
I do hope that this feat inspires plus size models to take that extra step, and earn those small victories, but I also hope that the next time we hear of curvy women making strides in the fashion industry, that it’s the real deal. When I think of history-making supermodels, I think of Tyra Banks as the first African-American woman to star on the cover of Sports Illustrated. I hope that the cover is where we see Ashley Graham one day, because that would be an even better piece of history to read about.
Abi Conners, Creative Director
Photographs: LA Times and US Magazine