An Open Letter to Cheryl Tiegs from a Plus-Sized Woman
About Ashley Graham and "Sports Illustrated": An Open Letter to Cheryl Tiegs from a Plus-Size Woman
Dear Ms. Tiegs,
A couple weeks ago I had a moment to spare and began mindlessly scrolling through social media, as one tends to do these days. It was then that I came across something that made me want to jump out of my chair, climb onto the nearest table, and dance with joy until I just could not dance anymore.
There, on the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition -- a publication I am very familiar with after growing up with two straight men in my household -- there was Ashley Graham. On the cover. A "plus-sized" woman. This had never happened before; literally. (Ashley is the first ever plus-size Swimsuit Edition cover girl)
Suddenly I was hit with flashback after flashback of all of the other covers I'd seen in my day. Kate Upton. Tyra Banks. Brooklyn Decker. Queen Beyonce. Each of them staggeringly beautiful. Out of this word gorgeous. But none of them looking like me.
I thought back to when I was eight and started telling myself not to eat cookies or any other desserts because I was already getting chubby. I thought about when I was 12 and wore a hoodie to school every day because it was baggy and didn't show my big belly. I thought about being 15 and beginning to obsess over working out so that I could be finally be thin and beautiful. I didn't do it for myself, no. I did it so other people might finally find me attractive.
I thought about how even now, on my worst days, I sometimes deliberately choose to skip meals because it "couldn't hurt to not eat for a while."
I thought about how in the past 15 years since I first told myself to not get fat, it has been a daily thought. Hell, you know what, Ms. Tiegs? It's been an hourly thought. It's been damn near constant. There are very few times when I am not thinking about it in some way.
See, I have been raised in a world that values thinness above all else. Every magazine is jumping at the chance to be the one that finally helps me lose weight and get my "best body ever." People advertise on dating websites and apps that "fatties" need not apply. Even my best friend once told me I "have a beautiful face," and "would be so hot" if I lost weight.
It is my hope that by describing the deeply rooted, psycologically scarring body image issues I am riddled with, I just might be able help you to understand why I was so goddamn thrilled to see Ashley on the cover.
And how devastated I was to hear you, a previous cover girl yourself, speak out against it. How heartbreaking it was to watch a video in which you said: "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. No, I don't think it's healthy."
Ms. Tiegs, I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news here, but my waist is certainly not smaller than 35 inches and, according to the highly educated and thoroughly qualified physician I saw just this week for my annual physical, I'm doing just fine. Clean bill of health. A's all around. Gold star for me.
Also, just as a quick sidenote, I highly recommend a quick view of this video here if you are truly looking to Dr. Oz to be your go-to physician/medical professional. I know that you're concerned about my health here, but maybe it should be the other way around.
Oh, and not that it really matters, but Ashley has a 30-inch waist.
Ms. Tiegs, I think it's important that I also share with you how invalid the "I'm just worried for your health" excuse is. If you are genuinely concerned for my health and the health of fat or plus-size people everywhere, let me be the one to inform you that there are millions of fat and/or plus-size people who are indeed healthy.
"Fat" and "healthy" are not mutually exclusive, and suggesting that they are only perpetuates harmful stereotypes that fat people are lazy, diseased, perpetually exhausted, or somehow unable to function properly.
But I also seriously doubt that this is about my health at all. When people say their prejudice is based in concerns about health, I am much more inclined to believe that it's about them being taught by society to police other people's bodies. I'm much more inclined to believe that it's because they don't like seeing plus-size people in swimsuits or anything else that might allow us to feel confident and proud of who we are. I'm much more inclined to believe that it's more of a them problem than a me problem, and that these comments say more about them than they do about me or any other "plus-size" person.
You then went on to say that Ashley has a "beautiful" face, but you don't think her body or her lifestyle is "healthy in the long run," a statement that shows the very ignorance I'm talking about, and also conveniently ignores the fact that Ashley works out multiple times a week, lifts, and does barre.
What it comes down to, Ms. Tiegs, is this: I have been taught to hate myself. For over a decade now I have lived in a pit of self-loathing for no other reason than how I look and how my body is shaped. I have spent too many nights crying myself to sleep thinking that my weight made me unworthy of love -- like being fat is some kind of sentence to dying alone.
But Ashley made me forget all that for a few minutes. She made me re-evaluate. Seeing her looking confident and sexy and proud as hell in her plus-sized skin made me think that maybe, just maybe, I'm worthy after all. That's what it's all about, Ms. Tiegs.
I'm not alone in this. Fat/plus-size people, and especially women, are made to feel that they are worth less than thin people. Many of us are at risk for becoming depressed, even harming ourselves because we're convinced that we exist only to be a pathetic blob of a person when in reality, every women is worthy and beautiful and deserves to feel confident and sexy.
I would challenge you to try to see things differently. Don't hide behind a thin facade of phony concern for my health or any other fat or plus-size persons'. Instead, try to let go, live and let live, and consider that everything you've been taught about what is beautiful is total crap.
Here's the secret they don't tell you, here's the thing that they don't want us to know: All bodies are good bodies, and every body is already ready for swimsuit season.