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Ashley Graham,Tess Holliday, Crystal Renn. Do these names ring a bell? They should! They’re some of the top plus-size models in today’s fashion landscape, and the proliferation of their images in mainstream media is helping to promote body diversity and is poised to present a solid challenge to our culturally thin ideal. Do these plus-size models represent every woman? Of course not. We’re yet to see, with any regularity, models who run the gamut with respect to race, ethnicity, disability, etc. But these celebrated faces of plus-size fashion are certainly a start.
Daily Life with Media’s Pressure
What happens when everyday women, with everyday bodies, are bombarded by billboards, television commercials, online images, and magazine ads featuring models with body shapes/sizes that don’t represent them, with bodies that naturally occur in only a small percentage of the population?
Research has typically shown that exposure to thin models can elevate body dissatisfaction among girls and women. In one study, for example, women who already experienced some degree of body dissatisfaction reported higher dissatisfaction after viewing advertisements with thin, versus “average-size,” models. Another study found similar results for exposure to thin models in music videos. Here, adolescent girls who watched music videos featuring “ultra-thin” models demonstrated significantly elevated scores on a measure of body dissatisfaction.
Exposure to traditionally thin (and often retouched/Photoshopped) models may cause women to believe that their own bodies are unacceptable – or that certain body features are flawed. Problem areas? Cellulite? Bad! But what if we were regularly exposed to models with bodies that mimicked our own, bodies with paunches and bulges, stretch marks and dimples? More, what if these models actually presented, “flaws” and all, as at peace with their appearance?
Thanks to Plus-Size Models like Ashley Graham!
Model Ashley Graham, in her recent TED Talk: “Plus Size? More Like My Size” tackles full-body acceptance head on. She begins her talk by addressing her image in a full-length mirror:
You are bold, you are brilliant and you are beautiful. There
is no other woman like you. You are capable. Back fat?
I see you popping over my bra today, but that’s alright. I’m going to choose to love you. And thick thighs? You are just so sexy you can’t stop rubbing each other. That’s alright. I’m going to keep you. And cellulite? I have not forgotten about you. I’m going to choose to love you even though you want to take over my whole bottom half, but you’re a part of me. I love you.
Will Graham’s gratitude and Holliday’s hashtag (#effyourbeautystandards) catch on? Only time will tell. Media are slowly starting to feature plus-size models, and clothing brands like American Eagle’s Aerie are paving the way for a more expansive practice of un-retouched images.
Do we expect increased exposure to diverse bodies to decrease the incidence of eating disorders?
Unlikely. We know that eating disorders are serious mental illnesses with genetic, biological, and psychological roots. But, for the majority of women who struggle with body image concerns, constant exposure to media featuring models of a limited body type can take its toll. And for those in eating disorder recovery, witnessing a cultural recognition (or even celebration) of body diversity might help model the elusive challenge of body acceptance.
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