The plight of the plus-size model: ‘Always too much yet never enough’

When it comes to women’s bodies, we will simply never be good enough. One person who knows this all too well is internationally renowned plus-size model Ashley Graham, who recently shared her personal struggle with body acceptance in Lena Dunham’s online newsletter, Lenny.

Her popularity (holla, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue cover girl!) has come with a price, however. Critics have declared open season on her body, calling her “too fat” to be pretty and “too thin” to be plus-size — often in the same breath. The conundrum is one many “in-between” women feel and was highlighted by the recent controversy over a picture Graham posted on Instagram.

View this post on Instagram

Glam squad magic 💕

A post shared by A S H L E Y G R A H A M (@ashleygraham) on

In the snap, she’s wearing a leather Balmain outfit that shows her famous curves at their absolute best. She looks flat-out amazing, and yet comments immediately piled on, accusing her of selling out by losing weight and trying to look thinner.

“It was one of those photos where you look and say to yourself, “YESSSS, HONEY! I look damn good!” I didn’t give it a second thought when I posted it, but soon the image went viral. Not because of how good I looked wearing a high-end designer that doesn’t usually market to women my size, but because of people’s misguided views on women’s bodies and who owns the rights to them,” she wrote on Lenny.

A sampling of the brutal comments included: 

  • “I am so disappointed in you.”
  • “You don’t make plus-size dollars anymore, you make backstabbing dollars.”
  • “You don’t love the skin you’re in, you want to conform to Hollywood, you believe being skinnier is prettier.”
  • “You used to be a role model and I looked up to you.”

Not that Graham owes anyone an explanation for her weight, whatever it may be, but she assured her fans the picture was just the result of good angles and she hadn’t lost a pound. But it left her with a terrible feeling — of always being “too much” or “not enough”, but never being “good enough.”

Her experience highlights a much larger problem and it isn’t one that just Graham or even just plus-size women encounter. Women of all shapes and sizes are constantly told we’re never good enough — and as long as our main source of power in our culture is limited to our physical beauty and sex appeal, then we never will be. Yet so many of us have become invested in maintaining this status quo.

More: The real reason behind Ashley Graham’s beach body ad

Why? I’m not sure. Perhaps because beauty, at least in the conventional sense, is easy to measure so it becomes a kind of lazy shorthand. Or perhaps because as long as we can say we’re prettier than someone else, we (temporarily) feel better about ourselves. Or maybe it’s just because we’ve all been told and sold this message over and over again since we were wee babes. This message is in the makeup we put on our faces, the clothes we wear on our bodies, the food we eat and even the water we drink. We’re marinating in a culture of body snark.

But by putting the sum of a woman’s worth in what she looks like, we’ve taken away her intelligence, kindness, spirit and even her humanity. This needs to stop. And it starts with people like Graham speaking out and allowing the rest of us to add our voices to hers. Because we are already enough. As she says, “The cycle of body-shaming needs to end. I’m over it.” Amen.