Ashley Graham’s Sports Illustrated Cover: Time To Do Away With Labels Like “Plus-Sized”

Above: The Size 16 model looks beautiful on one of three covers of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue
Above: The Size 16 model looks beautiful on one of three covers of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue

It’s awesome that Sports Illustrated opted to rock three different covers for this year’s Swimsuit Edition and that the three females gracing the covers – Ashley Graham, Ronda Rousey and Hailey Clauson – all have different body types.

What’s not as awesome is how Graham is the only one that gets singled out because of her size.

Near the top of every story is a statement about Graham being the first plus-sized model to grace the cover of the annual issue, usually followed by a mention of how she was featured last year, but only in an ad for a swimsuit line.

There isn’t, however, any mention of the fact that Rousey is the first athlete to grace the cover, even though that is also 100 percent true. The former UFC champion is the first non-model to stare back at customers and passing eyes from the newsstand, but nobody is saying anything about it because Rousey is athletic, was in last year’s Swimsuit Issue (and not just in an ad!) and has been featured in ESPN’s Body Issue in the past as well.

Basically, Rousey has a “normal, healthy” physique and therefore it’s no big deal that she too is making history by being on the cover, but the fact that Sports Illustrated made the super-progressive decision to put a woman who doesn’t fit the traditional profile of someone that has previously graced the pages of this eagerly anticipated annual is headline news.

You know what would be better than patting SI on the back for featuring Graham on the cover and trumpeting how great they are for having a plus-sized model on the cover? If every stopped using stupid qualifiers like “plus-sized” and giving these magazines and the modeling industry as a whole high fives for giving gorgeous women like Graham, Jennie Runk, Crystal Renn and others the same opportunities afforded to “regular-sized” women.

Graham looks stunning on the cover, full stop.

Not stunning for a big girl. Not stunning for someone of that size.

Stunning, period, end of sentence.

Putting a qualifier with it takes away from her beauty and sends the message that the way she looks is still somehow less desirable than the way Clausen or Rousey or any of the other models inside the magazine look and that’s absolutely the wrong message to put out into the world.

Clausen wasn’t described as “skinny girl Hailey,” as Graham said to People.com, so why the insistence on making sure to identify Graham based on her size? It’s clear she doesn’t have the same physical attributes as models that have traditionally made up the pages of this annual offering and all pointing it out does is make it seem like a bad thing – like there is something not good enough about the way she looks, but Sports Illustrated is being wonderful by featuring her anyway,

Bullshit.

Graham is smoking hot and SI should have been showcasing greater body diversity in its pages throughout the years. The fact that they’re doing so now shouldn’t get them a cookie or a round of applause, it should force them to explain why the hell it took so long in the first place?

And the same goes for fashion magazines and designers at their runway shows.

Beauty doesn’t have a size or skin tone or race or gender; it’s individual and indefinable and it’s about damn time we start spreading that message more instead of affixing labels and qualifiers to everything and everyone.

E. Spencer Kyte

E. Spencer Kyte

E. Spencer Kyte is a freelance journalist based in Abbotsford, British Columbia, where he lives with his wife and dog. In addition to his work here, he writes about sports for Complex Canada and covers the UFC for various outlets. His mom also still tells him what to do on a regular basis, even though he’s nearly 40. He tweets from @spencerkyte.

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