Column: Sports Illustrated promoting health with plus-sized model

Cover model Ashley Graham attends the 2016 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue launch party at Brookfield Place on Tuesday, Feb, 16, 2016, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Cover model Ashley Graham attends the 2016 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue launch party at Brookfield Place on Tuesday, Feb, 16, 2016, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

The 2016 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue featured Ashley Graham, a plus-sized model, as one of three separate cover stars. This move to include a curvy model in such an iconic magazine issue is a step towards acceptance and body positivity in media.

Yet, there has been controversy over what this is actually promoting. It is important to understand that putting a plus-sized model on the cover of a magazine is not endorsing an unhealthy lifestyle. In fact, it is doing the opposite; it encourages self-love and a healthy life-style at any weight. 

Some of the backlash at the magazine fails to understand that being healthy does not equate to being skinny. Cheryl Tiegs, a cover model for Sports Illustrated throughout the 1970s and 1980s, claimed that although Graham has a beautiful face, Tiegs told E! that she did approve of the cover because it glamorizes being full-figured, which she does not consider it to be healthy.

She later apologized for her statement, saying that she just wants everyone to be healthy. However, the kind of body shaming she engaged in is not considered healthy. In her initial statement, she spoke against the full-figured woman.

This is a body type, not a sentence to poor health or a display of an unhealthy lifestyle. Tiegs has voiced a common misconception perpetuated by society and media. Furthermore, in her apology, she emphasized that she only wants “everyone to be healthy.” Yet, Tiegs’s body shaming perpetuates the pressure to be thin resulting in eating disorders, depression and body dysmorphia. 

Others who have spoken out against the magazine’s cover share many of the same concerns as Tiegs. Nicole Arbour, a YouTuber who went viral in September of 2015 for her video “Dear Fat People,” spoke out against the Sports Illustrated cover in another video, “Dear Fat People 2: A Second Helping.” In this video, Arbour states that Graham is not fit. Arbour fails to understand that it is possible to work out and be healthy as a full figured woman.

It is not possible to use someone’s size to indicate whether or not they are fit. Arbour also claims that if Graham worked out more, she would no longer be plus-sized. Through this statement, Arbour reveals her ignorance. She is not a doctor and does not know any details about Graham’s medical history.

Graham represents herself as a woman leading a healthy lifestyle through the workout videos she has created and the self-love she expresses about her body. Through choosing Graham as one of the cover models for their swimsuit edition, Sports Illustrated is making an important move to representing real, healthy women of all shapes and sizes. 

Sports Illustrated chose three different models with three different body types for their swimsuit issue this year. In the group of girls, there was a Mixed Martial Arts fighter, a U.S. fashion model who has walked in multiple catwalk and a plus-sized model most known for her work with the plus-size clothing store Lane Bryant.

Each of this year’s cover models have expressed their joy for the magazine’s representation of all different types of women. The Assistant Managing Editor of the magazine, MJ Day, stated that “Beauty is not cookie cutter. Beauty is not ‘one size fits all.” This magazine’s acceptance and portrayal of different body type displays the progression of the media and our society in understanding the importance of promoting body positivity and the end of a single standard of beauty.

There are health concerns today in the United States. There is a high obesity rate in America, but there are also high statistics for depression, anorexia and bulimia due to unattainable beauty standards. Critics of Sports Illustrated fail to realize that this year’s swimsuit issue is a move to fight against both sides of this problem.

As an athletic magazine, they are celebrating healthy and active women of all sizes. Even though this step to a more accepting society was met with criticism, it is important that this magazine continues to move towards a more health and body positive message, and hopefully, they will influence others in media to do the same.


Alyssa Luis is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email at alyssa.luis@uconn.edu.