By Marissa Eller
When we think of Sports Illustrated swimsuit models, we picture tall, skinny girls – slightly curvy and very blonde. But this year’s Sports Illustrated swimsuit models are defying stereotypes, starting with size 14 rookie Ashley Graham. The centerpiece of Sports Illustrated’s cover, Ashley Graham proudly shows off her bikini body while playing in the frothy beach waves.
At 28, Ashley has been a model for 15 years and has worked for almost everyone in the plus-size industry. She’s been the face of Lane Bryant and Forever 21+, and she even started her own lingerie line with Addition Elle.
Graham is a strong body-confidence advocate who strives to stop the division of women into body categories. She wants to be recognized as just another model – not a “plus-size” model –and she wants similar treatment for her fellow females.
To spread her body-confidence message, Graham recently spoke about the topic in a TED Talk titled “Plus-size? More Like My Size.”
Graham starts off the talk by telling her mirrored reflection, “You are bold, you are brilliant, and you are beautiful.” Her words of self-encouragement send a powerful message of self-love and self-acceptance to her audience.
She then references her “thick” thighs and cellulite, declaring that she loves the “flaws” other people see in her. And to those people who told her she would never make it onto a magazine cover, Graham highlights her success as a model despite her size. She even references her first editorial in which she “helps young women dress their large boobs” at only fifteen years old.
Graham was an established model before she even graduated from high school. Because she was so young when she entered the modeling industry, Graham began her journey of self-discovery not in college but on a New York catwalk. Her fireball career put her on Sports Illustrated’s radar. In a recent interview, Sports Illustrated’s Assistant Managing Editor MJ Day exalted Graham, describing her as “a champion for all women.”
“There’s no denying that Ashley Graham brings something different to the table,” Day explains. “It’s exciting to meet someone who can totally handle this moment, take it and amplify it, all because of who she is and how she celebrates herself.”
In my favorite part of the video, Ashley tells women to be their own role model. Graham reveals that, instead of revering famous curvy women like Marilyn Monroe or Jennifer Lopez, she looked up to her own mother. Her mother never devalued herself, and she never let Ashley devalue herself either.
Don’t get me wrong – I love Marilyn Monroe and Jennifer Lopez – but Ashley Graham, a woman who has been through body confidence issues in the past and is now a champion for the cause, is just the kind of role model I need. Ashley Graham isn’t just a pretty face and a killer body; she’s astute and a complete role model for any woman who has been told she can’t do something. She’s a stunning beauty who would do anything for just one young woman to feel better about the person she is. And that, not her size, is what makes her who she is.