Even before they released the latest issue of the celebrated Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, the world was abuzz about SI’s decision to change up the focus of its models this time around.
For years now the company has been including more “athletic” body types rather than just bikini model bodies into its publication. For the most part, these decisions have been met with applause. This year, though, the company did something unprecedented. It put a plus-size model on the cover. Well, one of three covers anyway. But just giving consumers a choice touched off a firestorm of controversy.
One of the most recent vocal opponents of SI choosing to put size-16 fashion model Ashley Graham on its cover turned out to be Swimsuit Issue alum and quintessential supermodel, Cheryl Tiegs.
Tiegs has been on the cover multiple times, and she turned her international superstardom into a platform for promoting healthy living. According to Tiegs, deigning to put Graham on the cover promotes an unhealthy lifestyle. Far from just being body positive, Tiegs believes the cover pic celebrates dangerous lifestyle habits.
And Tiegs was not afraid to get specific. In an interview with E! News, the former cover girl said: “I don’t like that we’re talking about full-figured women because it’s glamorizing them because your waist should be smaller than 35 [inches]. That’s what Dr. Oz said, and I’m sticking to it … I don’t think it’s healthy … her face is beautiful, but I don’t think it’s healthy in the long run.”
All Dr. Oz related quotes aside, Tiegs is speaking for a growing number of exercise gurus and healthy eating coaches who have expressed disquiet about the shift toward chubby chic.
Meanwhile, their opposites praise SI for putting a “real woman” on the cover. And, as far as Graham’s concerned, she’s pleased as punch about how things are going. ET reports Graham as saying: “I’m really excited to know that Sports Illustrated is wanting to include women like us … there is no perfect body, and we shouldn’t be striving for perfection anymore.”
There is no doubt this is a conversation that hinges on specific messaging. No one is saying “fat” versus “thin” or “big” versus “small.” They are saying healthy versus healthy and preferred versus better.
Confused? It’s an interesting tactic, using the same words but placing them in contexts with vastly different meanings.
On one side you have Tiegs looking at Graham and saying beautiful but ultimately unhealthy. Not good. And, on the other, you have Graham saying beautiful but unattainable, ultimately unhealthy. It’s certainly not an argument that’s going away anytime soon, but it could usher in a change in culture and how America sees beauty and health.
As long as you pretend not to notice the other two covers.