By Arianna Sotos
There has been a recent increase in body positivity and self-love advocacy, to focus lesson flaws of the body and instead focus on leading happier, healthier productive lives; however,what constitutes a “healthy body?”
It has been upheld by society that a thin body is a healthy body, and an overweight body is unhealthy. There has been growing opposition to the norm of body shaming those who are above (or below) societies ideal size, but the idea is not dead—people are still willing to take a glance and someone and make a judgment on their health and lifestyle.
The most recent, and public, example of body shaming was committed by former topmodel, Cheryl Tiegs. When talking to a reporter for E! News, Tiegs revealed she had less than enduring feelings for Sports Illustrated featuring Ashley Graham, a size 16, on the cover of their Swimsuit edition:
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… No, I don’t think it’s healthy. Her face is beautiful.
Beautiful. But I don’t think it’s healthy in the long run.
Ouch. There is a lot of hate and warped logic to dissect here. First, and most obviously, the clear insinuation that Graham’s size is somehow unhealthy. Tiegs takes a quote from the gospel according to Oz and asserts that there is a prepackaged determination of a healthy waistline. That is all well and good until it is revealed that Graham has a 30-inch waist (a number that would be Oz approved). Tiegs dismisses mitigating factors to Graham’s weight, such as genetics, and forces Graham into a unhealthy category on aesthetics. It is doubtful Tiegs would question a thin person chowing down on a burger and fries, dismissing it maybe as a cheat day, but she would be the first the criticize an overweight person for the same meal. However, what if that same thin
person consumed a meal similar to that every day? Are they still healthy even though they are loading up on fried foods? A person can be thin and still be unhealthy; their body may just metabolize faster, or they may have hyperthyroidism (which can be deadly is left untreated). Conversely, an overweight person can have hypothyroidism, making it difficult, if not impossible to lose weight.
On to mistake number two: suggesting that full-figured women are somehow subhuman.When a marginalized group is finally being shown on a large media scale, they are not being glamorized—they are finally being represented. For years, the fashion and modeling industry has consisted exclusively of size 0 to size 2 models, which does not represent the average woman. A large portion of a group was going underrepresented, therefore creating the illusion that full-figured women were the minority when, in fact, they are not. The insinuation of disgusting about full-figured women leads to mistake number three: the incredibly misogynistic reference to Graham’s “Beautiful face.” Or, as most would call it, a backhanded compliment. Tiegs is making
the logical equivalent of a “butterface” statement: everything is hot, but her face. In this case, however, Tiegs is saying that, while Graham’s face is appealing, her body is not. Not only is this body shaming, it is fueled by women hating rhetoric. Obviously, the modeling industry is built on appearance—it is impossible to not be. However, it does not have to have a basis in the model’s bashing each other’s bodies. There are cultural influences to this logic (the highly competitive nature of the industry, for example), but it does not detract from the toxicity of it.
Tiegs displays a reluctance to fight the powers that have been crushing fellow women models, and disguises it by claiming “health concerns.”Tiegs apology further supports this theory of internalized misogyny and self-hatred. In an open letter written to Graham, Tiegs attempts to remedy her statements by proposing that she was the victim of classic misreporting. Tiegs writes she was responding to a generic question, and “at no time was I thinking of a specific person” (which is debatable considering the use of singular female pronouns in her previous statement). Tiegs repeatedly assures that her concern is that of the health of the American people, and are not based in aesthetics or beauty. To drive this point home, Tiegs writes that her waist is 37 inches. Yet, despite this “unhealthy” waistline, Tiegs makes no mention of feeling the need to improve her own health or trim down her waistline to a cool, “healthy” 35 inches.
If Tiegs real concern were for the health of the American people, she would focus less on denouncing the featuring of a size 16 model on the cover of a magazine and more about direct influences on the obesity epidemic. Tiegs may consider the fact that most working poor families opt for less healthy foods because of funding issues, thus contributing to a less-healthy lifestyle.Or the fact that weight gain could be a result of high cortisol levels that the body naturally produces in response to prolonged periods of stress and threat, and is rampant amongst marginalized groups. Of course, all of these groups are purposefully gaining weight because Ashley Graham’s size 16 body was on the cover of a magazine. It is easy to attack Tiegs’ own body to attempt to prove a point; however, this will accomplish nothing. Many have tweeted on commenting on how Tiegs’ has “not aged well” or the wrinkles and crow lines she has developed. The body has a natural, and has its own processes. People age. The end. The body positivity movement is not just for overweight people. It is for anyone who has ever had hatred for their body. There are those who are thin who get made fun of for having eating disorders (which may not be the case), which is as toxic as calling someone ugly for having fat on their body.
Body health and positivity goes far beyond figure, though. It extends to emotional and psychological health as well. If the body is in constant distress from poor emotional state, there can be physical consequences such as weight gain, body aches, and fatigue. Hatred of how your body appears contributes to poor emotional health which leads to poor physical health, and it becomes a never-ending cycle. This is not to say body positivity is easy—it is not. In fact, it can be even more difficult to be positive than negative. It is easy to dismiss our bodies as “ugly” or “fat” or “skeletal.” Change is a process, and there will be bad days. However, working through it can improve your overall wellbeing, regardless of how much you weigh.