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Ashley Graham, Sports Illustrated’s First Plus Size Cover Model, Hates the Plus Size Label. Is She Right?

This year’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue is hitting newsstands this week and while I could normally care less, this time I have something to cheer about. Ashley Graham, one of my favorite Plus Size models, is on the cover! It’s exciting because Sports Illustrated models are known for starving themselves months in advance of a SI shoot. That Ashley could make the cover by being her size 16 self is inspiring to women like me who struggle with weight and unnatural beauty standards. Go Ashley!

So I’m reading an interview with her in People magazine because I can’t wait to hear how she feels about the iconic cover, and she says something that surprises me.

“I hate a label. I just want to be recognized as a model. Yes, I got curves. Yes, I got things that I like to flaunt and talk about and be called curvy, sexilicious, but at the end of the day I don’t want a label,” she tells People.


Really? She hates the label? I mean, if I were to have some size to me and I looked like Ashley I don’t think I’d mind being called Plus. Call me whatever you want cuz I’m making my money. And honestly, as gorgeous as I think she is, I love her because she’s plus. If she were a size 0 she’d be like everyone else.

But at the same time, I get that she doesn’t want to be labelled the ‘big girl’ model she’d rather just be the model. She probably works out just as hard, if not harder, as anyone else so why separate her? It reminds me of a conversation I had with a white person who once said that Denzel Washington was a great actor and role model for black people. Hunh? Why couldn’t he be a great actor and role model for everyone?

Sometimes labels do put us in a box.

I think about my six-year-old daughter and how much I emphasize labels, especially when it comes to color. She’s brown with a short afro so I make a point to single out beauties who look like her. Lupita Nyong’o, Maybelline’s newest spokesmodel, even the woman who works the cash register at our local grocery store get praise. “Look at how gorgeous she is!” I exclaim. 

My hope is that I’m building her self-esteem. All one has to do is read of how Brazil’s first visibly black Carnival Queen was stripped of her title for being too dark. Colorism is alive and well.

But am I laying it on too thick? Am I actually giving her a complex by speaking in terms of color so often, even if it’s pro-color? Did Ashley Graham’s mother point to plus size girls when she was growing up, and say, “Look at that gorgeous size 16! Give her a magazine cover!?”

I reach out to Dr. Jane Fort, a trusted psychologist and friend, because I’m a bit conflicted as to whether I’m doing the right thing.

She says, “We’re still in a world that seems to devalue what is not Euro-centric more than it celebrates it, so while your concern for possible over-doing is legitimate, it is still important to counteract the messages that come in daily-small and large.”

Whew! And what about potentially giving her a color complex?

“Try not to over-think your mothering,” she adds, “Your daughter is probably developing a healthy attitude about life and playmates and experiences; Just be sure your comments are balanced enough for her to realize that people come in many colors/shades, sizes, attitudes, and with different sets of experiences. All are valid and valuable. Help her to learn that we’re all created to be loving and supportive to each other throughout life, no matter the visible distinctions. It’s our differences that make our lives fascinating and allow us to make positive contributions to the whole of humanity.”

Preach, Doc!


What do you think? Are labels necessary?




  • Susan M.
    February 17, 2016

    Erickka, thank you for this post. I’m a grandma and I still remember what it’s like to be a mom. I wanted to “second” Dr. Fort’s advice. I think it’s really important to give kids all the support and encouragement we can. I also think it’s important to teach our kids that all people are “valid and valuable.”

    About labels, I don’t know. I guess sometimes we just have to stick on a label. I always appreciate the chance to get beyond that, though.

    • Erickka Sy Savané
      February 17, 2016

      I know, it’s not so black and white. Ultimately, I think I’m going to stick with reinforcing her black beauty because I can’t take the chance on the world suddenly becoming a fair place. But yes, there’s a part of me that wishes we could get past it too, and I like also incorporating other cultures as valid as to not create a narcissist.

  • Simply Susan
    February 17, 2016

    Being proud of our identifiers is freeing and beautiful. We self identify so if we embrace and love our juicier curves or our coiled hair or who we love… then I say shout it from the mountaintops! For people with less privilege I think it’s especially important to embrace and vocalize how much we love our differences and uniqueness. The word “label” has always had a negative connotation … I always associate it with stereotypes. Let’s just replace that word with identity and LOVE IT ALREADY!

    • Erickka Sy Savané
      February 17, 2016

      True, label kinda sounds like we’re talking about a can of soup as opposed to something as wonderful as identity. Replacing the word is a good start to bringing about something more positive. Yes, indeed.

  • Justine
    February 17, 2016

    I get Ashley Graham not wanting to be labeled a Plus size model. The average female is not a size 0. But, like you said if I’m able to make a career & a successful one be it for me to argue over labeling. Maybe one day society will catch on. Being the only ‘chocolate’ one in my family I received many affirmations referencing my skin from my family, namely my mother. Thank you Mom. Congratulations Ashley!

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