Ashley Graham: Shamed If I Do, Shamed If I Don't

Model and body activist Ashley Graham gets criticized for being too fat — and for being too thin.

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Raise your hand if you go through a tough selfie-editing process before picking the perfect photo to post on Instagram. Most people wouldn't put up a picture they felt made them feel less than beautiful. Having been a model for sixteen years, I know my angles, just like we all know our favorite filters and lighting and our good sides. I pick the photos I like best.

They say you should never read the comments. But I simply can't not do it. Social media has given me a voice and allowed me to further my platform as a body activist. Without it, I couldn't have built the #BeautyBeyondSize community. My followers are the first people I turn to for feedback on anything I do, from designing my lingerie, dress, and swimsuit lines to the things I discuss in my public speeches. I have to read the comments.

Social media has given me a voice and allowed me to further my platform as a body activist.

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I know the comments won't all be positive. I'm a confident woman with thick skin, and as a model in the public eye, I'm conditioned to accept criticism. But last week, I admit that I had a tougher time brushing off the haters.

While I was on set filming America's Next Top Model, my hairstylist snapped a picture of me in a white knit skirt, matching crop top, and an amazing Balmain leather jacket that I absolutely loved. It was one of those photos where you look and say to yourself, "YESSSS, HONEY! I look damn good!" I didn't give it a second thought when I posted it, but soon the image went viral. Not because of how good I looked wearing a high-end designer that doesn't usually market to women my size, but because of people's misguided views on women's bodies and who owns the rights to them. Here is some of my feedback:

"I am so disappointed in you."

"You don't make plus-size dollars anymore, you make backstabbing dollars."

"You don't love the skin you're in, you want to conform to Hollywood, you believe being skinnier is prettier."

"You used to be a role model and I looked up to you."

According to the comments, some people were upset because I appeared to be slimmer. (Knowing my angles is one thing, but I must be a magician to make people think I went from a size 14 to a size 6 in a week!) The reality is I haven't lost a pound this year. In fact, I'm actually heavier than I was three years ago, but I accept my body as it is today. I work out not to lose weight but to maintain my good health. And anyway, if I did want to lose weight, it would be no one's decision but my own. I love to sweat it out at the gym — two years ago, I even made workout videos — but I also don't restrict myself from eating certain foods or indulging on some extra-cheese mac 'n' cheese every once in a while.

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To some I'm too curvy. To others I'm too tall, too busty, too loud, and, now, too small — too much, but at the same time not enough. When I post a photo from a "good angle," I receive criticism for looking smaller and selling out. When I post photos showing my cellulite, stretch marks, and rolls, I'm accused of promoting obesity. The cycle of body-shaming needs to end. I'm over it.

The cycle of body-shaming needs to end. I'm over it.

No matter how many empowerment conferences, TED talks, and blog posts are out there, women keep tearing one another down over physical appearance. Body shaming isn't just telling the big girl to cover up. It's trying to shame me for working out. It's giving "skinny" a negative connotation. It's wanting me to be plus size, or assuming I'm pregnant because of some belly bulge. What type of example are we setting for young girls and their self-esteem if grown adults are on Instagram calling other women "cowards" for losing weight, or "ugly" for being overweight?

Yes, I am a curvy woman. My industry labels me a "plus size" model, and society has labeled me a "plus size" woman. But I am not just here for the size 8s (where plus-size modeling starts) or the size 14s (my current size) or the size 18s (my former size). I am here for all women who don't feel comfortable in their skin, who need a reminder that their unique bodies are beautiful. I'm very proud of my work as a model, and I'm even more proud of the work we've all done to raise awareness for body positivity and size diversity within the fashion industry. I understand that people follow me and look at my photos to see a different representation of beauty, one that is often excluded from mainstream media and advertising. When they look at me, they see themselves, and maybe that's why seeing me eat a cheeseburger makes some people feel good about eating whatever they want. However, I refuse to let others dictate how I live my life and what my body should look like for their own comfort. And neither should you.

"Fake fat person."

"Don't you dare get skinny on us."

"You shouldn't be considered the face of plus-size women anymore, you just want to be the face of women."

"I'll find another plus-size beautiful woman, because you're full of shit!!! #damnshame #justliketherest"

"Fame has made Ashley follow the herd, and lose her voluptuousness."

"Your thickness is your beauty."

I am more than my measurements. I'm not Ashley Graham just because I'm curvy. For the past sixteen years, my body has been picked apart, manipulated, and controlled by others who don't understand it. But now my career has given me a platform to use my voice to make a difference. We can't create change until we recognize and check our own actions. If you see another woman taking a selfie or a photo in her bathing suit, encourage her because she actually feels beautiful, don't give her the side eye because you think she's feeling herself too hard. Why waste time and energy spewing negativity? Let's worry about our own bodies.

My body is MY body. I'll call the shots.

Ashley Graham is a model, designer, and body activist recently featured on the covers of the 2016 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, Cosmopolitan, and Maxim. She champions for change in the fashion and media industries by challenging society's beauty standards and empowering all people to celebrate their bodies.

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