02/18/2016 05:37 EST | Updated 02/18/2017 05:12 EST

On Ashley Graham And Sports Illustrated's Idea Of "Progress"


Last weekend I watched the 2016 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue TV Special. With no volume. Alone in a bar.

If you're ever gonna be alone in a bar on a Saturday night trying to get some work done and have the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue TV Special begin playing on three overhead televisions, no volume is the way to go.

Good looking hosts relentlessly smiling, blindingly beautiful women parading around in sparkly dresses as photos of them in the concluding stages of undress flash across the screen. Exotic locales. Inhuman attractiveness. Smiles that would emasculate Tony Robbins. Flesh. So much suntanned flesh. Over and over and over. It was like one of those ironic artsy video installments playing on a loop on the back wall of some underground hipster club. A perfect piece of social absurdity.

With the show's volume down I was free to see this, purely, unfettered by the sound of the industry's self-aggrandizement or Nick Cannon's pleasant mediocrity.

The hosts kept bringing out more specimens, one hotter than the other, all of them somehow with piercing Russian cat-eyes. It was all so gratuitous that it looked foreign, like a Korean variety show. I sat and watched, troubled by the kitsch, the unabashed objectification. A whole elaborate production as preamble to the selling of some skin, with musical guests and everything. So freakin' weird.

Being a few cocktails in I was all ready for some easy hating and lamenting of the state of -- but wait, what was that? A big booty? A proper Sir Mixalot big butt? Amidst all these waify sirens?

I'm well-attuned to such things and so was pleasantly surprised, but also confused. One of these things was not like the others. And then I understood. Ashley Graham, a "plus-size" model, was a part of this year's festivities.

Now of course body acceptance is an important cause worthy of promotion. And so it is technically a good thing to have a publication like SI, with its sales of nearly 1 million swimsuit editions, finally breaking away, if ever so briefly, from the modeling industry's toxic standards of beauty.

But again the volume thing. The bar was now shuffling through Rage Against The Machine tracks and I continued to see a version of the show unhindered by its intent. More visions of paradise splaying across the screen. Long. Lean. Glistening. Beautiful in ways that hurt. Reminding of what we can't have, what we will never be. So much frolicking in the waves.

And then I saw Ashley Graham sitting there, surrounded by a dozen statuesque clones. She looked so happy. Despite her "deficiencies," she was finally allowed into the club.

I wondered how she felt. The token fatty. A publication that for decades has added to our culture's unhealthy self-image, whose success has been built on objectification, on glorifying something she is not, on excluding her because of a few pounds -- now toting her out like some curvy African kid they sponsored, hanging her on their fridge to show how progressive they are. (Note: Ashley is not fat. That was for effect. She's just got a little sumtin' extra, some meat with her potatoes. She seems like a lovely girl who cares about women's issues. Crazy beautiful and also Russian cat-eyed.)

But this is progress, you might say.

Yes I suppose it is, but only when you look at it within the constructs of its own messed up reality. To consider the opening up of this industry to other body types a positive step forward first you must accept the use of people's bodies as sexual ornaments, and be OK with the use of these human pieces to sell us stuff, no matter the distorted senses of self-worth it may create.

So yes they've put a plus or curvy model on the cover, along with MMA athlete Ronda Rousey, but let's keep some perspective, folks. Here is the other cover model for this year's groundbreaking edition. Somewhere in there I believe there's a swimsuit.


Companies with long histories of not giving a shit suddenly taking the high-road gives me the creeps. Reminds me of a guy volunteering at UNICEF just to get laid.

For decades you bombard us with impossible standards and superficiality, making us believe that we need to be thinner, poutier, sexier, helping push our culture to historic levels eating disorders and social anxiety, saddling our women with insecurities and our men with jaded expectations. You couldn't have cared less about the part you played as long as the numbers were good. But now that the public consciousness is trending towards equality and awareness, you suddenly want to join in. How convenient. Jumping on the bandwagon when you had many a chance to be the one driving leads one to suspect you'll quickly jump off the moment the numbers tell you it's half a percent better to do so.

"Beauty is not cookie cutter. Beauty is not one size fits all," SI Editor MJ Day now proudly declares.

Really. And so what worthy cause will you so valiantly champion next? The Native American. The Granny. The Trans. Yes, yes, you are all beautiful. And so brave. We shall now honour you. Each and every one of us deserves to be spray-painted and Photoshopped and turned into human candy.

Look how far we have come.

This piece originally appeared onHeadSpace.

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