NOTE: This post was originally published on my previous blog, Body Image Rehab.
Last week, I watched a repeat broadcast of an episode of “The Tonight Show.” This episode featured a plus-sized model named Ashley Graham. The reason she was a guest on the show centered on ABC’s refusal to air her Lane Bryant ad during an episode of “Dancing with the Stars” on the grounds that it was too revealing (see New York Post article on this).
Jay Leno had heard this story and felt the ABC decision was ridiculous, especially in light of the numerous Victoria’s Secret ads which are aired during many television broadcasts. Leno wanted to increase awareness of the issue of discrimination toward plus-sized models, so he invited this young model to appear on his show.
A Strong and Unexpected Reaction…
Watching Ashley Graham on “The Tonight Show” elicited a strong and unexpected reaction in me, which is why I’ve chosen to write about her in this post. When Jay Leno introduced her, Ashley glided out on the stage dressed entirely in spandex. While she is a very beautiful woman, she is definitely much curvier and voluptuous than most of the models we see in magazines and on the runway. I didn’t feel that the spandex ensemble was the most flattering thing she could have worn (spandex isn’t the most flattering thing for anyone, in my humble opinion), but that isn’t at all what most struck me when I saw this lovely woman.
What I noticed first and foremost was her abundance of … confidence. She carried herself with pride and poise and looked every bit as statuesque, sexy, and elegant as any movie star who might walk onto the Tonight Show stage. I was mesmerized by her magnetism and her evident self-love.
Why Aren’t I That Confident?
My next thought was, “Why don’t I have that type of confidence?” I read that Ashley Graham is a size 16 at 5’9”. In contrast, I am 5’10” and most often wear a size 8, yet I don’t have even a tenth of Ashley’s assurance. I should know by now that self-esteem and love of one’s body have nothing to do with size. After all, I’ve ranged from a size 0 to a size 14 and I’ve never felt all that good about my body. But stubborn as I am, I continue to believe that I will feel okay about my shape if only I can lose 5 – or 10 – pounds. I just don’t get it, do I?
I wish that women like Ashley Graham could bottle their confidence and sell it like perfume. I would be the first one in line to purchase “eau de body esteem.” Alas, that’s not how it works. There is no easy fix for a lifetime of body shame and self-consciousness. I have been told to “act as if” or “fake it ‘til you make it” in regards to feeling confident about my body. I’ve tried that and I think that sometimes I can fool other people into thinking I actually like the way I look. But I can’t seem to fool myself…
Lessons from Ashley Graham
What can we learn from someone like Ashley Graham? Here are a few thoughts for myself and other women who could use a shot of “body assurance serum”:
- Sexy and beautiful are not attached to a certain size or to a societal ideal.
- There are many definitions of beauty, not just one!
- If a woman acts and feels attractive, others will see her that way as well.
- If you love your body, others will, too.
- If you carry yourself with pride and “own” every inch of your body, you will feel more confident.
Embrace and Celebrate Our Best
I’m sure there are many more things we can learn from this young woman, but the above are what came to mind. We can’t all look like Victoria’s Secret models, nor should we. But we can strive to be our very best and love ourselves through each step of our life’s journey. We can learn to love our bodies for what they do for us, for the fact that they carry us through our lives faithfully and steadily. We can learn to embrace and celebrate our best points and release our judgment about those parts we don’t like so much.
We can end the war within and enjoy our precious, beautiful, and all too brief lives. From my keyboard to God’s ears, that is my solemn prayer – for myself and for all others like me. We can learn to love our bodies as they are and one day stride onto the stages of our lives with the grace and assurance of Ashley Graham!