The body positivity movement has gained quite a bit of momentum in the past few years: social media hashtags promoting self-love and accepting body "flaws" have helped people become more confident in their own skin; in the fashion industry, many brands are refusing to airbrush or retouch the models in their campaigns; during NYFW this year, plus-size models were finally styled no differently than the rest of the models on the runway. Even the Pirelli calendar ditched thin supermodels in favor of powerful women with a variety of body types.
Although the movement has made many positive strides, there are still plenty of critics setting it back. Sixteen-year-old Anna Sweetland recently encountered one of these critics while participating in an online discussion for her health class. She and her classmates were studying the use of digital manipulation in advertising and its effects on body image when she noticed a negative comment from a boy at school.
"In a part of article 5, it talks about how Target is starting a body positive campaign, and are also using 'plus-size' models, which is disgusting," the comment said. "There's no problem with not being ashamed of your body, but it's an entirely different thing when you're obese. The problem with campaigns like these is that they encourage obesity, unhealthy habits, and they say that you'll be happy no matter your size. This is wrong, and no one wants to look at an obese model."
While Sweetland understands that people may take a stance against body positivity, she found the way her classmate chose to word his response to be especially off-putting. So, in a response which has now been screenshotted and posted to Twitter, she gave him some more information and a piece of her mind.
"I appreciate you sharing your opinion," she wrote. "I would like to start by saying that calling anyone's body 'disgusting' isn't really called for, and you should be careful with your choice in adjectives. I agree with you that obesity is a bad thing, and it is a problem that our world is dealing with right now. However, I do not believe that plus-size models are contributing to this disease."
Then, Sweetland explained that you can't determine someone's health based solely on what they look like. "Not all plus-size models are obese or unhealthy. It is possible to be larger just from genetics. You can be a plus-size model and have just as healthy blood sugar as any other model," the teenager wrote.
She referenced a Good Morning America episode where plus-size model Ashley Graham and straight-size model Abeba Davis took a series of medical and fitness tests. The results showed that Graham has normal blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels and even performed better than Davis, who is a size 2, in some of the health tests.
Sweetland closed her argument by saying, "Every body type needs to be portrayed in media, because everyone needs to be represented. Lastly, I would like to inform you that your statement saying, 'Nobody wants to look at an obese model,' is false. You know who wants to see a plus-size model? The 67 percent of women in America who are plus-size, and want to open a magazine and see somebody that looks just as beautiful as they do."
Regardless of whether the teen was able to change her classmate's mind with her response, Sweetland's perspective is now being shared by major media outlets, helping her message to have an even bigger impact.
"It's saddening to know that so many people are uncomfortable in their own skin because the 'ideal body' that [has] been displayed isn't the body that they have," Sweetland told Teen Vogue. "I want people to see plus-size models as a stride in the right direction for our society. Instead of seeing plus-size models as promoters of obesity, see them as promoters of confidence. Don't just think of their influence on adults, but their influence on children. If I had seen models like Ashely Graham on magazine covers or being displayed positively in TV shows when I was younger, my entire opinion of my body would be different. I want everyone to understand that this equal representation of different body types in the media will better our society; in fact, I'd say it already has."
She's probably right about that. A small study recently published in the Communications Monographs journal found that seeing plus-size models in advertisements can boost college-aged women's confidence. The researchers who performed the study plan to conduct it again on a larger scale in the future and include college-aged men, adolescent boys and girls, and people of different ethnicities.