Ashley Graham, the first plus-size model to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue, looks absolutely gaw-geous in the mag this month.
But last week, Cheryl Teigs, a 68-year-old former SI swimsuit edition cover model, made some pretty loaded comments in an interview with E! about Ashley's weight. "I don't like that we're talking about full-figured women because it's glamorising them because your waist should be smaller than 35 [inches]," she said. "That's what Dr. Oz said, and I'm sticking to it. No, I don't think it's healthy. Her face is beautiful. Beautiful. But I don't think it's healthy in the long run."
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She then went further on Twitter:
"To clarify re bodyweight. Being anorexic/bulimic/overweight all connected to health problems. I want all to be as healthy as they can."
So can you really equate being plus-size with being unhealthy?
Absolutely not, says Michelle May, R.D. M.D., founder of Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating Programs and Training. "I do not agree with Cheryl at all — she's completely innaccurate," says May, who adds that comments like the ones Cheryl made lead to weight bias, stigma, and judgment.
A recent study published in the International Journal of Obesity found that body mass index (BMI) is not a reliable way to measure someone's health. Researchers at the University of California-Los Angeles found that close to half of Americans (34.4 million to be exact) who are considered overweight by their BMI number (25 to 29.9) are healthy, as are 19.8 million who are considered obese (that would be a BMI of 30 and up).
And, more than 30 percent of people who have BMIs in the "normal" range (18.5 to 24.9) are unhealthy. This group of people often goes without having diseases diagnosed until they're in advanced stages, since they believe they're healthy, says Linda Bacon, Ph.D., a researcher at the University of California-Davis and author of Body Respect: What Conventional Health Books Get Wrong, Leave Out, and Just Plain Fail to Understand About Weight. Even when you see disease more among heavier people, it's because of other variables correlated with a heavier weight, not the weight itself, says Bacon. For example, there's a strong correlation between weight and poverty and a strong correlation between poverty and poor health, she says.
"What that tells us is that when we try to assess a person’s health simply by looking at them, we’re going to make major mistakes," says May. You can't—and shouldn't — judge a woman's health by how she looks in a swimsuit. Case closed.