According to an Oct. 2015 interview with men's publication Details, plus size model Ashley Graham is tired of being sexualized just because she's curvaceous. Some might know her as the first plus size model to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated , but Graham is so much more than that. She's also a body positive activist making giant strides in the fashion industry — helping change our ideas of what "beautiful" actually means.
However, as Graham is battling to help plus size women everywhere become more body positive and be represented in the fashion world, she's also taking up arms against yet another curvy woman trope: The hyper-sexualized figure.
"The model and body positive activist, who objects to the way the term plus size is used, criticized the industry for automatically sexualizing curvier models by only casting them for lingerie shoots or as a ‘sexy’ character in film and television," reporter Heather Saul wrote in an article for The Independent.
As Graham explained to Details, "Curvy bodies have always been the sexier bodies in fashion. Any model who is strictly a lingerie model, she has fuller breasts and fuller hips. Girls who are much thinner, who might be a size zero with no T&A, are not the Victoria’s Secret model. And it just goes to show that a curvier body is considered sexier. So if you get an even curvier body, like mine, we’re automatically sexualized. If I was cast in a role in a movie, I know without a shadow of a doubt that I would be the sexy girl."
When asked why she thinks that is, Graham continued to point out, "It’s because we’ve just been in one category. You’re either too fat and not pretty enough or your just uber-duber sexy like the Marilyn Monroe's or Jennifer Lopez's of the world. They were supposed to be my role models, just because they were two of the most notable curvy women in society."
When you only have two categories to fall into (too fat or super sexy) then there isn't much wiggle room to break outside of that identity. That's why having public figures like Graham is so important: They act as trailblazers who can offer society a new way of looking at underrepresented (and often mislabeled) groups of people.
This isn't to say that Graham is against the label "sexy," though. She was the first plus size model to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated, has had her own lingerie lines with Addition Elle and Navabi, and isn't shy baring her body when it comes to photo shoots or campaigns. But when it comes to being associated with a one-dimensional label applied to a group of women, that's when "sexy" can become a problem.
To further prove how seeing voluptuous women through a one-dimensional "sexy" stereotype can be troubling, here are three famously curvy celebs who have spoken out about the same thing.
1. Eva Mendes
Sometimes it's hard to be perceived outside of your curvy bombshell figure, and that can affect your work. In a 2010 interview with Allure, Eva Mendes shared her struggle with breaking past her sexy, curvy image. "I’d love for my ambition and will and intellect and sense of humor to define me as well. I’m definitely responsible for the image that I put out there. But it does become frustrating, because I don’t want ‘sexy’ to be my defining characteristic," she said.
2. Scarlett Johansson
What if, for a night, you didn't want to be seen as sexy? What if you wanted to try on a different style, like understated, classic, or edgy? It can be completely frustrating if all anyone can focus on is your boobs. In 2013, Scarlett Johansson told Elle UK, "I think any woman who is curvy and wears a gown to an event is, like, super-sexualized. Throw on an evening frock and it's like all of a sudden you have boobs and everyone is like, 'Bombshell!'"
3. Megan Fox
The "sexy" label can also take away your sense of independence and power. A woman can totally own her sexuality, but when it becomes an issue of being perceived as an object and only an object, it takes away from everything else you could offer as a person. In a 2013 interview with Esquire, Megan Fox shared the effect her "sex bomb" image has had on her. "I felt powerless in that image. I didn't feel powerful. It ate every other part of my personality, not for me but for how people saw me, because there was nothing else to see or know," she said. "That devalued me. Because I wasn't anything. I was an image. I was a picture. I was a pose."
These women and others like them have much more to offer than a "bombshell" physique, and it's about time the world acknowledged as much.