Unlike Bobby Finger, over at Jezebel.com, I know who Cheryl Tiegs is. Big-time model of the ’70s and ’80s (who also in the 2000s made the awkward decision to be in the unforgettable, for all the ornery reasons, independent film The Brown Bunny. I quite literally remember my high school history teacher saying Tiegs couldn’t act her way out of a paper bag. I managed to watch The Brown Bunny in its entirety. She wasn’t that bad! But anything else about the film, I’m going to leave right here).
Tiegs, for the most part, has kept a low profile since 2003. She’s made a comeback onto our feeds and Finger’s pop culture radar because of her recent and unfortunate comments about Ashley Graham‘s groundbreaking Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover. From a fellow (former) model who’s appeared multiple times on the famed issue herself, she surprisingly had this to say to an E! News correspondent about Graham’s cover: “Actually, I don’t like it that we’re talking about full-figured women. It’s glamorizing them, and your waist should be small than 35 [inches]. That’s what Dr. Oz said, and I’m sticking to it. I don’t think it’s healthy. Her face is beautiful, but I don’t think it’s healthy in the long run.”
Below is the actual clip of her saying this as well:
Note how the interviewer goes from surprised to putting on the “Oh, yes, hmmm” face and back again, to “Dang, girl!”
Oh, Tiegs. As a model yourself, what kind of solidarity is this? Clearly, it’s a lack thereof. I can honestly commend her for being honest and I say that because her answer was so unexpected. She must really feel this way. But on the flip side, and where I shall remain regarding the actual statement, I think Tiegs was being extremely short-sighted on the bigger picture and impact of Graham’s size 16 SI cover.
Looking back at most of SI‘s swimsuit cover issues, the models, including Tiegs, were thin as warm hell, and as of late, even in this glorified era of the protruding butt, are still quite bone and narrow. From the 1970s up until 2015, this was deemed not just the standard but the only kind of body type worthing of simultaneously seeing in a swimsuit and on a magazine cover.
When I was a kid, I was already on my feminist tip, and the only swimsuit issue I ever looked at from front to back was the 1997 edition with Tyra Banks, her second and solo cover. I flipped through all of the swimsuit photographs (I recall seeing Niki Taylor in there), and I tried to gather what Sports Illustrated, or even the models, were trying to tell me. That their bodies were the ideal? Is this what men really wanted their women to look like? Did these women really want to be wearing those barely there bikinis? Is that a genuine smile?
Back then, pop culture on a general scope also operated differently. In communities of color, particularly African-American and Latino, being fuller or having curves on display had already been praised for years. When Jennifer Lopez blew up after the release of Selena, we were not all surprised that the Boricua from the Bronx had a booty, while the White media acted as if Venus herself had come back to us. For White women, slender had always been in. In 1997, there were White women who were bigger or rounder than Niki Taylor, Cindy Crawford, or the idol of us girls 5’7″ and under Kate Moss. But women past a size 8 were still often regulated to the bleachers in beauty, and the same goes for women of color to the contrary of “our” men claiming to love meatier body types. Camryn Manheim even mentioned her weight during her 1998 Primetime Emmy Awards speech because beyond comedy, very few times women her size were cast in prominent TV dramas with real, powerful roles.
Just in the last months, slender It girl model of the moment Gigi Hadid had to counter-attack “body-shaming trolls“ over her “athletic” or bigger thighs. Are people just crazy?
Curves are praised here. Slender bods adored yonder. But all around, all women’s bodies have been the subject of unfair scrutiny when it really comes down to genetics, diet, and exercise that makes us all different.
In 2016, representation matters. From weight, to skin color, cultures, ethnicities, sexual orientation, and regions. I appreciate the term “real women have curves” but I also despise it because real women are women, whether you’re slim or rounder. I will always stand by this. The covers of this year’s Swimsuit Issue represent the spectrum much better than they have in the past. Hailey Clauson is a skinny Minnie on hers. Graham is voluptuous and loving it, a model for a new era. (Ronda Rousey is on the third, somewhat representing the in-between body shape). Why can’t all these bodies be celebrated as gorgeous and fun in the sun? Tiegs’ comments came across as if she was jealous. Like she was looking back at her modeling days and balked at the fact that she would’ve never been considered for a SI swimsuit cover at Graham’s size and that it was unfair. She also seems unwilling to let go of some of fashion’s very old-fashioned rules. Today, women Graham’s size are chefs and even experts in yoga. Your size doesn’t always determine your strength or abilities.
My body shape is unlike Caulson’s or Graham’s and yet I’m here for both of them. It may be time for Tiegs to get with the program. The U.S. still has concerns over its high level of obesity and the epic amount of processed foods available to us, those are facts. But Graham’s body is not the culprit. Besides… Reportedly, her waist line is actually a size 30. Boo-ya.