Posted by: madelinebelangercnu | March 14, 2019

Ashley Graham and Intersectionality

“Be your favorite kind of woman”

The past few weeks, we’ve discussed both intersectionality and how women are portrayed in the media. Ashley Graham touches on both of these aspects; she is a model and a leading force in the body-positivity movement. We talked about race being an important factor when discussing intersectionality, but size can also be a prevalent social identity for many women. It’s a topic that is rarely talked about, but Ashley Graham tackles it head on. I’ve posted some links below to a few articles and a TED talk that give you a better idea of who Ashley Graham is:

Body image is something that a lot of women struggle with, and the media isn’t helping. As we learned through Miss Representation, unrealistic expectations for women are plastered over television and social media, and these resources are easier to access today than ever before. Ashley Graham’s willingness to speak out on a topic that makes a lot of people uncomfortable makes her a leader in the industry, and she has openly discussed how she feels larger women are represented within the industry. She mentions that she no longer wants to tokenized as a model, and wants companies to reach out and make efforts to represent women of all body sizes.

So how does this relate to leadership? I think Ashley Graham’s situation poses a number of interesting questions for our class. How does being a larger-bodied women impact her ability to lead? How does this impact differ for someone that isn’t a leader specifically for the body-positivity movement? Are they taken less seriously or garner less respect because they don’t necessarily fit the “box” for the “ideal” woman?

I wanted to include my own experience with a leader we’ll call Ellen. I had the opportunity to work at a program this summer with high school kids all across the country. We showed them how to demonstrate leadership through their respective sport. The program was filled with jam packed days; we practiced 4 hours a day in the summer and attended both leadership classes and sports psychology classes. Ellen is a larger-bodied woman and is also one of the co-directors of the entire program. Even though our days revolve around a lot of activity, she found her niche. She not only runs yoga in the mornings, but she makes it out to almost every practice session each day. Similar to Ashley Graham, Ellen is extremely open about her weight and is willing to have conversations about her weight journey. In spite of what some people may see as a hindrance to her job, Ellen uses her position to make a body positive statement and act as an amazing leader and woman. I hope that women of all shapes and sizes are able to successfully enact leadership the way that Ellen does.


  1. I really really really appreciated this post and the articles/video you put to accompany it. There was a lot that I was able to learn and also a lot of different ahha moments. One of the things that really stopped me in my tracks was the statement she made in the video regarding the plus-size range for the fashion industry in the US. That it runs from a US size 8 to a US size 16. In one way, this narrowmindedness our country has created for what a woman model should and can be defined as is just saddening. I think this type of body shaming is leading to many girls and women feel insecure about who they will be one day and who they currently are. I also just loved the personal story you shared – as a former athlete, body size and shape is easily an area of comparison, especially depending on the sport you are involved in. However, to know that that woman is making a huge difference in those girls lives just by role modeling and sharing her own story is so empowering.

  2. Ashley Graham is definitely a leader, a leader using her example and body to be a role model to all women. She is breaking the glass ceiling of body image, someone who is defying the odds and breaking new barriers by being a model who has curves. I think originally women in this situation are judged more heavily than the super-skinny models, the ones who fit the stereotype. But with Ashley’s example, I believe more and more women will join this positive-body movement, pushing themselves out of their comfort zones. In order to draw respect from others, you must first respect who you are as an individual – which is perfectly promoted in this scenario by Ashley.

  3. Thank you for sharing this, I thought it was a great topic to bring up. I definitely agree with her point in the article about how even though society is working towards being more inclusive to women, there is still a lot of work left to be done. Even based on the ads I see when I scroll through my social media accounts, I can tell that our society still has a long way to go because I tend to see very skinny, perfect-looking women and this portrayal simply isn’t a representation of most women today. I also loved when she mentioned the fact that women are more likely to buy something when the person advertising the product looks similar to them. So, shouldn’t companies realize that if they expand their definition of what a “model” is, they will most likely get more business? I had never really thought about this before, but I certainly think it’s something that is significant to acknowledge because it would benefit both the companies producing the advertisements and the individuals looking at them.

  4. I admire Ashley Graham and her leadership, and yes, she is a leader, because of her determination to speak up about a topic that most people try to avoid. Body image is a huge deal for most women and when social media posts ads with skinny models or includes beautiful, thin women on the popular page, it makes it harder for society to believe that we are working towards being more inclusive of all women of different shapes and sizes. I recently watched a Youtube video of a girl discussing body shaming and she brought up the point that everyone is built differently and that no two people are the same. I think that is something very important to realize and with the leadership of Ashley Graham in the body positivity movement, more women will begin to get comfortable with their bodies and not care if they don’t fit the “ideal” woman. As a athlete, body image is something that I have always had to deal with and I would always compare my body to the other girls on my team, wondering why I couldn’t be like them. Stories like Ashley’s and your own are one’s that stick with me and help and other women begin to accept their body image and try to empower others to do the same.

  5. I definitely enjoyed reading your post because it brought up a topic that is not commonly discussed when it comes to the representation of women. Something that I like about Ashley Graham is that she is never apologetic for her appearance and weight, and that she never promotes products or anything related to weight loss – she is proud of how she looks and of her accomplishments as a model. Oftentimes, people will see a larger-bodied woman and comment on how she needs to lose weight, or how they are “disgusted” by the appearance of a woman who is not extremely skinny. I also like that Ashley Graham represents the body type of a large percentage of women across the world, and brings about a positive outlook on life and her appearance rather than acknowledging people who feel the need to judge her for her body. This in itself represents leadership as a positive role model for women and young girls by showing that models and well-known people do not need to look a certain way to fit in with the norm.

  6. This was a really interesting and thought provoking post! I particularly stopped and thought about when you asked “how does being a larger-bodied women impact her ability to lead?” and “how does this impact differ for someone that isn’t a leader specifically for the body-positivity movement?” A common theme that has really stood out to be this entire semester is the idea of confidence. So many issues and obstacles women run into as leaders, in my opinion, stems from a lack of confidence. I am not by any means stating that is the only problem and it can be easily resolved, because I do not think that is the case. However, I do think that many women struggle with a lack of confidence and that flows over into several aspects of their life. In this particular topic, of body image, I think it goes hand in hand with the media like you had mentioned. Women look at the media which does not show many diverse body shapes, that it turn sets the expectation of what they are suppose to look like. When women do not look like the models walking down the red carpet, they start lacking in their own self confidence. When they lack in self confidence it spills over into their social life, their work, their leadership and yes I do believe that it impacts their ability to lead. Or should I said their perceived ability to lead. This can happen to any woman, but I do think it is consistently seen among larger-bodied women because of how few of them are represented in the media.

  7. You make a very interest point when you mention that size is also a very prevalent social identity for women. While we’ve talked a lot this semester about how female personalities hurt/help their leadership presence, it is also very important to discuss how physical appearance affects women’s (and male’s) ability to lead. In my internship two summers ago, my friend was receiving her end-of-summer feedback from her department head where they also discussed future plans and career goals. All of his feedback was very positive, but at the end of the meeting he said “and you’re very pretty, so that will help you in the future too” – something that he did not say to the other female intern on the team, who happened to be of a larger size. My friend told me about this and I was honestly in shock. The two girls had worked on the same projects throughout the summer and had seemingly performed equally well. Even in an industry that is not focused on looks and beauty, like modeling is, the physical appearance of female’s seems to carry far more importance than their ability to be capable and intelligent employees. Of course, this is not the case across the board, but when beauty standards are perpetuated at a higher rate than intelligence, it can have a very harmful effect on a women’s ability to find her voice within her field to affect leadership and change.

  8. This is a brave topic to bring up and I respect you for doing so because it can be a touchy subject for some people. People are very visual when it comes to making sense of the world around us. Many times, unintentionally, people judge others based off of what they see, especially if that is all they have to go off of. I agree that society and media has brainwashed us into thinking that body image is one of the most important aspects of a woman. This has caused so many women to feel they are not good enough because of their body size. This can really affect leadership from the leader’s perspective and followers. The leader can feel insecure resulting in a lack of performance in all areas of leadership. Followers can be judgemental and assume that they are not capable of their duties because of their weight. This can be a serious issue due to the negative stigmas that have grown around body image.

    Ellen is inspiring because not only did she chase her dreams without the judgement of others holding her back, but she also uses it to inspire others by being open to talking about her weight. Hopefully more and more women will be less judgemental of others and more and more women will be accepting of themselves and for being who they are. I truly believe comparison is the thief of joy and women need to feel accepting of themselves before they will be able to lead a team or group efficiently.

  9. Ashley Graham has been a role model and prevalent leader in the body positivity movement, which I really respect and admire. As someone who struggled over half my life with positive body image, I think that the way Ashley Graham raises awareness and advocates for women to love their bodies is SO important!!!! I know that if I was younger and had a role model like Graham, I would have felt comfort knowing that so many people struggle with their body image too. Seeing her different ad campaigns over the media has fostered a safe environment to discuss body image, as well as help normalize the idea that women can love themselves and their bodies even if they are not the “ideal standard of beauty.” Something I have also realized is that more clothing companies like Target, American Eagle, Aerie, & Forever 21 (only a handful of many) have started making more cute clothes for plus size women since the body positivity movement has been brought to attention. This is a huge deal, especially because plus size clothes used to be sold at limited places or online. Women being allies to other women by giving support and love to each other is very beneficial. We need to stick together, share love, and build each other up in order to combat against the norms of the oppressive patriarchal society we live in. Ashley Graham is definitely considered a trailblazer in changing the way society views the ideal standards of beauty.

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