Bodies are completely different, but in a climate of restrictive beauty norms, it’s all too easy to forget that. But with her powerful pregnancy selfies, Ashley Graham is changing the representation of women’s bodies for the better.
When it comes to dominant beauty narratives around women’s bodies, it can be tough to challenge our perceptions of the ideal female form. Even though we’d love to accept our imperfections, self-love is easier said than done given the pervasive images of perfect women we consume on our screens every day.
Ashley Graham is one woman who understands this catch-22. Granted, she’s a world-famous supermodel who could, at first glance, appear to be just like the rafts of other celebrities who post shiny, aspirational pictures on the daily. But with one timely Instagram post, she’s able to deftly unravel restrictive beauty norms, and shows us all what body positivity looks like in practice.
Last week, Graham revealed she’s expecting her first child with husband Justin Ervin in a low-key Instagram post. But unlike many carefully curated pregnancy announcements, in the video, the couple squabble lovingly over the camera focus, before happily sharing their news.
This week, the model took to Instagram to share another refreshingly realistic photo. This time around, she shared an intimate picture of her nude, pregnant body. However, the camera isn’t trained on her stomach. Instead, it is zoomed in on her stretch marks, which have been left completely unedited.
“Same same but a little different,” the model wrote alongside her body-positive photo, in a reference to the transformation of women’s bodies throughout pregnancy. And her powerful celebration of her changing figure prompted her followers to praise the positive representation, which is so sorely lacking in mainstream media.
“This gives me strength,” one follower wrote. “You don’t know how much it means to women like me to see we’re not that different and help us try to feel comfortable in our own skin. One day I wish I could do the same.”
“I have never felt so ‘seen’ before in all of my 32 years,” another commented. “Thank you for your beautiful representation!!”
“I’m grateful for you and all the other women proudly showing themselves and wonder how it would have shaped my confidence to see these images in my teens and twenties,” another wrote. “But I still love seeing them in my forties and excited for this generation of women.’
Although Graham’s post sparked a huge outpouring of love and support, not all comments were as positive. Later in the week, when Graham instagrammed another photo of herself after indulging in a pregnancy massage, one troll felt the need to share their unwanted opinion about the model’s pregnancy journey.
“I can tell sis probably struggled to have this baby…” the user wrote underneath Graham’s photo. But the model wasn’t standing for the unnecessary hate, swiftly replying: “Saw your other ‘pressed AF’ comment. Not sure why you are commenting or following if you are just going to hate. Love you sis and hope you find some peace & positivity.” A classy response, I think we can all agree.
As Graham’s followers have pointed out, her photos aren’t simply relatable because she’s celebrating her evolving pregnancy body. Stretch marks - and by that token any perceived imperfection women are pressured to erase - are completely universal, perfectly normal, and certainly don’t define anyone. By proudly showcasing her natural body, Graham is reclaiming the beauty narrative, tackling the culture of body-shaming, and helping us to appreciate our differences, just the way they are.
For far too long, the representation of women by both mainstream and social media has failed to reflect who we see in the mirror, and its impact on our mental health is worrying. Stylist’s Love Women initiative promises to change that. As well as the launch of our Body Politics series, we’ve partnered with Dove, whose latest project (in conjunction with photo library Getty Images) aims to increase the supply of diverse pictures of women – which we will be using going forward.
Our editor-in-chief Lisa Smosarski has also made five pledges to Stylist readers:
1. We will ensure the women you see on our pages represent all women – inclusive of ethnicity, body shape, sexuality, age and disability. When we create content and ideas, we will ensure that all women are represented at the table. We commit to featuring one fashion or beauty photoshoot a month that uses real, diverse women.
2. We will ensure that we never sell an impossible dream. We believe in aspiration, but not in selling a lie. We will work with influencers, celebrities and other partners to encourage them to reveal their truths, too.
3. We will celebrate the so-called flaws of women to prove the normality in all of our bodies. We will run videos, photoshoots and honest accounts of our bodies and how they behave.
4. We will hold regular huddles with our advertisers and brand partners to challenge the way they portray and reflect women in their branding and advertising. We will call out and challenge brands, media and people who refuse to represent women with respect and truth. We will call on the government to support our goals.
5. Through insight and anecdote, we will teach everyone about the issues facing women, what needs to be done and how we can all work together to resolve this self-esteem crisis.
Find out more about Stylist’s Love Women initiative here.