2016 was a year of success for model and positive body image activist Ashley Graham on and off the runway, television screens, magazine covers and award show stages.
In February, Graham became the first size 16 model to capture the cover of the Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue. In the months that followed, Graham has used the cover and her social media presence to spread size acceptance into the mainstream.
Graham has over 2.7 million followers on Instagram and regularly shares content that sends a message that every body is beautiful. Because of this and her actions that push for change in the fashion industry, Graham claimed a spot on Glamour’s Women of the Year list on Nov. 14.
Graham shares this year’s list alongside olympian Simone Biles, musician Gwen Stefani, The former finance minister of France Christine Lagarde and the three creators of the #BlackLivesMatter movement Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi and others.
While attending the Glamour’s Women of the Year Awards in Los Angeles, Graham was presented with her very own Barbie, according to a Huffington Post article.
Graham’s life-like doll comes after Mattel, the creator of Barbie, recreated the iconic childhood toy by developing three new body types, in addition to a range of skin tones and hair color and textures back in January.
Graham said she would have benefited from seeing this version of Barbie when she was a young girl, according to the Huffington post.
PSUC senior psychology major Melanie Jones agrees with Graham.
“As little girls, we’re taught to love our bodies, but there’s only so much the words of wisdom can do for a child who is a visual learner,” she said. “I think that giving young girls Barbies that resemble all kinds of women has the potential to break the cycle.”
Jones said that addressing issues with self esteem as soon as they start, is the key to successfully overcoming these issues for young girls.
“By giving children toys that are different from each other, just like the people they see are different, we’re providing a solid foundation for them to build their confidence on,” she said.
Through a magazine cover, Graham changed the conversation surrounding a topic that affects 90 percent of women and girls today.
92 percent of teen girls would like to change something about the way they look, with body weight ranking the highest, according to the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty.
“We believe beauty should be a source of confidence, and not anxiety,” according to the campaign. “That’s why we are here to help women everywhere develop a positive relationship with the way they look, helping them raise their self-esteem and realize their full potential.”
The Body Positive, a feminist movement that encourages self-adaptation of forgiving and affirmative attitudes towards physical appearance, has taken center stage in 2016.
“Love your body. Love your life,” is it’s message and it’s goal is to improve overall health and well-being for all, according to thebodypositive.org.
“The Body Positive teaches people how to reconnect to their innate body wisdom so they can have more balanced, joyful self-care, and a relationship with their whole selves that is guided by love, forgiveness, and humor,” according to thebodypositive.org.
The movement represents one of many forms of activism being used by individuals from many different facets of society that stand united against this issue.
The percentage of women around the world that consider themselves beautiful stands at only four percent, and anxiety about appearance begins at an early age, according to Dove.
“Forty-two percent of first to third grade girls want to be thinner and of American elementary school girls who read magazines, sixty-nine percent said that the pictures influence their concept of the ideal body shape. Forty-seven percent said the pictures make them want to lose weight,” according to nationaleatingdisorders.org.
Ninety percent of eating disorders are found in girls, according to the National Association for Self -Esteem.
PSUC freshman gender and women’s studies minor Alice Carson thinks maintaining and reiterating the messages learned a as children is what will end the vicious cycle of poor self-esteem developing in girls.
“We aren’t born with a developed idea of how the words ‘supposed to look like’ should apply to our own bodies,” she said. “The behaviors are learned. The attitudes and feelings are taught without us even knowing it.”
Jones said society and the era the young girls of today are being raised in has been a strong contributing factor to this issue.
“Image is a topic that is being pulled in two directions at the moment,” she said. “I think that we are currently living in a time where we are the most accepting and most closed off to changes and accepting differences in each other.”
A comparative study of self-esteem in college-aged women and middle-aged women created by Providence College student, Audrey Fritton, defines self esteem as “a realistic respect for or favorable impression of oneself.”
Self-esteem can have an earnest impact on the overall life choices and outlook of individuals. People with low self-esteem can be linked to developing eating disorders, abusing alcohol and withdrawing from social activity, according to the study.
“Twenty-nine college-aged women and 22 middle-aged women were asked to reflect on their current self-esteem levels. The women at midlife were also asked to discuss their perceived self-esteem when they were college-aged,” according to Fritton.
The findings addressed the perceived lack of self-esteem in college-aged women in contrast with women who grew up in a different era, specifically the 1960’s and 1970’, according to Fritton.
The results sung a different tune however. The study contradicted previous literature, the contemporary young women were thought to lack self-esteem as compared to women who grew up in the 1960’s and ’70s, but this study disproved that idea.
“In fact, while both groups of women reported fairly good self-esteem in the quantitative questions, the qualitative responses revealed overall conflicting feelings of self-esteem throughout the college years,” according to Fritton.
While the findings revealed that the grasp on the issue has on the different demographics varied, the deep rooted cause of the issue remains similar.
The irregular self-esteem stemmed from relationships, peer, and social issues in both age groups.
Breaking ties with the norms that society has created over times seems to be the words of advice that are being spoken by activists across the world.
“I felt free once I realized I was never going to fit the narrow mold that society wanted me to fit in,” Graham said, according to The Huffington Post.
Graham had only one request for the people at Mattel, according to The Huffington Post.
“The number one prerequisite, though, was that her thighs touched. I was like, ‘Guys, we can make this Barbie, but if her thighs don’t touch, she’s not authentic.’” Graham said, according to The Huffington Post.
Email Madison Winters at firstname.lastname@example.org