I do not personally know Ashley Graham. She does not know me and to my knowledge we do not have mutual friends on Facebook. To me, Ashley is a plus-sized model who has taken over 2016 as the face of the body positive movement. She has literally been everywhere, including the cover of Sports Illustrated.
And yet, despite my championing body-positivity and condemning the practice of fat-shaming I found myself at odds with Ashley. “Hate-Following” her on Instagram; not to troll and leave ugly comments but because I was simultaneously annoyed and fascinated by her. I found myself echoing the condescending remarks of her commenters: I guess Ashley sold out and wants to be skinny like the rest of them. And I found myself wrinkling my nose at her thighs writ with cellulite, looking down to check my own engaging in a quick round of the comparison game.
Then something changed. A former classmate of mine wrote a blog post voicing her anger with the academic job market–a struggle I can relate to. And as I read her frustration, I thought to myself how I hope she found peace in the writing of her post. I remembered an intention I set at a group relations conference I worked a few years ago
I want to notice when I am angry because anger is an opportunity to heal.
The same way I wished for my classmates peace, I wished for my own. This morning I was scrolling through Instagram and I saw that Ashley Graham had published her thoughts on owning her body via Lena Dunham’s Lenny’s Letter. In the piece she wrote about being damned if she did (look thin) and damned if she didn’t. She wrote about how constant critique of her body was hard to shake but ultimately necessary particularly in her industry. And she wrote about how she planned to persevere continuing to be an advocate of body positivity and body autonomy. I felt like without meaning to, Ashley Graham put me in my place.
Whatever judgments I had about her and her body were really projections of my own insecurities. My disdain for her exposure revealed how envious I was of her that she had a platform so large when I coveted the same thing. My jealousy and ultimately my hurt and anger with the so-called sell out plus size model was giving me an opportunity to proverbially get my own house in order.
It is easy to be angry at someone who has something you want or feel like you deserve. But God, when is it my turn? The truth is, that sort of attitude proves that you’re not yet ready for the type of blessing you’re asking for. I don’t want success out of spite. I don’t want to have to remind people of how good I am or how hard I worked, defending my accolades and waiting for reverence for a job well done. I want to win with a grateful and open heart or not at all.
So I had to apologize to Ashley Graham and make my peace with her. Owning that my anger towards her was misplaced frustration with my own short-comings. Energy which should have been spent reflecting and repairing myself went instead to picking her apart and tearing her down, even though it was only mentally–the bad energy was out there. Life/God does not owe me success. God does not owe me wealth or fame or a voice that reaches millions. And just because God saw fit to give it to Ashley Graham and not me does not mean that I am not blessed in other ways.
I realize that no matter what does or does not come to pass in my life and in my career, will always be to serve my growth. I want to stay focused on my lessons and becoming the best person I can be, which means uplifting others not tearing them down. Even hypothetically in my head over social media. I want to always have a firm grasp on who I am. Who I really truly am, which is a child of God. I want to pour love into the world, not negativity even for laughs. So I had to make my peace with Ashley. I looked at her for the beautiful strong and courageous woman that she is. Admiring her not because she was a woman unashamed to show her body, but because she was a woman unashamed to show her pain.
I never want to be responsible for causing another woman to doubt herself, feel poorly about herself, or feel undeserving of her blessings. That is not who I am. That is not who I ever wanted to be. Remembering that there is a precious human soul on the other side of my projections helped me to re-examine my own behavior and check myself.
I am sure next week there will be a picture that Ashley will post and I will roll my eyes as proclaiming that “this bitch is everywhere…” But hopefully now I can do so with a smile and gut check. After sixteen years of defending her body, that bitch deserves to be.