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Ashley Graham shot to superstardom when she made history as the first plus-size model to land the the cover of Sports Illustrated’s iconic Swimsuit Edition in 2016. While the fashion industry and audiences applauded Graham for her barrier-breaking cover, Graham has revealed not all of her peers were thrilled to see her score the coveted spot.
On a recent episode of “No Filter With Naomi,” a YouTube series hosted by Naomi Campbell, Graham opened up about the hurt of hearing she was “too large” to be featured in the magazine. The headline making criticism coincided with Graham and Campbell’s first meeting, where the legendary supermodel lent her support to the burgeoning star.
“You know what, Naomi, actually it was right after that [Sports Illustrated] cover that I met you,” Graham said. “It was at the CFDAs and we were walking onto a red carpet. We had just had a quick conversation because there was another model who was so upset that I had gotten the cover and she said I was very large and that women my size should not be on the cover.”
When Campbell pressed Graham to share the name of the person who criticized her, Graham replied. “You can go look it up.”
Although Graham refused to name names, she was referring to former ‘70s supermodel, Cheryl Tiegs. In 2016, Tiegs, who has also appeared on the cover of SI, told E! News at a pre-Oscar party she didn’t agree with a plus-size model being included in the magazine’s annual special edition.
“I don't like that we're talking about full-figured women because it's glamorizing them because your waist should be smaller than 35 (inches),'' Tiegs said. “That's what Dr. Oz said, and I'm sticking to it. No, I don't think it's healthy. Her face is beautiful. Beautiful. But I don't think it's healthy in the long run.”
“You told me, ‘I just want to let you know that I was talking about you and I defended you,’” Graham told Campbell. “First of all, I’m meeting Naomi Campbell for the first time and she just defended me. Heart is racing! Thank you!”
“Well, I’ll defend you again right now because I don’t think that person had the right to say that. It’s your time now,” Campbell replied,
While Graham said she expected to receive some backlash for being on the cover, she was able to see the positive in the dialogue it created regarding size and beauty.
“It brought up a great conversation of what is health? What is beauty? What is sexy? What do men want to see?” Graham said. “Because Sports Illustrated is such a man’s magazine.”
Tiegs issued a formal apology to Graham in the form of an open letter published to The Huffington Post. The former-model doubled down on her concerns about waist size, but dismissed allegations she was specifically talking about Graham and her cover.
“My answer was based on health concerns because of our nation's increasing problems with weight linked to diabetes, heart issues and cancer. At no time was I thinking of a specific person,” Tiegs wrote. “What has ensued is yet another "manufactured media feud" that is needed to feed websites and empty air time...Please accept my deepest apology if you were offended or in any way think I was referring to you. I commend you on the positive influence you have on helping women to love themselves.”