My opinion on what makes a role model | Suger Coat It

As a plus size woman there seem to be plenty of people who have appointed themselves spokesperson for me. Elevated to role model opinion because of their beauty, their jobs or their position in the community. But often I find myself eye-rolling that anyone would assume they spoke for ALL people. And some of the time I think, WTF were they thinking? No one thinks that. Please. Stop. Talking.

And yes, I say this as a blogger. I have no qualifications to object on behalf of people or demand that the people do a better job of being role models, but meh. It’s the internet and I’ll say it if I want to. And hopefully, in a more informed way than I did one, five and especially ten years ago.

Because like it or not, when you find yourself with a platform to say stuff, you have to treat that as the responsibility it is. Far beyond the grabby press one lines, some women are looking for you to lead the way. You can grow into such things, no one is expected to be perfect, but I expect you to be thoughtful about such things.

I’ve stuffed up.

A few years ago I commented on how thin a model was in a blog post. Triggered by my disordered eating battles, I said what I said without thinking and was put, justifiably, in my place by Nikki at Styling You. Good. Lesson learnt all bodies are good bodies and no one has the right to judge based on appearance alone. After all, at the time I was a size 22 runner who worked out 4 or more times a week. I’d face my fair share of judgement and should’ve known better.

Or the time I said, on this very blog, that the only way to ensure that people don’t share your nude photos is not to take any. A view I now feel is soooo not right. Consenting adults should be consenting adults and respectful. To violate that trust is more than a violation, and take steal them through hacking or other such means is a crime. So I’ve been wrong. Over and over I’ve been wrong and it’s helped shape who I am now.

Someone who is wrong less often.

Or with less frequency anyway.

Someone who feels that I’ve earned my place to say, sorry lady, I think you’ve got it wrong this time.

She stuffed up.

Like, Ashley Graham for example. The media were fast to grab on to the quotes from the Dear Fat People woman and others who said she is unhealthy or unworthy (comments since revised). Great, headlines are headlines, right? But I got a little stuck when in the same news cycle Ashley Graham at the Oscars made me think, maybe she didn’t get IT at all.

I mean, no one looks at Kate Winslett and says, and I quote, “Her curves look incredible in that dress and the fact that she’s showing them off at her age, I love that.“ Um, what? For her AGE. lol. Spoken like a model slash spokesperson. Not to mention that the touted win for Ashley on the cover of Sports Illustrated was that there was ZERO mention of her ‘curves’ or being ‘plus sized’. She was just Ashley being hot on the cover. Marie Southard Ospina said it best here.

Gosh. I mean, live TV is risky but when you’ve just spent a month on a publicity tour with a model ‘of a certain age’ promoting diversity why be talking about Kate’s curves or her age? AT. HER. AGE. I mean, come ooooon. Mixed message, if you ask me. Delivered by a woman who by all accounts is generous and wonderful. Great. I hope like me she had someone who would say to her, you’ve made a mistake mate, here’s how and better luck next time. Women can dress their curves or lack thereof any old way they please, and their age isn’t a reason to call her brave for doing so.

These guys, they just didn’t think it through.

Now, let’s talk about the time when the interwebs entered a debate about whether or not we ‘needed’ the term plus for plus models. We were encouraged to drop the plus, strongly, sometimes savagely. My problem is that the term plus-sized has become about more than an industry term, applied to models that are larger than sample sized. It had become a movement for women, like me, to combine forces and share fashion that fits us, where to buy it, how to style it and all that. And being told what to think about such things well, folks just didn’t like it.

Especially women who found their community, their personal style and their sense of community online using that ‘label’. Heck, I’m not even sure I care if you drop the plus for models anyway. But, you’re still going to need to put them in some boxes. Think about it, how does one “order” a model in the first place? Short, tall, clothing size or bust measurement, hair colour, eye colour and most definitely skin colour. But that’s ANOTHER post for another day.

It’s modelling, without the classifications tags, they’re just a bunch of tall (predominantly) genetically gifted people who look great in their smalls. Which isn’t to minimise the work or skill that goes into such things. BUT, models need a classification just like plumbing fittings… So a brand can get the right one for them. And that’s my, not so model opinion, on that.

And well, don’t get me started on this one.

And finally, yep, I’m going to wrap this little tirade up shortly, I awoke last week to Ashy Bines post (this article sums it up best for me) about Tess Holliday. Oh dear lord. It appeared in my Facebook newsfeed more times than I care to admit and each time I died a little inside. Not only was featuring a model who DIED of a complex disease like anorexia in bad taste, but I couldn’t help but feel a little pissed off for myself. Sorry Tess, this ended up about me, not you.

I’m a size 22.

Does that make me unworthy of contributing value to people’s lives because of that one thing about me? This woman is not a role model; it said of Tess. Too fat, too unhealthy, too big. Ick. (paraphrasing here team). When you determine my worth to contribute to people, Tess’s ability and mine, you reduce us to things in a way that our patriarchal society always has. You are the problem here, not the solution. And a role model, hmm, questionable.

We NEED to question the responsibility taken here for the position she is in. An online ‘influencer’ with a powerful platform, it makes me shake my head that we are still having a conversation about women being worthy based solely on their bodies. Ashy, in a follow-up video, stands by her comments and mentions that she had no idea that the model on the left DIED from kidney failure related to anorexia. So what? Did you Google fat model and a thin model for your post Ashy?

One word, irresponsible.

Hardly the informed opinion on someone who has positioned herself as an expert on health and wellbeing for women. And by hardly, I mean not at all. This was not an informed opinion and she delivered it to her followers with a disclaimer about talking back. But I’m glad they did. I’m glad that her audience held her to account. How can Ashy Bines continue to stand where she is, claiming to be FOR women, and use them as faceless examples to push her agenda? Riddle me that.

I guess my point, I’m not sure anymore that I had one, is that role model status is earned. It’s not about the body you inhabit or the cover of whatever magazine you find yourself on. It’s about taking the time to consider what you put your influence and passion behind. Is something that is authentic? Or a line for the press? I hate to be someone who judges worthy causes over not so worthy ones but let your influence be a contribution to people. Let it be kind and accepting. Let your influence be a positive one based on people living happy, fulfilled lives.

Then maybe you can stand with women in history who have changed things. Actually changed things. 

So what say you? What makes a role model a role model, for you?

  • Gayel @ Modern Mummy Mayhem

    Our mistakes are what shape us, and the smart people don’t just learn from their mistakes they take what they have learnt and turn it into something great. That’s you my dear. Nobody is perfect, inside or out and you’re not afraid to admit your flaws and for that you’re a star in my eyes.

    • Thank you Gayel. I’m not afraid anymore of people knowing that I’m flawed, a little bit broken and more often than not say the wrong thing. I think it works too because people feel freer to be themselves around me. And that’s a win for all of us.

  • I would much rather have a role model that makes mistakes, talks about them and learns from them than some pedestal version of “perfect”.

  • A role model for me is someone who stands up for themselves (thoughts/ emotions/ morals/ values) no matter what, but can also admit when they are wrong and learn from it.

  • Mahina Hathaway

    I think that a good role model is someone who is gutsy enough to stand up and say what they believe, and are realistic enough to recognise that they can easily be wrong and that, upon learning more about a subject, their thought and beliefs on a matter can shift and change. My role models aren’t people who hold the exact same views as me. They’re people who are brave enough to be themselves and admit when they’re wrong, showing that just like me they’re an awesome work in progress. And it doesn’t sit well with me that anyone uses the face of someone else to say, “THIS is NOT how to be.” Giving a personal opinion is fine, like you have done. Opening up the discussion and inviting others to share their opinions is how we grow and learn from each other. What I feel Ashley Bines did differently was pin up these two images and state categorically that they are NOT healthy. That’s not cool, even apart from the sensitive issue of the thin girl she used as an example (which was SO inappropriate!).

    • I love this, another great comment that adds so much to the conversation. I do love when you visit Mahina. Thanks lady. And I think you’re right, there are personal opinions and ideas expressed and then there is what Ashy Bines did and said. Very different.