Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

What's screwed up about America's body image

By LZ Granderson, CNN Contributor
updated 1:32 PM EDT, Wed August 6, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • LZ Granderson: "Plus-size" model gets cyberapplause for posting unretouched pix
  • LZ: If she's "plus-size," it's bad news for average women, who run about 165 pounds
  • He says America's distorted views of beauty, appearance affect women and men
  • LZ: Maybe Lawley's brave photos will raise awareness of how crazy our beauty image is

Editor's note: LZ Granderson is a CNN contributor, a senior writer for ESPN and a lecturer at Northwestern University. He is a former Hechinger Institute fellow and his commentary has been recognized by the Online News Association, the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. Follow him on Twitter @locs_n_laughs. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model, is getting a cyber-standing ovation for posting unretouched and makeup-free photos of herself on Facebook in protest against the pathological airbrushing we've grown accustomed to in professional photography. It's a bold move for the 25-year-old, who was also a vocal critic of the recent Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.

Her message to women everywhere is clear: Beauty comes in many sizes.

LZ Granderson
LZ Granderson

The problem is, Lawley is not what average people would call plus-size.

In fact, when I initially saw her unretouched photos, I kept scrolling through the gallery looking for her unretouched photos. Her natural beauty is undeniable, but if her body is what the fashion industry is calling plus size, that world is more screwed up than we know. Like, seriously, what kind of hallucinogen do you have to take in order to look at Lawley and think she's on the heavier side? At worst she looks like a fitness instructor at one of those gyms where the women show up in full makeup.

An un-retouched image that Australian model Robyn Lawley posted to her Facebook page showed the plus-sized model in a bikini.\n
An un-retouched image that Australian model Robyn Lawley posted to her Facebook page showed the plus-sized model in a bikini.

I've been to Australia.

There are plus-size women there.

Lawley, for all of her bravery, should not be considered among them.

Jennifer Lawrence goes off on fat-shaming
'Fit mom' vs. curvy girls
A sizing trick to make you feel skinny

It's the body image distortion that crammed her into that category, which, for actual plus-size women, can't be a good thing. If a size 6, or even 8, 9, or 10, is the industry's idea of a plus-size woman, then how should the average American woman -- who weighs roughly 165 pounds and wears size 12 or 14 -- describe herself? Morbidly obese?

Of course not, which is why size designations have been massaged over time. Many women apparently don't want to know their true size, so what was a size 14 or 16 in the 1950s is an 8 today. Vanity sizing, they call it.

This ridiculous shell game is how Lawley, who is a size 12, can be both a plus-size role model and on the thin side of average at the same time.

And while this sickeningly unrealistic idea of what we should look like is something mainly inflicted on women, men are not immune.

The receding hairline of England's Prince William was infamously resurrected as an issue on a 2010 cover of Hello magazine. Tennis great Andy Roddick's arm grew by 10 inches for his 2007 Men's Fitness cover. Cosmopolitan compiled a hilarious gallery of Photoshopped male celebrities like Jon Hamm next to pictures of how they actually look.

Earlier this year male model CJ Richards, talking about photo enhancement, said, "Why would you watch a movie without special effects? You understand that this isn't real. There's Photoshop in magazines and special effects in movies. I mean, it happens. So accept it and know that this is actually a real person underneath all of the computerized effects that they're adding in."

Are we really ready to take a look at 'real women'?

Fair enough. But then recall the fat-shaming of Prince Fielder after he posed nude in ESPN the Magazine's Body Issue. Or notice such things as the increase in steroid use among young men; global sales of male toiletries other than shaving products surpassing purchase of shaving products for the first time; and popularity of the painful sounding "Brozilian" waxes. That's when you see it's not just women who are spending money and risking their health to try to look like a picture in a magazine.

So, while it's puzzling that Lawley is considered plus-size, I guess we can say good for her for putting herself out there a bit. In an industry with such crazy ideas about what's fat, it's brave, I suppose, to put on a bikini and publish an unedited photo. Hopefully the attention she draws will shed light on how stupid it is to listen an industry that labeled her plus-size/fat in the first place.

Read CNNOpinion's new Flipboard magazine.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Jeff Yang calls Ello a wakeup call to Facebook and Twitter, and a sign of hope for fast-rising upstarts Pinterest and Snapchat.
updated 10:23 AM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Paul Waldman says the Secret Service should examine its procedures to make sure there are no threats to the White House--but without losing the openness so valuable to democracy
updated 10:25 AM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Jesse Williams says the videotape and 911 call that resulted in police gunning down John Crawford at a Walmart reveals the fatal injustice of racial assumptions
updated 7:03 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Mel Robbins says officials should drop the P.C. pose: The beheading in Oklahoma was not workplace violence. Plenty of evidence shows Alton Nolen was an admirer of ISIS.
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, William Piekos says..
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
updated 10:19 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
updated 2:59 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
updated 9:32 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
updated 8:33 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
updated 5:37 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
updated 12:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
updated 10:39 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
updated 9:09 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
updated 5:10 AM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT