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6 Things We Learned from Ashley Graham's Powerful Body Positive Essay

Just a few weeks ago, the internet went crazy over a photo Ashley Graham posted on Instagram from the set of America's Next Top Model where she'll sit as a judge next season. Wearing a white crop top and matching skirt with a leather jacket, the snap seemed innocent enough—and Ashley looked incredible. But then the trolls showed up to shame Graham for not looking "curvy enough" and to accuse her of being a "fake fat person" (is that even a thing?!?) At the time, Graham shot back, not allowing the shamers to dictate what HER body should look like. But now, Graham has gone a step further, writing a powerful essay for Lena Dunham's Lenny newsletter called "Shamed If I Do, Shamed If I Don't." Here are the six most inspiring takeaways:

It's all about knowing your angles
Graham is just like us—she doesn't post a selfie until she finds one that hits just the right angle and an angle that she feels confident sharing with her 2.2 million Instagram followers. "Most people wouldn't put up a picture they felt made them feel less than beautiful. Having been a model for sixteen years, I know my angles, just like we all know our favorite filters and lighting and our good sides. I pick the photos I like best," she wrote. You would be hard pressed in this day and age to find anyone—man or woman—who throws a photo on social media without several takes, a filter, or some other form of editing that we know we will be happy with

It was shocking that her normally supportive followers made cruel comments
Graham knows that the usual rule of thumb is to never read the comments—but she's been able to successfully ignore that rule in the past to help further her platform as a body activist and build her #BeautyBeyondSize platform. "My followers are the first people I turn to for feedback on anything I do, from designing my lingerie, dress, and swimsuit lines, to the things I discuss in my public speeches. I have to read the comments," Graham says. "I know the comments won't all be positive. I'm a confident woman with thick skin, and as a model in the public eye, I'm conditioned to accept criticism. But last week, I admit that I had a tougher time brushing off the haters."

She's actually gained weight
Graham is amazed that people were so upset that she appeared slimmer in the Instagram photo from the America's Next Top Model set. "Knowing my angles is one thing, but I must be a magician to make people think I went from a size 14 to a size 6 in a week!" she says. And then she drops a truth bomb: "The reality is I haven't lost a pound this year. In fact, I'm actually heavier than I was three years ago, but I accept my body as it is today." Her workouts are not for weight loss but for health. "If I did want to lose weight, it would be no one's decision but my own. I love to sweat it out at the gym . . . but I also don't restrict myself from eating certain foods or indulging on some extra-cheese mac 'n' cheese every once in a while." (Related: Celebs Who Refuse to Follow Super Strict Diets)

The cycle of body shaming needs to end
To put it mildly, Graham is "over it" when it comes to the vicious cycle of body shaming—it needs to end—and reiterates that it doesn't just affect overweight women. "Body shaming isn't just telling the big girl to cover up. It's trying to shame me for working out. It's giving 'skinny' a negative connotation. It's wanting me to be plus size, or assuming I'm pregnant because of some belly bulge," Graham says. "What type of example are we setting for young girls and their self-esteem if grown adults are on Instagram calling other women 'cowards' for losing weight, or 'ugly' for being overweight?"

"Plus size" is just a label—not who she is
While Graham admits that yes, she's a curvy woman, it's her industry that has given her the label "plus-size" model and society that has labeled her a "plus-size" woman. And she has a very strong message to send about it: "I am not just here for the size 8s (where plus-size modeling starts) or the size 14s (my current size) or the size 18s (my former size). I am here for all women who don't feel comfortable in their skin, who need a reminder that their unique bodies are beautiful!" And Graham fiercely understands that she is representing an image of beauty that is often excluded from the mainstream media and knows she is inspiring women who "when they look at me, they see themselves, and maybe that's why seeing me eat a cheeseburger makes some people feel good about eating whatever they want."

It's time for a major change
The only way we can change this conversation and change the way we talk about our own bodies and the bodies of others is to check our own actions. Graham explains: "We can't create change until we recognize and check our own actions. If you see another woman taking a selfie or a photo in her bathing suit, encourage her because she actually feels beautiful, don't give her the side eye because you think she's feeling herself too hard. Why waste time and energy spewing negativity? Let's worry about our own bodies."

The final line of Graham's essay sums it all up in one nice, neat package: "My body is MY body. I'll call the shots."

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