This article was originally published on June 30, 2017.
Every day brings a new sunrise — along with, it seems, a new Internet dissenter to body positivity. But as 16-year-old Anna Sweetland of Wilsonville, Oregon, proves, there's always someone ready and waiting to clap back (and eloquently, we might add). A boy in her online health class had some things to say about the use of plus-size models in Target's body positive campaign, namely that it's "disgusting." Oh, but he's actually for body positivity, as his Facebook comment goes on to state: “There’s no problem with not being ashamed of your body, but it’s an entirely different thing when you’re obese. The problem with campaigns like these is that they encourage obesity, unhealthy habits, and they say that you’ll be happy no matter your size. This is wrong, and no one wants to look at an obese model.” What?
Sweetland and her classmates were having a virtual debate on whether Photoshop should be illegal to use in advertising when the comment arose, and she didn't hesitate to respond.
"I would like to start by saying that calling anyone’s body 'disgusting,' isn’t really called for, and you should be careful with your choice in adjectives," Sweetland began. She then made sure to set the commenter straight with reason, clarifying for him that plus-size models aren't promoting "unhealthy habits" by existing visibly in the media. "I agree with you that obesity is a bad thing, and it is a problem that our world is dealing with right now. However, I do not believe that plus size models are contributing to this disease. Not all plus size model are obese or unhealthy. It is possible to simply be larger just from genetics.”
In a statement to Yahoo, Sweetland explained where her classmate must be coming from. “I think he just doesn’t seem to understand that people in our society are constantly comparing themselves to one another,” she said. “He doesn’t seem to see the harm in only displaying one body type in the media. I guess he just isn’t grasping the severity of the issue.”
The severity of that issue is one she knows personally. Like so many girls growing up, Sweetland felt insecure about being photographed and wearing tighter clothes, because she rarely saw people whose bodies looked like hers being portrayed as beautiful. And when she felt a boost of confidence and went online to get herself something more form-fitting, she didn't see them modelling clothes at all.
"I didn't necessarily think that he made that comment to be mean, but he just had a lack of knowledge, or personal experience on the topic. That's why I felt it was necessary for someone who has experienced firsthand, the effects of women's portrayal in media, to let him know that what he was saying isn't true," Sweetland said in an email to Refinery29.
So, in her response, Sweetland made sure he understood the impact of model diversity. "You know who wants to see a plus size model? The 67 percent of women in America who are plus sized, and want to open a magazine and see somebody that looks just as beautiful as they do.”
It's clear from this instance that so much of the body positivity movement, and bodies themselves, is still highly misunderstood. Thanks to people like Sweetland, though, that landscape could be changing. Almost two weeks since her comment went viral, she says she's still receiving feedback. "The thought that maybe one person who is struggling with accepting their body, may have seen my comment, and seen that someone else in this world sees them as beautiful, brings me so much joy. I want everyone, especially teenagers, to begin communicating over topics like this and sharing their own stories."
"Just these last few years, I've gained so much more self confidence from the media's portrayal of many different body types," she continues, crediting that specifically to the growing presence of plus size models. "I am so unbelievably happy that we are now discussing the lack of diversity in the media. I think that these types of discussion will result in action, and those actions will better our society."