“Same Same but a Little Different”: Ashley Graham and the Normalization of Changing Bodies
Ashley Graham’s vulnerable pregnancy selfie helps to deconstruct the myth of body stasis.
Ashley Graham isn’t the perfect plus-size icon. She has, in fact, openly bristled at the label in the past. And she isn’t necessarily the perfect spokesperson for body positivity and fat activism, either. Just yesterday, she posted a photo on Instagram that appears to be an ad for…salad. Her Instagram stories very frequently consist of videos and photos of her at the gym, showing the world that she is what is referred to in the fat activist community as a “Good Fat”: a person who is on the larger end of the straight-size spectrum but who does all the “right things,” like eat “healthy” and exercise, thereby justifying their existence to the rest of the world.
So, yeah. Not perfect.
But earlier this week, she did do something that made me stop in my Instagram-scrolling tracks: she shared a rare, candid selfie of her imperfect, naked body. She shared her stretch marks, armpit stubble, and visible rolls and folds, for all the world to see. And she captioned it, simply, “Same same but a little different.”
On August 14th, Graham and her husband announced on Instagram that they are expecting their first child. Her body is changing. It is larger, more visible. It is taking up space, shifting and stretching to accommodate her new state of being. And it is utterly, completely beyond her control.
As a sickfat person, I can relate. And so, apparently, can dozens of other people. Her photo has inspired others to post their own stretch-marked, scarred, and soft-bodied selfies. Some are mothers, sharing their pre- and post-partum bodies. Others are eating disorder survivors, struggling with the commingled shame and joy that comes with the bodily changes of recovery. All are valid. All are normal.
Normal. It’s a word that appears again and again in the captions of the photos being shared. What Ashley Graham has done is help normalize the idea that bodies change. They constantly change: with pregnancy, with age, with illness, with recovery. They change regardless of who or what you are — even if what you are is a millionaire supermodel. But change in a body isn’t inherently bad — just “a little different.”
In an Instagram story shared earlier today, Graham thanked her fans for their comments, DMs, and tags expressing their gratitude, empathy, and support. “I was having a bad day that day,” she said, of the day she took the photo. But she decided to share it because, “I know there is another woman out there who is feeling the same way I’m feeling, who might be going through kind of a rough day in how she looks and how her body is changing.”
And that is a kind of normalization, too. The normalization of grief over a changing body. I know that some body positivity and fat activists will argue that the experience of that kind of grief is a byproduct of our culture telling us that change is bad, fat is bad, flaws are bad. And that’s true. But knowing that it’s true doesn’t make that grief any less real.
Our lives are not marked by stasis, either physical or psychological. We struggle. We have good days and bad days. And we grow in empathy, together, just a little bit, every time we can see ourselves reflected in the changing life of someone else.