For one of the exercises in 16-year-old Anna Sweetland’s online summer health class, each student was asked to read a number of articles about body image and advertising, as well as the legality of photo retouching, and then hold an online discussion. But as comments started rolling in on the subject, one caught Sweetland, who goes to school in Oregon, by surprise.
“In a part of article five, it talks about how Target is starting a body-positive campaign, and are also using ‘plus-size’ models, which is disgusting,” the classmate wrote. “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.”
According to Sweetland, she was first taken back, “not from his correlation of plus-size models and obesity (because I’ve heard that before), but from his claims that ‘Nobody wants to look at an obese model,’ or the fact that he used the word ‘disgusting,’” Sweetland said in an interview with Mic. “I knew somebody had to say something, and let him know that his choice of words wasn’t okay. I wanted him to hear about the positive impact of plus-size models.”
And so she wrote a long, detailed response, beginning: “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. 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.”
She concluded: “I would to like to inform you that your statement saying ‘Nobody wants to look at an obese model’ is false. You know who wants to see a plus-size model? The 67% 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.”
For Sweetland, it wasn’t about proving him wrong, per se, but actually to help inform him.
“I didn’t so much want to prove him wrong, as offer him some extra information on the matter,” Sweetland said. “I wanted him to understand that plus-size models are really important to some people, and this type of equal representation we are seeing in the media will impact our world for the better. Also, the body positivity movement is so important to me, and I just want everybody to understand that it is something that should be accepted and embraced with open arms.”
Ultimately, after all this attention on this exchange, Sweetland hopes her words show just how important seeing women of various different sizes and shapes really is to so many people.
“I’m hoping that hearing how important this is to even just a teenager will let people know that plus-size models in media is really having an impact on all ages,” Sweetland said. “I want people to see that equal representation in the media will bring change to our future generations; they will be more accepting and more confident. I know there are a lot of people against the body positivity movement, but I want them to give it a chance. I want people to be open in hearing about the positive change that this movement will bring about.”