This week, plus size model Tess Holliday (or Tess Munster, as she now goes by) has become the first woman of her size to ever be signed to a major agency. At an unusually diminutive height (for the modelling world) of 5-foot-5, with a dress size of 22, it is fair to say that Holliday really isn’t your average model.
Yet, she is no stranger to the industry. In fact, all of her life Holliday has chased a dream that millions of girls just like her will recognise and understand. As a teenager, she attended a casting session, only to be told that she was too short and too heavy to ever make it as a model.
Despite this, she continued to chase her dream, and was named one of the top six plus size models in the world, by Vogue Italia, in 2013. During the same year, she kicked off a social media campaign called #effyourbeautystandards, designed to promote positive body image for all women, regardless of size or height. The campaign quickly snowballed, and eventually made headlines all around the world.
So, now you know a little about Tess Holliday – the name currently on the lips of beauty bloggers and experts everywhere. And she really is beautiful, there is no doubting the assertion that this woman is gorgeous enough to be a professional model. She is intelligent, inspiring, passionate, and what she has achieved is remarkable on both a personal and an industry level.
Unfortunately, in my opinion, it does not change the fact that Tess Holliday is massively overweight.
She looks great, and she is surely changing the industry for the better by forcing it to reconsider the value of curvier models, but she is grossly obese. Now, believe me – I know how unpopular this opinion is, but I simply cannot agree with anybody who ignores the reality that her body is every bit as unhealthy as that of a size zero model.
I do wish to stress that I am not trying to make judgements about whether or not a woman of her size can be attractive – nor do I feel any negativity towards Tess Holliday or her personal achievements. This is an industry issue, and it does not make sense for modelling agencies to be making steps towards weeding out the thinnest of the thin, only to be welcoming the largest of the large at the other end.
I consider myself to be a body positive feminist. I see the sickness of the mainstream media, with its blanket ban on anybody over a size 10, and it makes me sad for the next generation of women coming up in the world. I, like most women, fluctuate between sizes – sometimes I’m a comfortable size 8, others I’m closer to a size 10 or 12. It has never concerned me, because I know full well that a healthy body can equate to a range of sizes.
It depends on a whole range of factors, for one – what may be a great weight for a tall person, might not sit so healthily on a shorter one. It also worth pointing out that commercial dress sizes themselves are pretty nutty. It is absolutely not unusual for a woman to fit into a size 16 in one store, and a size 12 in another, in this country. I do not believe that there is a single healthy weight or size, and I do not think that having curves, being a bit chubby, or even being large enough to be considered ‘fat’ is necessarily a cause for concern.
However, no matter how many body positive campaigners desperately try to ignore the medical facts, there is no valid scientific way to claim that somebody upwards of a size 16 (and I do hate having to use a specific number, because there are no hard and fast rules for a healthy body) is at a weight that is good for their personal health.
I can anticipate the arguments already – ‘but what about female athletes, with BMI scores that put them in the obesity range?’ No, just no. This is precisely the kind of argument that has led to UK obesity levels more than trebling within a quarter century. We have stopped using our common sense.
It is not difficult to identify a person who is unhealthily overweight, and anybody denying this fact is only lying to themselves. I’m not talking chubby, I’m not talking curvy – I’m talking seriously overweight, like Tess Holliday, no matter how beautiful that person might be.
We have become a nation of people who are too terrified to tell the truth. There is a point at which being thin is dangerous, and there absolutely IS an equivalent point at which being too fat is similarly risky. Why is it now so taboo to point this out? Why can ‘fat’ be a feminist issue, but only if it is represented as a positive one? Once again, I think that Tess Holliday is a beautiful and talented woman, but I do not think that a size 22 model should be promoted as a role model for a healthy body image.
I will not, and I cannot.
If you are a size 22 woman, you are at significantly greater risk of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis, indigestion, gallstones, breast cancer, infertility, depression, anxiety and sleep apnoea. For anybody who isn’t familiar with sleep apnoea, it describes a condition which causes sufferers to actually stop breathing in their sleep – is that not terrifying? It is not about being comfortable in your skin, once you get to this weight range. It is about facing the reality of a potentially shortened lifespan.
It is about common sense, and confronting difficult truths like this, even if it is emotionally painful to do so. Yes, the BMI framework is a shitty system that doesn’t account for anybody taller or shorter than the average – get rid of it, we don’t need it. Yes, we absolutely should have curvier models on our televisions, in our magazines and on our runways. In fact, the term ‘plus size’ wouldn’t exist in an ideal world – especially not to describe perfectly healthy size 10, 12 or 14 women.
Yes, we should embrace our belly rolls, back fat, wobbly thighs, chunky buttocks and muffin tops. But there must be a limit. There HAS to be a limit – otherwise, where do we go from here as a species? How do we sincerely engage with issues like world hunger, famine, poverty and war, if we genuinely cannot see the point at which all of the freedom and the power of living in a western society stops being something that we have a fair right to, and starts being something that we are abusing?
Postscript: I know that I have used the figure of Tess Holliday to frame this discussion, but it is not representative of any wish to personally criticise her or her weight. I do agree that when individuals are used as ambassadors for a whole movement, it becomes less about the wider context and more about deconstructing a regular, hard-working human being who is simply making their way through life in their own unique way. I have tried to use Holliday only as an example, and never as a target.
If you feel strongly about this topic, even if you vehemently disagree with me, please do comment. I am more than willing to talk, discuss, wrangle and wrestle over the subject. It is a controversial one, and by putting my opinion out there, I freely expose it to criticism.