Is model Tess Holliday promoting unhealthy lifestyles?

Images: Tess Holliday's Facebook page

Images: Christine Harbour via Tess Holliday’s Facebook page

Tess Holliday, formerly known as Tess Munster, has been on everyone’s lips these days. Vogue Italia named her one of their top plus-size models, and she graced the June 2015 cover of People Magazine as “the World’s first size 22 model.” Everywhere you look, her name is attached to that number: 22.

When she was 15, Holliday auditioned for a plus-size casting call, but was too short and big to be cast. When she was 20, she uploaded some personal photos to Model Mayhem online. At 24, she was the face of the A&E show, Heavy. Having her face plastered all over billboards and commercials, this was the unlikely starting point that launched her career. She is now signed to the London-based agency, MiLK Model Management, where (unsurprisingly) she happens to be the only model of her size. MiLK has “curve” models, which Holliday falls under, but she’s the biggest size.

Image: Instagram/@tessholliday

Image: Instagram/@tessholliday

Holliday is a self-proclaimed body-positive activist, as well as the founder of the #effyourbeautystandards campaign on social media, which has been going strong for almost two years now.

The campaign was the result of Internet trolling done on Holliday’s Tumblr page. In an interview with Marie Claire, Holliday said:

“People began to pick me apart, telling me, ‘you shouldn’t be wearing this,’ and ‘you should be covering up your body.’ And I remember getting really frustrated one day reading the comments. You know, why can’t I show off my body? Why do I have to wear ugly clothing? Why can’t I wear what I want? And I basically took four photos of myself and…posted on instagram. I said something like, ‘If you’re tired of people dictating what you should wear, post a photo and hashtag it #effyourbeautystandards.’”

The #effyourbeautystandards campaign aims to show women that, regardless of their body size, they are still beautiful. All in all, Holliday’s aim is to boost self-esteem and body confidence amongst women.

Image: Instagram/@tessholliday

Image: Instagram/@tessholliday

She is not the first to start a movement with such an aim. Dove has had their Real Beauty campaign for a few years now. But the fact that Holliday is not a commonly seen size in fashion is what is makes her message so strong.

But how far is going too far? Her message raises some serious concerns: Is she trying to normalize obesity? Promote an unhealthy lifestyle? There’s a point where one needs to stop celebrating their size and do something to change it.

Why must some people convince themselves that being obese is okay, and that they should be comfortable with it? Obesity is treatable. It’s your choice whether to fix it or not. Obesity is often caused by a person’s unique biology, and in most cases it’s preventable. That said, if it’s not hereditary, a person can still become obese if they don’t maintain a healthy lifestyle. Holliday is clearly obese, and she’s trying to celebrate that. Is there a reason to take pride in being unhealthy?

It’s only fair that we move to the opposite end of the spectrum: extreme skinniness. By skinny, I mean double-zero thin. These are the ultra thin models you find in Hollister, Chanel and American Apparel ads. Thinner models are often preferred in fashion shows because clothes are designed to fit the models, not vice versa.

But not everyone is impressed. France recently passed a law that prevents models below size two from hitting the catwalk, because anything lower is deemed unhealthy. These models must also get weekly weight-ins, and agencies hiring models below size two will be fined.

Image: Instagram/@tessholliday

Image: Instagram/@tessholliday

Some women are born with lightning-speed metabolisms, but a lot aren’t. And often, especially in the fashion world, women can develop eating disorders simply from trying to reach these unattainable figures. That’s not healthy whatsoever. We shouldn’t make ourselves sick in the pursuit of beauty.

In May, Business Insider posted an article shedding light on the plus-size model industry. An insider (who kept their identity private) who scouts plus-size models stated that many sick-looking girls would come in for an audition, and they had to be turned down because agencies don’t want to be seen as promoting a bad lifestyle. “Plus size” covers sizes from eight to 16, and this recruiter stated that it’s difficult to promote someone who’s a 22 because, well, they’re not necessarily plus. Agencies promote weight loss for bigger girls if they want to be a plus-size model.

Holliday’s size exceeds what is considered plus, her career could have a short shelf life. Her time as a top model likely won’t last.

Image: Instagram/@tessholliday

Image: Instagram/@tessholliday

Holliday is active on social media, especially Instagram, where she’s garnered nearly 900,000 followers. She often posts pictures from her modelling shoots, and they typically include captions that pre-emptively fend off haters.

Sometimes, this comes off as a bit of an ego trip.

She’s often quoting stuff like “Yeah my arms are fat, so what?” or, “So grateful to have the opportunity to model for big brands and not have to confirm industry standards.”

Four weeks ago, in an interview with The Guardian, Holliday said:

“Everyone has their vices, but mine are visible…. If I shot all day and I want a fucking hot chocolate and a chocolate croissant I’m going to eat it. Am I going to eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner? No. Is it OK to do it? If you want. But, you know, no one is coming at celebrities for smoking two packs of cigarettes..So why is it OK to do that to me? Life is shitty, so why would you judge somebody for dealing with it in the best way they can?”

Plus-size model

Image: Instagram/@tessholliday

Most nutritionists agree it’s okay to cheat here and there. But eating unhealthy is not something to keep up with. Turning to food for comfort is unhealthy, and comparing her habit to smoking isn’t necessarily fair. There are many health complications that both smokers and overweight people share, including respiratory and cardiac problems, shortness of breath, and reduced life expectancies. Holliday is no different than a smoker or a size double-zero. Her eating habits shouldn’t be glorified.

It’s as though Holliday is under the illusion that all size 22 women are perfectly healthy and don’t suffer any more health complications than a size eight. In this sense, she’s brutally wrong.

In terms of the size spectrum, which is actually medically worse: being underweight or overweight? Both sizes have their list of cons. Both are treatable. But if you defend yourself by saying you’re no worse than a chronic smoker or alcoholic, you need to re-evaluate your lifestyle.

Related Link: Plus-sized models: Do men care about weight?

Do you agree? Is Tess Holliday promoting unhealthy body image? Let Vv Magazine know in the comments below, or tweet us @ViewtheVibe

Neelam Champaneri

Neelam Champaneri

Neelam is an editorial intern studying English and Politics at York University. You can usually find her nose in a novel or arguing with someone over why mittens can't be called "hand socks."
Neelam Champaneri

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