#ModelCrushMonday: Tess Holliday

Today’s #ModelCrushMonday will probably be a controversial choice amongst many in my industry. This hugely successful size 26 model tends to generate comments on my shoots such as “I get plus size, but size 26 is just promoting an unhealthy body image,” “It’s just not attractive,” and “Curves are sexy – but not obesity.”


But the fact is, Tess Holliday’s success and the resonance that her #effyourbeautystandards hash tag has had with so many has generated a conversation that we’ve needed in fashion and advertising for a long time.

We see ourselves, in the standard modelling industry (so size 10 and below) as conveying images of models with a healthy body shape. From my vantage point as a working size 8-10 (depending on the shop) model, I see most of my peers eating a balanced, healthy diet and exercising 5-6 times a week. But is that true for every model? In some sections of the fashion industry, as well as some of our biggest actresses, the size many models must be to work is impossibly tiny.

Celebrating tall and thin as the dream body shape in the media disengages and isolates so many people out there. It can make them feel bad about themselves. Eating disorders and negative body images aren’t caused solely by pictures of slender models and actresses, but I don’t think these standards help those who can never hope to grow six inches taller or three sizes smaller.

People see Tess as normalising obesity, but the fact is: obesity is becoming normal without her influence: around a third of adults in the UK are obese. We live in a country which pelts us with advertising for junk food, sweets and sugarey drinks constantly, and then berates those on whom this all-pervasive message works.

Tess is loved and despised in equal measure. And I can’t help but feel that part of the dislike is generated by the fact that a woman of Tess’ size loves herself, holds herself confidently and challenges the modelling industry. Especially when this industry has been forced to accept someone who has risen to social media fame through being herself.

I think that fat people are assigned permitted demeanours: apologetic, mumsy, bubbly, self-conscious – not all-out confident like Tess. Many of us don’t like that Tess is refusing those boxes society says she should fit into, and react with anger that someone obese can be more confident than – well – many of us who are a more socially acceptable size.

tess3Pictures from Tess’ Instagram

Obesity is a complicated condition. Some people just love to eat and don’t give two hoots, but many are trapped in negative cycles such as low-confidence, comfort eating and a crushing embarrassment, which makes feeling like an enfranchised member of society difficult enough – let alone heading to Zumba. Having a positive role model like Tess, who says she regularly gyms, can actually encourage people to embrace and love themselves more. And I know myself that the more you love and cherish yourself, the more likely you are to look after yourself.

Would I want to be Tess’ size? No, growing from a size 6 to a 10 in the fashion industry was hard enough. Will size 26 models feature in magazines more? I doubt it – but I hope they start to show a greater variety of shapes and sizes. Do I think she stands for something important? Yes. She is generating a conversation around what we define, in the West, as acceptable and beautiful. She is imbuing many under-represented and disenfranchised people out there with a confidence they may never have enjoyed. That’s why she’s today’s #ModelCrushMonday.

What do you think? Do you think that Tess is a good role model? Is she an example of our industry favouring extreme looks?

Rebecca x

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