Proud2Bme | Tess Holliday and the "Good Body"

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Tess Holliday and the "Good Body"

By Erin Cowley--The Internet has recently been abuzz with the news that fat positive activist and founder of #EffYourBeautyStandards, Tess Holliday, landed a contract with MiLK Model Management and has released her first agency shoot. This made her the first model of her size to sign with a major modeling agency and has been celebrated as a turning point for the modeling industry.

Although most of the reaction to the news has been positive, there has been a predictable backlash, predominantly on social media. Much of this negative discourse, frames fatness in terms of health, pointing to greater incidence of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, and other diseases as a reason that fat bodies are inherently bad.

Many posts then go on to talk about the kinds of effects that having these (supposedly unhealthy) fat bodies featured positively could have on people, particularly young children. Namely, that the ‘idealization’ and ‘glorification’ of fat bodies will send the message that fatness is okay and even something to aspire to, ultimately leading to increased rates of disease.

There are a couple of problems with this. First, fatness in and of itself doesn’t necessarily correlate to poor health, at least on an individual level. A 2011 study published in the Nutrition Journal shows that a weight neutral approach to diet and physical exercise more effective than traditional diet programs in improving markers of physiological health such as blood pressure and cholesterol levels in the long term, even if the individual’s weight remained stable.

Tess’s supporters and even many mainstream media outlets have done a good job of dealing with this, often drawing from the Health at Every Size Movement and quoting Holliday as saying that “I never sit down. If I’m not shooting twelve hours a day, I’m out doing errands and going to meetings” (NY Daily News, 2015) and citing the fact that she works regularly with a personal trainer.

However, these responses don’t deal with the underlying issue, which is the positioning of poor health as a source of personal moral failing. This erases the ability for an individual to be a positive role model or exist beyond illness. This thought process contributes to the demonization and dehumanization of sick and disabled bodies. It allows certain types of bodies (fat, disabled, etc) to be excluded from public spaces and positions the people living in these bodies as inherently bad and undesirable.

Ultimately, I think the entire conversation about health is missing the point. Having a fat mainstream model isn’t groundbreaking because it will prove that fat bodies are or are not unhealthy. It’s important because it means that a body size that is routinely devalued is being framed as beautiful, fashionable, and sexy in a very public way. In Tess’s words,

“Glamour magazine recently said that 97 percent of women are unhappy with their body in some way. That’s huge. I mean, that’s nearly every single person that there’s something that we don’t love about ourselves and I feel like that’s what we should be talking about. I mean, yes, people can talk about health, but I feel like what we really need to be talking about is the fact that women of all ages and sizes and shapes are feeling the need to kind of, live up to unrealistic expectations. I feel like there needs to be more diversity so that we have people to look up to and we don’t feel the daunting task of being perfect.” (Here and Now, 2015)

About this blogger: Erin Cowley is a queer, disabled, femme living in Salt Lake City, Utah, where she studies sociology at the University of Utah. When she’s not studying or sleeping, she likes to put on red lipstick and attempt (often ill-advised and occasionally disastrous) kitchen experiments.

Photo courtesy of Buzzfeed

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