We were originally going to name this article “Why We Love Tess Holliday and Other Misleading Headlines.” But, given the polarity of Holliday, we thought this may hurt our readership, even if we began with something sassy like, “This is why you need not judge an article by it’s headline.” We do love the discussion and we’ll get to it, later.
It’s been about two days since we saw Tess Holliday’s Cosmopolitan cover pop up on our screens. We consciously made a decision not to write an editorial right away so that we could digest every corner of the arena that she plays in. Well, it’s been about 90 minutes in front of our laptop, and here’s what we have digested:
- A ready made bowl of Campbell’s sausage gumbo
- About 1/2 a container of Lay’s Stacks, BBQ Mesquite flavor (hey, why are these things not as popular as Pringles? They are pretty good)
- A Coke Zero
- We’re currently staring down a Chobani Flip (we’ll leave you in suspense on the flavor)
- We’re working on a family size bottle of Polar Seltzer
(Editor’s Note: by the end of the article, we have in fact consumed the “Flip” and the rest of the snacks)
It’s nearly midnight and we still can’t figure out why we can’t figure it out. In fact, we may not even know what it is! But:
- For the first time in history, a woman above a size 20 is considered a supermodel.
- That supermodel is on the cover of one of the most popular magazines in the world.
- There are multiple pockets of dichotomy associated with the model’s rise, sustained popularity, and public persona.
Well, we’re now another episode into “The 100,” and we will have to start finding the words. So, here goes…
She did it! Tess Holliday has made a stance for plus women everywhere. But, wait a second. Cosmopolitan UK Print circulates less than 15% of Cosmopolitan Print (The US based publication is considered simply Cosmopolitan). We’re looking at about 1.5M to 14M circulates. At the moment, we need to ignore the digital side of this coin for a few reasons. The first is that it’s unclear whether or not Cosmopolitan’s social media and digital sites are included in the reach of its sister publications. The second is that when you start to meld the different audiences of multiple digital publications, we truly won’t know who is reading from which countries (and it’s likely that Cosmopolitan likes that so that they can sell more advertising). If we had more time, we might be able to analyze further. The UK distribution has been made abundantly clear by Cosmopolitan on the cover, which showed it’s currency.
Perception: Tess Holliday is on the cover of one of the most distributed magazines in the world.
Reality: Tess Holliday is on the cover of their sister publication in the UK.
This cover has been called one of Tess’s most significant accomplishments. Other plus size advocates are saying that it is one of the most significant things to happen in the plus size universe, period (we are not linking back to one tweet or quote because there are far too many). But, why is this one act being targeted and sensationalized?
First of all, while this is awesome for the plus universe, Cosmopolitan UK carries a fraction of the readership of Cosmopolitan, in general, which Cosmopolitan loves because it allows their internet and social media brands to benefit from that geographic ambiguity.
Secondly, If you look at the history of the plus movement, there have been a great number of milestones that have had nothing to do with Tess Holliday, from Lane Bryant publicly “clothing the stout woman” in the early 1920s to the major plus modeling movement of the 1970s began by Mary Duff. Max Mara, a high end plus clothing store, began in 1980. And, a decade later, boutiques were popping up all over the country, similar to the craft beer revolution of this past decade. It wasn’t until the 2000s that statisticians and economists began accurately predicting two of the most popular industries to rise: Chocolate and Plus Size fashion and furniture. We understand the irony in this. But, plus size things are not new. We are just paying closer attention and growing in both size and acceptance.
Perception: A fat model on the cover of publication = groundbreaking.
Reality: She is part of a machine that has existed well before her, but we are creatures of social media and spreading visuals, now. We sensationalize.
There have been plenty of other plus size personalities that have made significant contributions to our plus universe, from Oprah Winfrey to Adele to Melissa McCarthy. There was an incredible interview from Gabourey Sidibe a few years ago that we loved, discussing her sexy rooftop scene in the show Empire.
“After we were shooting it, the camera guy came over, and he said, ‘I’ve never shot a scene like this. And I’ve never seen a scene like this.’ ” Sidibe said. “I was really happy to be part of something that’s never been seen on prime time television before. And you don’t notice it because you don’t have to notice it, but there’s never been someone of my skin color, my size, with somebody else of the same skin color in a love scene on primetime television,” Sidibe told People. “Just go through the books, it’s never happened. And I’m not sure why it hasn’t happened, but I hope there’s more to come.”
Note her reference to color, size, all of the things. It still is one of our favorite moments in plus universe history. Did you read articles about it? No, you did not. Not many, anyway.
Queen Latifah, Amber Riley, Kelly Clarkson, all of these women have been on larger stages than Tess Holliday. So, we started to think to ourselves…
“Self…. why does Tess Holliday breed all of this popularity in the plus universe?”
We have a theory, and we’re not sure if it’s true. Tess is a perfect blend of sexy and attainable at a time in which the height of social media centers around the most visual (and did you know most stressful) form of social interaction: Instagram. She is not Ashley Graham or any of the other plus size models out there, who tend to look like “scaled up” versions of straight sized models, given some exceptions in the hips and waist. We even found articles who compared their measurements to straight sizes models, most of their ratios are identical.
But, Tess… almost anyone can look like Tess (yes, we understand she is white and not all aspiring models are, we will get there). She is a little over 5 feet tall and disproportionate as far as models go. But, despite what you may think of her, personally, she is regarded as one of the most beautiful women in the plus universe. So, to have this attainable, plump, short, tattooed woman be on a mainstream magazine, representing the nearly 2/3 of plus sized women in the United States is going to tend to draw a ton of controversy. Why? Here are a few reasons:
- She can easily be the girl next door (or so you think, look at Tess’s very thin face and large bust… just two of the things that are attractive to men and women who would not normally cross-over into the plus universe).
- She is, in fact, photo-shopped in her shoots (Yes, believe it, nobody is that smooth).
- Her size and weight are constantly up for debate in media (a la Donald Trump’s ever fluctuating net worth).
This allows us to empathize and relate with Tess, and not always in a good way. She’s the first to do what she’s doing and has been very vocal about positioning herself as a pillar in the fashion and modeling worlds. Some choose to identify with her.
“I watched Tess’s live video yesterday and I saw the tears pouring down her face, and I thought to myself how f***ing proud I am, to be representing in the same class as Tess f***ing Holiday.” – Official Bold Babe, Aby Deal
Others choose to talk about her obesity. Why? Because she’s confident in her skin. And, she’s a woman! This is very important to note.
“What’s really annoying me about this whole @Tess_Holliday/@CosmopolitanUK thing is not even the Google Doctors, or the faux health concern, or general nastiness. It’s the flagrant sexism, and the way that women’s bodies are forever public domain and open for debate. James Corden. Seth Rogan. They’re big lads. Both have been on the cover of numerous publications. Why is there not an outrage about ‘promoting obesity’ when it’s larger men on the cover?” – Lauren French, Plus Size Marketer
There are also legitimate concerns about her racist remarks and business practices. We are going to take a moment to completely acknowledge them. We have spent the entire night reading about Holliday. And, we’ve also been warding off (what we think) are horribly inaccurate statements about us, personally, because we are fans of her entrance into mainstream media. From her racist comments about black men loving her to her unfit business practices, it’s important that we have the conversation.
“The issue with her stems from the fact that she has built her empire on privilege and white feminism,” says Ashley Degele a reader and Tess Holliday critic. “Her whiteness allows her to remain unaccountable for the “mistakes” that she’s made in operating her business as well as some of the problematic things that she’s said. She exploited people for financial gain, only addressing it after a magazine called for an interview, with no regard for the thousands of individuals who attempted to contact her prior. People of color are not awarded the same leniency.”
Yes, let’s hold Tess accountable. She has apologized. Okay, maybe that’s not enough because she is still so brazen. But, have we held pop stars accountable? Movie stars? Do you watch Tom Cruise movies? Listen to Chris Brown? Watch Seinfeld reruns? Here’s a list of controversial movie stars we watch all the time.
Then there are those who truly identify with her, making her the symbol of everything they hope will be in the plus size universe, soon.
“She is really a great example of loving yourself and embracing who you are regardless of what the world wants or expects you to be…Tess allows her fans to see that no matter who you are you can be beautiful and strong by being yourself.” – Kate Cruz, Bold Reader and PhD Candidate
Perception: Tess Holliday is using her whiteness to her advantage.
Reality: Tess Holliday is using her stage to her advantage, which includes her size, social media volume, and color.
And, this is why we love her: She is stunning. Let’s say it. She is breaking some barriers. She is doing what was never possible before. She is approachable, personable, and charming in large crowds and one-on-one. She is starting conversations, whether she means to her or not. Tess Holliday is the only person doing what she’s doing with the body shape she has. She has become the beacon of everything we look at in plus. We scrutinize her because of missteps which are easy to find since she is so visible to us. This is why we are black and white, forever dismissing the grey. It’s important to note that it took us until almost midnight find someone who would give us a quote about her racism and business practices. And, we think that while she is a very flawed human, it’s important to note that she is breaking the beauty mold.
We are in no way, shape or form, justifying what she has said and done. Both her racist remarks and her unsavory business practices took place during the very beginning of her rise to fame. Imagine yourself in a situation where all of your dreams are coming true, you’re being interviewed by everyone, and you’re selling items off of your name, on the internet. She made some serious mistakes. Tess is flawed. It is those flaws that make her attainable, which is why models (and women everywhere) fantasize about being “the next Tess Holliday.” But, it is also those flaws that make many people despise her. She has also made the mistake of stubbornly sticking to her guns with phrases like “haters can kiss my butt.” We get it, she is tough to swallow. And, we need to note that we don’t know her personally, we don’t agree with those statements, and we think it does suck that the donation to the DV organization she wanted to help took so long. However, we want to acknowledge that she is human and those things, for the time being, may need to remain separate from the groundbreaking she is doing, not just this cover. You don’t have to separate her transgressions from her persona, but we are going to. Look at this vide of her from just three years ago (skip towards the end) and you’ll see a very different, less “kiss my butt” Tess.
Special thanks to Alyssa Roensch for finding that video.
And, let’s move on to the “why.” Why does she need to make these impacts? Because she’s the only one doing it! For all of the folks who criticize, they have yet to find a suitable replacement.
“She recognized that there are so many beautiful and deserving models, and that this is just the beginning. Her husband Nick, said something that stuck yesterday, something along the lines of ‘You have to get your foot in the door, before you can open it up for someone else'” – Aby Deal, Official Bold Babe
But, for those who think that her personal views should serve as a barrier to her success, which we have to point out, is going to pave the way for all sorts of diversity eventually, there are a few things to note:
- A survey from the Guardian found that 78% of all models in fashion advertisements are white, the rest being a combination of black, Latina, native American, and other represented groups. This is not just a Tess problem or a plus size problem. It’s a problem, period.
- This is a gender issue. Men are not held to the same standards as women. Yes, she needs to be accountable, but so do we.
- The first 3 pages of Google and MSN Bing did not show a single article about Tess Holliday’s racism. We stopped looking. This means that most people don’t know about it. You might because you follow her. But, unless you know to google “Tess Holliday controversy/racism/business practices” you’ll have no idea!
And, that’s a serious concern! Only a small amount of fashionistas are paying attention. Without another beacon, we have nobody pushing plus women into the fight for equality. Ask your Alexa who “Tess Holliday” is.
Now, ask them who “Cindy Crawford” is.
“Cynthia Ann Crawford is….”
Yes, we are happy that Tess Holliday is making it. We are. We stand by it. We want more of it. Because with more Tess Hollidays there can be more views, more people, more of them that we can identify with! There are a ton of fat white women out there advocating for self love. We get it! Look at this quote from the Huffington Post:
“The mainstream body positivity movement thrives on capitalism and racism in seeking to only uplift those deemed acceptable enough to qualify as worthy within our marginalization.”
100% true! But, remember that there are more players in this game who we need to discuss and hold to the fire. The article lists Tess Holliday, Mary Lambert, Adele, Melissa McCarthy, Amy Schumer, Beth Ditto, Christina Hendricks, Brooke Elliott, Lori Beth Denberg, Lena Dunham, Jennifer Lawrence, Kirsty Alley, and Rebel Wilson.
Do you know who they left off of the list? Jes Baker, a body advocate who is in their collage, but not linked. Why? Because she’s a very progressive race and sexuality advocate, as well as body. There are also the diverse actors and singers we’ve listed above, and others we have not listed who are making big changes. But, we focus on Tess because she’s in front of us, loud, and flawed. So, we feel we can. And, it is important to note that she does want to push the diversity envelope. We will leave it up to you as to whether that’s a reactive or a proactive activity. This is why we really like it when people send us primary sources. Everything you read is going to have a bias… as exhibited by this very editorialized article.
Tess is a lighthouse in a dark ocean of nothingness. She’s beautiful, but she’s not necessarily your perfect representative if you disagree with her views. She’s on magazines, but she isn’t funny or an amazing singer. So, men and women who find conventional beauty attractive are going to despise her and find reasons to discuss her size and health. She has become a magnet for the movement. And, you have a choice to completely disregard what she has done (as is your right) or recognize some of it. If we’re disregarding, though, we must nominate more candidates to “do the stuff” we need done. We’ve listed a few above. These groundbreakers are often scrutinized.
“…As a society it’s sad to say that we weren’t quite ready for it… for her to be on the cover of a magazine that has prided itself for having the most beautiful women grace its covers for years now, we just weren’t ready…but sometimes we have to ‘shock’ the world in order to get people to understand…and as a fellow plus size model, ‘proud’ would be an understatement…” – Tigerlilly Rose, Plus Size Model, Ph.D. Candidate
Here’s the bottom line. Tess Holliday serves as just one of the many diverse bodies that should be on the cover of ANY magazine, Cosmopolitan UK and Cosmopolitan included. But, we cannot fault her for not being all of them. We can fault her for making mistakes. So, please understand that while we appreciate her, we also appreciate you and your views on her. We must recognize that this cover is huge, yes. But, it’s not as important as everything she has done and everything that has been done by other models, designers, brands, influencers, fans, readers, singers, actresses, writers, etc. etc. Tess has kicked some doors down, but they close more quickly than she can kick. We can and should absolutely advocate for this door to be one of many to stay open in the near future. So, you’re either kicking or you’re watching. We know what we’re doing.
Perception: Tess Holiday on the cover of Cosmopolitan is the turning point for the plus universe.
Reality: Maybe it is. Time will tell. But, this is still the very beginning of what we need to see in plus media.
As always, continue to paint the world purple and be bold!