At the end of January, 29-year-old Tess Holliday made headlines when she was signed to MiLK modeling agency in the U.K. Doesn’t seem like that much of a story until you find out that Tess is a size 20, which is far higher than what the American fashion industry normally constitutes as plus sized (sizes 6-14). Although Tess has never fallen in these parameters, she’s always been an advocate for body positivity and started the insanely successful #effyourbeautystandards campaign through Instagram and other social media. Only days after posting, the hashtag was used almost 500,000 times by other people!
Her Instagram is full of images of her photo shoots and of Tess spending time with her friends and family. Many photos feature positive and inspiring captions encouraging her readers to embrace their bodies and themselves. Most American women wear a dress size 12, although mainstream models fall between a size zero to four. These sizes are not realistic depictions of American women. Those of us who try to achieve this type of perfection are buying into bullshit beauty ideals. I’m not saying don’t put on makeup or get dressed up nice. I’m saying do that only if you really want to do it, not because someone expects it. Despite the fact that Tess has been turned away from casting calls because of her figure, she took to social media to continue to inspire women. In the end, modeling agency MiLK reached out to Tess because of her large amount of followers and the women she inspired with her posts.
Tess is clearly an inspiration to all women! In an interview with Yahoo, she made a very poignant observation:
“I wonder whether today’s mania for super-thin, wide-eyes, less power-looking girls is tied to fear of female strength. Today’s girls take up less space, literally and metaphorically.”
Unforunately, I feel that Tess is on to something here. The small, timid, less aggressive idea of femininity is championed through the mainstream media and in many stereotypes about beauty. The “super-thin, wide eyed” woman is one that needs to be defined by external factors, like her relationships with men and how others perceive her. Women like Tess Holliday define their own experiences. Recently, Gweneth Batemen ran a social experiment that yielded a similar conclusion; powerful, self-assured women evoke hostility in men. They upend conventions about beauty and femininity. In her experiment, Bateman asked female participants to document their experiences when being complimented by men online. In addition, she asked women to agree with these compliments and to be self-assured. What Bateman and the women involved found was that this positivity was met with extreme hostility.
One participant, 22-year-old Katie Smith remarked, “For many men, beauty, coolness, [and] desirability are gifts they alone can bestow upon women. They get baffled, even aggressive when you show you’ve known you possess those things all along.” Women like Tess Holliday challenge the status quo when it comes to ideals of beauty, not only because of her shape, but because of her love for herself and her body. Regardless of her size, Tess is a truly unique and inspiring woman and we should all take a page from her book. Learn to love yourself and screw the rest, because you don’t need anyone else to tell you you’re beautiful. You only have to believe it.