Plus-size model Tess Holliday has been celebrated by thousands on social media and praised by even more in media, including a beautiful People magazine cover. From all the adulations, you'd be tricked into thinking that the body positivity war has been won.
But a recent spate of negative comments on one of Holliday's photos, exemplified by those posted beneath a public post by Facebook user Malice Amarantine, is a harsh reminder that we're not quite there — and that visibility for models like Holliday is more important than ever.
Thankfully, Tumblr user Theremina, who captured the Facebook comments, is reminding us of that, too: "Ohhhh... no. Tess Holliday is a wonderful human being, and this is not okay."
The beauty mandate for women: As a size-22 model in an industry populated by 0s and 2s, Holliday clearly stands out. But it's not the sheer disruption of the fashion industry that critics take issue with. Holliday is not only bigger than most models, she's bigger than many other women (the average American woman is a size 14, according to several sources) — and she's OK with it.
In fact, she's more than OK. Her Instagram is filled with happy-go-lucky photos of her friends and fiance, and she excitedly posts updates about her burgeoning career. In selfies and professional photos alike, she makes no efforts to hide her curves; in fact, she wears clothing (or goes naked) in an effort to highlight them.
That confidence runs counter to every beauty standard society places on women. We're supposed to be unhappy with fat, striving for skinny (just see any fitness magazine cover) and apologetic when we don't meet those expectations. Any other stance is confusing.
"Everybody deserves to be happy, but for some reason the fact that I happen to be plus size and happy seems to bother people," she told Huffington Post UK. "It's odd really."
The cult of concern trolling: Demanding women be unhappy with their own bodies isn't socially acceptable. Instead, critics of plus-size women like Holliday often denounce her for being unhealthy and serving as a dangerous example, as the recent Facebook comments show. That critique is often masked in concern for the person being targeted — aka concern trolling.
"I wish everyone would just shut the fuck up about 'body shaming' and understand the difference between accepting different body types and natural flaws, and this kind of shit that inevitably leads to serious and chronic health issues," Malice noted on Facebook.
Comments like these aren't wrong about the health risks of obesity. But Holliday's mere existence on Instagram doesn't encourage obesity, nor is she telling young girls to fatten up. In a culture that idolizes thinness and presents a body standard that regular women struggle to meet, Holliday is a much-needed dose of diversity with a heartening message: You are worthy and beautiful no matter what size you are. There's no need to be ashamed.
That message doesn't go down easy, particularly for those women who've been fed a drastically different message from "beach body" ads and #thinspo photos and, yes, the fashion industry. But that's precisely why visibility for women like Holliday matters so much.
As Theremina put it on Tumblr, "Tess Holliday is beautiful. What the fuck is wrong with people? PLEASE BE MORE KIND." It's a message worth reminding everyone, again and again, in all caps.
July 15, 9:19 am: This story has been updated to credit the original Facebook poster, as well as include updated comment by Tumblr user.