Tess Holliday, Promoting Obesity, and Fat Role Models

Hot Damn, Tess Holliday Is On the Cover of People MagazineTess Holliday is a 5’5, size 22 model who is on the cover of People Magazine (like many models before her) for being rocking awesome at her job, which is to let fat women see the clothes that are being sold to us on a body that looks like us.

But heaven forbid we let a woman believe that her achievements are more important than random people’s judgments. So cue hand-wringing about the completely ridiculous notion of “promoting obesity,” the armchair psychic doctors who can tell someone’s health just by looking at their picture, and the won’t-somebody-think-of-the-children nonsense about who should and shouldn’t be a role model.

Let’s begin with the bottom line:  It doesn’t matter how fat someone is, or why they are that fat, or what the outcomes of being that fat may or may not be.  We deserve to be treated with respect and we have the right to exist in our fat bodies without shame, stigma, bullying, or oppression.  it is completely ok for us to be fat. Yes, even if we weigh [insert random number of pounds that seems like a lot to you here]. Yes even if you think our weight is “our fault.” Yes, even if you would never ever want to be “that fat”.  Yes, even if you can’t understand how we do …whatever you can’t understand how we do. Yes, even if we have problems that can be correlated with being fat.  Yes, even if people say that we cost society more.  Yes, even if we actually cost society more.  It is totally, completely 100% ok for someone to be fat.  Nobody needs anyone’s encouragement, justification or permission to live in their body.  Period.

Even if someone believes that all fat people engage in behavior that doesn’t prioritize our health, this doesn’t hold up.  People get to make choices about their personal health. That means that they are allowed to drink like fish, jump out of helicopters wearing skis, be cast members on Jackass, take stressful jobs, not get enough sleep, eat what they choose, be sedentary, etc. at whatever weight they happen to be.  Anything else quickly becomes an very  steep slippery slope.

In order to agree with the idea that fat people make poor role models because we are unhealthy you have to believe a couple of things. First, that you can tell someone’s health based on their weight, and second, that people who aren’t healthy shouldn’t be role models. Both of these are totally wrong.

First of all, you cannot tell how healthy someone is based on their size.  There are healthy and unhealthy people of all sizes, for lots of different reasons, none of which is anybody else’s business.  But even if someone is so misguided as to believe that body size is a reliable indicator of health, this “bad role model” idea is still bullshit.

Health is not an obligation or a barometer of worthiness, it’s not entirely within our control or guaranteed in any circumstance, and “health,” by whatever definition, should not be a prerequisite for being a role model or to be acknowledged for one’s achievements. The idea that someone, of any size, should have to meet some level of “health” in order to be appreciated for their talent or be a role model is horrifying, and is the definition of healthism. Not to mention that, as it plays out in reality, the double standard on this could not be more clear.

I don’t think that people who suggest that fat people shouldn’t be role models because they think we’re unhealthy actually care about our health, I think that they are trying to use healthism as a cover for their fatphobia.

Again, even if people believe that fat people are fat because we engage in behaviors that are unhealthy, or that we could be not fat if we tried and that would be healthier, that still doesn’t justify this.  We can look up to people for their achievements, appreciate their talents, we make them our role models based on their accomplishments, even if we don’t agree with every choice they make about their personal health – because those choices are between them and the people they choose to include. (And let’s not forget that many people’s choices are limited by lack of access due to factors including oppression -racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ageism, ableism, sizeism etc. – as well as socioeconomic factors.)

So every time you see someone comment on an article about a fat person like Tess being celebrated for their achievements with some crap about their health, or how it’s promoting obesity, or how they shouldn’t be a role model etc. you can choose to acknowledge to yourself that this is sizeist, healthist, and total, unadulterated, bullshit.  If you want to go a step further, you can leave a comment saying so.

Just so there is no confusion, I am saying that it is totally, entirely, completely ok to be fat, and it’s totally, entirely, completely ok to have fat role models.

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47 thoughts on “Tess Holliday, Promoting Obesity, and Fat Role Models

  1. Grr! How I despise the term “Plus Size”! Why does 22 have to be “Plus” along with any other adult female size 15 and 16 on up. Even 11/12 and 13/14 are sometimes put in Plus Size territory. Why can’t it just be Size like 00 to 10 or 12 or 14 are! The word Plus teamed with Size just so clearly implies that anyone who has clothes in that size range is just unacceptably too much! Or maybe they should come up with some equally demeaning term for the smaller sizes. It would only be fair after all 😉

        1. Yes, it is. But maybe if everyone felt shamed, insulted, and demeaned for the body they we could then realize how terrible and ridiculous it is and demand that it stop, and that all bodies be treated with dignity and respect.

      1. Naw, Minus Size would be considered a good thing, so little you have to wear a negative size, I know plenty of women who would think that was awesome! It’d have to be some word that describes small but also easily recognized as insulting. Vermin Size? Flea Size? Gnat Size? Mosquito Size? Virus Size? 🙂 😉

      1. It’s only demeaning if you say it is. I’ve gotten over the stigma of being fat and wearing “plus-size” clothes. In fact, until sizes 24, 34, and up are sold alongside sizes 2, 8, and 10, the term “plus” must stay in use. Otherwise, how would a fat person like me know that a store carries my size?

        1. I think you have a very healthy perspective, and there arealternatives to using the word plus to say, essentially, “we sell clothes for fat people.” They could say what sizes they offer, show models in the same size range as their customers on advertisements, come up with witty slogans, etc.

          1. Yes, that would be the hope, by removing the stigma of clothes in large sizes being called Plus stores would be willing to carry a range of sizes to fit ALL bodies, be it 0, 8, 14, 20. 26 or 38 and so on.

          2. They seem to do just fine when it comes to describing sizes of clothes for larger bodied men and boys. Those are Big & Tall and Husky. Those words, to me at least, are more descriptive and less demeaning. But others might feel differently.

            1. I’d like to see a range of sizes with names like “Mary, Sue and Jessica,” rather than numbers. Just imagine: with all the different names there are available, we could have sizes that not only cover the volume of the body, but the shape, as well.

              Of course, having that much variety would pretty much necessitate having the clothing be special ordered. Bespoke clothes are wonderful, but also pricey, so it wouldn’t work in most mid-to-low range retail estalishments, let alone wholesale.

              But I can dream.

        2. I subscribe to Gwynnie Bee and recently responded to a survey they gave to people that seemed to me was primarily trying to ask how people like the term “plus size.” It’s interesting from all angles because I have seen people complain on GB’s Facebook page about how they don’t use the term “plus size ” anywhere on their site (although it’s in their page title). One person was upset because it seemed like they were disowning “plus size” and was fearful that they’d start only renting clothes for smaller women. But it was clear from this survey that they were trying to gather the real attitudes of women.. and even I struggled with it. As a size 14, I sometimes wear plus size and sometimes don’t; then there are some brands that I wear a 2X in, and others that I wear L in. I finally just decided that they are all labels and I’m not going to obsess over which department I shop in — though admittedly it would be nice to shop in just one!

  2. I adore Tess. And I nearly had a rage blackout when “The Doctors” (I *despise* that show — they actually had an intervention for one of their own who drank too many lattes — essentially suggested that Tess was killing people by being a positive role model.

    But, on the other hand, I’m trying to look on the positive side (see it as a “plus”, if you will) — because they can’t have a fit about it without admitting that she IS a positive role model, no matter how much that enrages them.


  3. I think Tess is gorgeous!! I’m 62 and STILL having a hard time accepting myself at my size (20). Is my headstone going to read, “she wasted her life trying to be a size 8”???

    1. Huh. The worst examples of The Health Inquistion aren’t EVER satisfied anyway no matter the size. I work for one of those delightful companies that coerces employees into forced “health screenings” by charging more for our health insurance if we don’t have the screening. We also have to fill out a health questionnaire with WebMd. I happened to be at the higher end of the weight range my body tends to keep itself at this year. At a time of month when my weight will tend to be higher. Most unfortunately for me last year I was at the mid of that range. Thus earning me finger wagging and emails from WebMD about the gain in weight in the last year, suggesting I need interventions and a health coach. Complete with assumptions about what I eat or don’t eat and the need to watch my food intake. Mind the range my body keeps to is a few pounds either way of 110! Yes yes yes I am now supposed to hate myself because Size 2 in Misses and 3 in Juniors (at age 47) fitting loosely to perfectly at 113 pounds is somehow horribly unhealthy deathfatz. At 110 the clothes all fit loosely and at 106/107 the bottom of my range they are falling off and I need a belt if they are pants. Never mind that I have to work at it to eat as much as 1200 calories a day. Or that I also keep very close track of what I eat and how much. And that the actual health care professional who actually did the damn screening had no issues at all with me. Being too thin will also earn one contempt, one of my coworkers is very slight and slim for her height due to nature and some health problems she has. She gets the shamey handwringing for being underweight and in danger of anorexia. I shudder at the thought of the contempt and judgement based on limited evidence that people whose body sizes are above the 5th/6th percentile or less for their heights must have to endure from WebMD. And all of it despite webMD having no access to or knowledge of most of our health history!

  4. I’m sure at least a fraction of the motivation can be boiled down to, “if we let fat people be role models based on their impressive accomplishments, pretty soon I’ll no longer be a role model JUST because I’m thin.”

      1. The people who work hard at being thin are the loudest in the fight against fat role models, I believe, because they spend so much time being thin that they don’t have time to accomplish anything else. By acknowledging the accomplishments of fat people, they are forced to admit that they could have spent their time accomplishing something more worthwhile, and that makes them question their choices, and it’s NOT FAAAAIIIRRRR!

        This hatred of fat role models is most likely based in fear and self-loathing.

        1. We don’t appreciate it when fat people get the armchair-psychologist treatment. We should probably avoid doing the same to those who have lost weight or have always been thin. You can’t tell a person’s psychological state from their bmi!

          1. Toogz, I’m not trying to base their psychological state on their BMI – I’m seeking a better understanding of a specific behavior, specifically that of refusing to allow a fat person to be considered happy, successful, or role model material until they become thin. There are people of all body sizes heavily invested in maintaining the status for a wide variety of reasons. I merely theorized one of them.

  5. I was disappointed by a friend recently when she made the comment that Tess was promoting obesity. She said she had been there herself and knows how hard it is to be obese. She stated how unhealthy she felt, how bullied she was, etc. She has lost a lot of weight and is happier for it. So, her opinion is that we are all wrong for thinking Tess is great. And she is convinced there is no way Tess is really happy. Ugh!! I wanted to tell her (but didn’t) that her experience does NOT define everyone else’s. AND that if she disliked the misconceptions and bullying while fat then maybe she shouldn’t continue to perpetuate that. Maybe instead of insisting Tess be smaller to avoid bullying, we just stop bullying people who aren’t a specific size.

    1. “..she is convinced there is no way Tess is really happy.”

      This is one of the most disgusting argument against fat people – and it’s something that really pisses me off. That idea that so many people have that belief of “well she just CAN’T be happy at that weight” – Ohhhh really? And how long have you been psychic?

      I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been in my life and I’m also the happiest – which probably has a lot to due with feeling totally mentally healthy for the first time in my life. The mental health comes from the love and acceptance I give myself, something I denied myself nearly my entire life.

      Living your life day in and day out hating yourself, feeling worthless, feeling like you will never be happy because of the body you have – letting our society and the media brainwash you into thinking such horrible things about yourself because OMG You’re Fat! Finally breaking free of all that, something that has dragged you down day after day, year after year, decade after decade – it’s indescribably freeing.

      I finally know what real happiness feels like. And, for me at least, it doesn’t come in a dress size. And I think that’s what scares the “There is no way she can be happy at that size” people – the idea that happiness (as well as success, fulfillment, and love) is not dependent on a body size. And that scares the crap out of them.

  6. Tess is great, but that should be you on magazines ragen! You’ve been doing a lot more activism and deserve to be recognized. Hopefully your ironman will start getting you on magazines and TV.

    1. Thanks for the kind words about my work! I definitely think Tess deserves all of the attention that she is getting. I think it’s a shame that the media often has a “one fat famous person at a time” philosophy and I hope that Tess’s work and achievements will help dismantle that so that there are lots of fat people on lots of magazine covers for lots of reasons 🙂


      1. They do that wit PoC too and it’s complete bullshit. Maybe you can do a runner’s magazine or something.

        1. I follow The Curvy Fashionista on facebook and she showcases loads of people like Tess who are bigger ladies and blog about fashion and sometimes even design etc. I love it. I wouldn’t have heard of half the people i like otherwise.

  7. The concept of “promoting obesity” absolutely confounds me. It is just such an epic logic fail. If obesity is supposedly being “promoted,” then statistics on eating disorders and the billions spent on diets products indicate that fat “promotion” is failing miserably.

    No one in FA/SA thinks anyone else should be fat, or that being fat is somehow better. The problem is fatphobic bigots assume we’re as narrow minded as they are and that the opposite of fat bigotry must be thin hate. To them, “accepting” something apparently translates to “shove it down everyone’s throats #groupthink #conformity”. That’s not how it works. #black&whitethinking 😛

    I dare anyone whining about “promoting obesity” to find me *one* person who dreams of being fat. Whose goal it is to be fat. Who believes that fame and fortune can be theirs if only they can gain enough weight. If a person looks up to a model like Tess, or an actress Melissa McCarthy, unless they are severely stupid they aren’t thinking “well of *course* they’re so awesome – they’re fat! If I was that fat I could be a glamorous model/hilarious comedic actress too!” I promise you there are no little girls crying because they think they can never be models or actresses unless they are fat.

    We see time and time again that fat people are seen as successes *in spite of* their size, or their success may even be negated in the eyes of many just because the accomplishment was achieved by a fat person. As long as ‘fat’ can be used as a default insult, how can it possibly be something anyone promotes?

    Fat people don’t promote obesity. Fat people can promote things like self-confidence, self-love, body positivity, not judging people by narrow standards of beauty, or not judging people at all.
    As a fat person, I don’t go around thinking everyone should look like me. I just want to be me.

    1. That was a great read – incredibly well said!

      I agree that the whole “promoting obesity” crap is a total logic fail. All it really boils down to is our society’s very very small margin of what is considered attractive and the brainwashed masses crying: “my eyes”. But, hey, treating people based on how fuckable our society deem them to be, that would just be “wrong” so we’ll crap-wrap “oh my eyes” with so-called higher justifications like “but health” and “promoting obesity”.

  8. I have a fat role model! Her name is Ragen and she rocks at laying bare the truth and speaking it out loud!

  9. I don’t know if I’m happier as a fat person than I was as a thin one. What I do know is that a lot of time has passed since I became fat, and it’s not the only thing about me that’s different now. In any case, I wouldn’t be able to prove that being fat has made me happier, even if I could prove that I’m happier now. Because correlation =/= causation, right?

    Mostly, I just think it’s ridiculous (and seemingly a very American thing) to latch onto some particular regimen, food, faith, role model, etc. expecting that doing so is going to make you happy all the time. I think it’s human nature to have changing emotional states, and I’m not sure that I’d trust anyone who assured me that they were never, ever sad.

    (Disclaimer: Apologies if it sounds like I’m dismissing the idea of mental illnesses like clinical depression. That’s not the kind of change in emotional state that I’m talking about here.)

  10. I’m sure attorneys had a field day with all that bs that year. There were other irrelevancies they tried to correlate to VFHTs as well. I didn’t bother with the attorneys. I made my displeasure known to my boss and the higher ups. But I expect some people in the company did consult lawyers. It was the only year for that level of bs, that’s for sure.

  11. Ragen, I want to let you know how much I admire you and your work. I copied part of your blog to my desktop so I can read it everyday, You give me hope. I will turn 61 in June knowing that young women (and men) have role models I never saw or heard of growing up….( this goes for being a lesbian too!) Know that what you say has a profound impact on those of us who never dreamed ,let me say it again, never dreamed that we could be happy in our bodies. I’m crying now. I am sad that it took so long but I am happy that I am here (with you) at this moment in time.Thank you for being strong and brave.

    1. Thank you so much Connie, your words mean the world to me. I’m so sorry that you didn’t have the support you deserved earlier, and so happy that you are finding a path to peace with your body now, despite a a seriously screwed up world. If there is ever anything that I can do to support you, just let me know. Thank you for being strong and brave, you are inspiring me 🙂


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