Is the BodyPosi Movement Promoting Obesity?

This week, controversial model Tess Holliday sent both pulses and tempers racing when she was unveiled as this month’s cover-model for Cosmo magazine. If you’ve never heard of Tess Holliday, you may be wondering why this is newsworthy. Another magazine, another model.

Well, Tess Holliday is a plus size model, and I don’t mean plus-size by Boohoo’s standards. Tess Holliday is fat.

I’m hesitant to use the F-word here, even though it’s accurate, because the word ‘fat’ has accumulated such a negative connotation.

As a child, a lot of the bad, pitiful or laughable characters in my favourite books were described as being fat (see: Dudley and Vernon Dursley, Crabbe and Goyle, Dolores Umbridge and, literally, The Fat Lady from Harry Potter; Augustus Gloop from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; Boris Bogtrotter and Miss Trunchbull from Matilda; Piggy from Lord of the Flies — I could go on!). From a young age, fatness always came hand in hand with being a bad person.

My teenage years were in the era of the It Girl, when striving to be a Size 0 was genuinely a thing. Women like Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, Lindsey Lohan, Hilary Duff, Mischa Barton and the Olsen twins were splashed all over the magazines and they all had one thing in common — a very thin figure which is completely concerning in hindsight but was seen as desirable at the time.

The only female bodies I’d see actively celebrated were slender to thin toned, tanned hourglass figures, which would quite often be wearing a skimpy bikini and gyrating in a music video next to a single, fully-clothed man whilst surrounded by similarly slender, toned, tanned bikini-clad women. Any woman who didn’t lose three dress sizes within a month of having a baby had photos of her plastered all over fashion magazines from unflattering angles (i.e. bent over in a bikini or manoeuvring several grocery bags into the car) alongside a headline declaring how depressed she was because she couldn’t shift the baby weight — to be fair, this still happens.

Maybe that’s why seeing such a large woman on the front of a magazine sits so uncomfortably with us.

Is it that we’re not used to seeing female bodies like Tess Holliday’s? That we don’t want to see them? Or is it that the cover features a large woman posing confidently and coquettishly with her full permission in a professional setting, not from afar by a sneaky paparazzo from the wrong angle?

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Tess Holliday’s fame* comes with the ‘Body Posi’ movement that is slowly but surely creeping past the public’s social media peripheral vision and further into focus.

*I was going to use the word notoriety but stopped myself because what a strange concept, that a woman can be notorious by simple existing. ~eye roll emoji~

I first became aware of the body-positive movement after watching Megan Crabbe (a.k.a. bodyposipanda) on This Morning maybe a year ago, where she talked about her past experiences with an eating disorder and body insecurities, her ongoing journey through body positivity and the message she wants to send out.

From my opinion, her Instagram account is one of the most amazing places on the internet. The content varies: from unairbrushed, unposed daily snaps, silly memes and regular #donthatetheshake videos, to honest commentary on her own bodyposi journey. It’s refreshing, it’s real, and it’s only one part of a much wider community.

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However, because we’re not allowed to have nice things, it doesn’t take much digging to find someone who doesn’t like what Megan and Tess are doing and can’t keep their negative opinion to themselves. I’m a fan of social media, but unfortunately it has given rise the belief that your opinion on someone else’s life is always not only valid but needed when usually… it’s not??

I’m not necessary talking about the “fat bitch” comments here because they’re not exactly original or cutting. What irks me is the ‘concerned onlooker’“This isn’t healthy!” “This promotes obesity!” “This is nothing to celebrate!” “She’s going to have a heart attack!” “This is the embodiment of cancer.” 

All really fucking nasty comments (and all found in the thread below Tess’s Cosmo cover tweet, albeit paraphrased), and all said out of concern for Tess’s health, I’m sure. My favourite?

“I love her confidence and I think she looks beautiful, but no matter what she says, she isn’t healthy. I don’t care what size someone is as long as they’re healthy.”

It pisses me off, man.

Firstly, Tess is obviously a fat woman, you don’t need a qualification to see that. Well spotted. Do you think she doesn’t know she’s fat?

Secondly, if you think accepting fat bodies is setting a bad example, I urge you to reevaluate. Ask yourself why fat bodies offend you so much. Are you really concerned about their cholesterol or do you just not want to look at them? Are you really worried that your children are gonna grow up to be fat because all body types are represented positively? Because believe it or not: it is possible to teach both kindness and healthy lifestyle habits at the same time.

Lastly, if you think she looks unhealthy, go ahead and think that. But realise also that fat does not equal unhealthy, in the same way that slim does not equal healthy. And for god’s sake, drop the “as long as you’re healthy” attitude. A lot of people aren’t healthy. A lot of people can’t be healthy because of issues and conditions that are personal to them. Because health. is. personal.

Being unhealthy or looking any particular kind of way does not mean you can’t be confident and happy in your own skin.

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The body positivity movement isn’t trying to get you to throw your trainers in the bin and bathe in chocolate milkshake. Nor is it encouraging you to cut calories and run on the treadmill until you throw up. Above all, from my understanding, the body positivity movement is about happiness, acceptance and confidence. It’s about realising that you are more than the vessel that carries you; you are more than the number shown on the scales and more than the number of calories you consume in a day. You are more than how healthy you are, and more than how much or little you exercise.

It’s about being able to look at your own body and say, I look good. And it’s about being able to look at someone else’s body and see more than fat, thin, black, white, male, female and everything on and outside of those spectrums and more.

If you think Tess looks good on her Cosmo cover, say so! Just delete the “but…” at the end of your tweet.



I'm Juliet and I'm a twenty-something Creative Writing graduate based in the U.K. with a love of books, cats, and cosmetics.

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