I have to make a confession: when I purchased the latest edition of Cosmopolitan, with model Tess Holliday on the front, it was the first time I paid for the magazine in years.
When I was at university, I put on 20 kilograms in a short amount of time. As my weight gained, my self-worth dropped, and my self-loathing skyrocketed. People – friends and family – commented on everything, masking their criticism with concerns about my “health”. They commented on the shape of my body – a comment about the protrusion of my stomach (a condescending “oh, look at your little belly sticking out like that”) has stayed with me to this day. Unsurprisingly, my stomach is now one of my biggest insecurities. They commented on what I ate and what I wore. All these comments, and their “well-meaning” advice, were unsolicited.
I barely wore a bikini unless it was at home; usually I’d only wear in front of my family. I never would’ve worn a bikini in public; I was far too ashamed of my body. If I’d seen an image like Tess Holliday’s back then, I would’ve marched down the closest beach, demanded someone to take a photo of me and immediately uploaded it to Instagram. To see a model like Tess Holliday – someone who is outside of the cover girl norm – is empowering to me.
Tess’s cover photo drew a strong reaction from the general public almost instantly, the likes of which I’ve never seen before. I saw it being both lauded and insulted on Twitter, and it was thoroughly dissected by a group of friends. Over on Instagram, I saw an Instagram famous personal trainer as well as the editor of one of Australia’s top fitness magazines post a picture of the cover, with their criticisms. Piers Morgan blasted the cover on Instagram and debated it on Good Morning Britain with the editor of Cosmo. From this variety of coverage, I learnt one thing. We have to stop dictating what women find empowering.
My friend Lauren works in a store that caters solely to plus size women. “It’s something to see how traumatised people are when shopping”, she said, “they’re used to walking in to other stores and being unable to find anything that fits them.” She described a story about one woman who had allocated an entire afternoon to shopping for a dress to wear to her son’s formal. When she found a stunning dress she felt gorgeous in, she broke down in tears of happiness.
Plus size women shouldn’t have to go through an emotional ordeal like that. In March of last year, the Independent reported that the average dress size of a UK woman was a UK size 16. While in the US the average dress size is a UK 20-22. If this is the average, why isn’t this reflected on the covers of magazines? In 2017, only 1% of celebrities and models on magazine covers were a size 12 or over. That’s only eight covers featuring a woman over a size 12 – and five of those appearances were Ashley Graham.
Tess Holliday on the cover of Cosmopolitan goes against the cover girl norm — and because she’s breaking this norm, people are lashing out and putting her down. A lot of comments directed towards it said it was “glorifying women to be unhealthy” and “glorifying obesity”. The previously mentioned instagram personal trainer said “he’s at the front of the movement for women to feel comfortable in their own skin” …except for when that woman is Tess Holliday, it seems.
When Tess was asked if she thinks she’s promoting an unhealthy lifestyle, the narrative being pushed by her detractors, she said, “I’m not putting myself on the cover and saying, hey guys, let’s all gain 300lbs and be fat’. I’m literally existing in my body.” And at the end of the day, Cosmopolitan is not a dedicated fitness magazine. It is first and foremost a women’s interest magazine. Their media kit states that their mission is to “empower fun fearless females to own who they are and be who they want to be. No excuses, no bull@#*%, no regrets.” I’d say Tess Holliday owns who she is and is who she wants to be.
Tess appearing on the cover of Cosmo does not affect the life of these detractors in any way, shape or form. People need to realise their opinion on someone else’s body does not hold any validity. Unless you are Tess’s doctor, you do not have any say on the state of her health. Unless you are Tess’s personal trainer, you do not have any say on her fitness. Unless you are Tess, you do not have any say as to what she puts into her body, and how she portrays her body.
No one has to prove the state of their health to anyone else. Someone’s physical appearance, and more specifically, somebody’s size, does not equal their worth. Somebody tearing down a woman’s appearance, and dictating to others whether or not it’s empowering… I’d say that’s pretty worthless.