Tess Holliday is 29 years old, 5ft 5in, a UK size 26+ and the world’s fattest professional supermodel.
Signed by Milk Model Management earlier this year, Tess Holliday’s newfound fame has caused a furore. The reaction has been binary. Some cheered, seeing it as welcome progression and a step towards fat acceptance. Others criticised what they saw as the glorification
of an unhealthy lifestyle.
In 2013, Holliday started the hashtag #effyourbeautystandards in reaction to the online bullying she received for posting photos of herself. There are now hundreds of thousands of Instagram posts using the tag.
Plus-size fashion has exploded out of the sidelines and has broken into the mainstream. People who have spent years being told that the way they look is wrong are suddenly finding themselves not only accepted but celebrated. They are making their voice heard and they’re using it to stick two fingers up to all of those who have told them they’re worthless, stupid, greedy,lazy and unhealthy. Yet Holliday is undoubtedly putting her health at risk. She’s morbidly obese.
In an interview with the Guardian she said:
“Everyone has their vices, but mine are visible. If I shot all day and I want a fucking hot chocolate and a chocolate croissant I’m going to eat it. Am I going to eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner? No. Is it OK to do it? If you want. But, you know, no one is coming at celebrities for smoking two packs of cigarettes. Or people who post a photo with their drink at the end of the day. So why is it OK to do that to me?”Tess Holliday
Holliday has a point. Is her health any more fragile than the razor-thin size 0 models that have been a permanent fixture on fashion runways for the past 20 years? Models who, many in the grip of anorexia, starve themselves, eat tissues to satiate their growling bellies and yet are still told they are too fat to work?
Being extremely thin or extremely fat comes with a long list of associated health risks, including joint damage, cancer and heart failure. Why then does our fashion industry glorify extreme body sizes?
French model Isabelle Caro died in 2010, aged 28, after returning from a modelling job in Tokyo. Severely anorexic and weighing just 4st 8lbs, she had become the face of a shocking Italian anti-anorexia campaign that was launched during the 2007 Milan fashion week.
In 2006, 22-year-old Uruguayan model Luisel Ramos came off the runway, collapsed and died of heart failure. She had reportedly eaten nothing but lettuce and Diet Coke for the three months leading up to her death. At 5ft 9, she weighed just 6st 12lbs. Her BMI was 14.5.
Model Crystal Renn lost 42% of her body weight when, at 14, she was told by a scout that she needed to be slimmer. During her time as a ‘standard’-size model (size 0-2), she starved herself and exercised frantically. In her memoir, she writes about looking at a photograph of her early modelling days: “I am startled by the way my body looks when I don’t eat. That is me facing death at a really young age. I was all bones.” Renn later regained the 5st she had lost and went on to find success as a size 16 plus-size model.
In the 1980s, supermodels like Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington were athletic, Amazonian size 10s. Then, like a rebellious teenager, 1990s fashion arrived in the form of heroin chic, with waif-like models Kate Moss and Jaime King. While our catwalk models grew thinner and thinner, the plus-size fashion scene gathered pace. International modelling competitions for plus-size women were established and gained in popularity.
In1997, UK size 14 Sophie Dahl was signed up by Storm model agency and graced the cover of Vogue. In 2010, designer Mark Fast sent a size 16 Crystal Renn down the runway at London Fashion Week. And now in 2015 we have Holliday. Size 26. Morbidly obese.
Should our models reflect the reality of a wide variation in sizes? By putting a size 0 or size 26 model on a catwalk, our society is glorifying an unhealthy extreme.
On the high street, whether you’re a size 8 or a size 28 you can now buy fashionable clothes that fit. In the UK right now there are more than 60 brands that cater for up to UK size 28, with some going up to a 32. Specialists such as Elvi, Evans and Yours Clothing have been joined by other, more mainstream brands, keen to get in on an expanding market, who have launched their own plus-size lines. Being able to easily source flattering, fashionable clothing in a broad range of sizes is just one of the ways that obese people can boost their confidence and gain self-esteem.
Clearly, from a commercial standpoint, models are needed to make the clothing look as attractive as possible, in order to persuade customers to buy. But the models who attain these extreme standards of thinness (and now, it seems, fatness) are putting their lives on the line for the privilege.
What do you think? Join the #obesitydebate on Twitter.