Celebrating women, celebrating difference: Tess Holliday’s cover of Cosmo

Cosmopolitan magazine has made headlines other than its own recently, due to its remarkable cover of Tess Holliday, a plus sized model and social media influencer- famous for, among other things, being a front runner in the body positivity movement. As usual, it has taken me while to gather my own thoughts, and when I finally did I couldn’t seem to fit it all into a tweet. My confusion came from the fact that while I do agree that unhealthy lifestyle’s should not be promoted, something about the criticism of Tess’s cover didn’t sit quite right with me- so here we are.

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Farrah Storr, current editor of Cosmo UK, appeared on Good Morning Britain to defend her choice to put Holliday on the cover. Although the fact that she had to defend herself is ridiculous in itself, she assured that she was not celebrating obesity, she was celebrating Tess, a woman who’s story is about so much more than her weight. The response to the cover has illuminated people’s inability to see women as people underneath what they look like. When did we start being unable to separate women and their achievements from their outward appearance? Is the boundary somewhere within numbers on a scale? Why are people comfortable talking about the success of beautiful, skinny women, but so offended by the celebration of a beautiful, fat one? It is a shame that the cover is still considered remarkable. If we were able to celebrate people for who they were rather than what they looked like, there would be much more covers like this one.

Storr also noted the fact that we are not just suffering from the obesity crisis internet trolls seem so worried about, but a mental health one of maddening proportions. To tell larger women they do not deserve the same celebration and celebrity as skinny girls is part of a larger rhetoric that big women are somehow not worth the same, spreading the frightening message that they are of less value. Fashion executives, Hollywood producers and advertising companies consistently prove they are capable of ignoring overweight women (and men!), and it’s nothing but harmful. To suggest that young girls might look at this cover and aspire to be overweight is utterly ridiculous. It Is far more realistic to believe that they might look at it and be reminded that their body is beautiful too, even if it isn’t the one lauded in mainstream media.

It speaks to my point that although the internet is awash with debate over her right to even appear on the cover, no one seems to be paying attention to the story inside. Tess talks about her own crippling mental health issues resulting from cruel attention from keyboard warriors on her social media platforms and real life bullies alike, and a recovery borne out of acceptance for herself, as well as her mission to help others struggling with similar body issues. It’s a wonderfully empowering story encapsulated by her admittance that if she had seen a woman who looked like her on a magazine cover when she was a young teenager, it literally would have changed her life.

Tess Holliday knows she is overweight. She will know if she is unhealthy and she will probably not have gained anything from internet trolls who have become perfect superior models of health overnight. For anyone else to pass judgement is redundant and cruel. We achieve nothing by marginalizing certain body types and shaming them. We achieve nothing by pretending they don’t exist by excluding them from our mainstream media or denying them representation. In fact, all we do is teach them that they are not a valued part of our society and this, despite what anyone says, is much more damaging to a person’s wellbeing than seeing a big woman on a magazine cover.

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We are all human, at different points on different journeys, and this is all the Cosmo cover triumphantly tells us. I am grateful to Cosmo, as a woman- as a daughter of one, a sister of one, a friend of many- for reminding us, where most other mainstream outlets have failed to do, that we are all different shapes and sizes and that is OK! It is amazing for girls to be shown that they do not need to look a certain way to be celebrated and to be loved. It is wonderful that Cosmo have decided to commend Tess Holliday for her achievements, and it is a beautiful thing that she is killing it on a cover of a world famous magazine and feeling great about herself and the body she is in. I hope she inspires other people to feel the same.

 

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