At the risk of stepping on a few landmines in territory controlled by the forces of political correctness, I’m going to try to amble unscathed through the hullabaloo surrounding plus-size model Tess Holliday, who recently became the first such model to land a contract with a major modeling agency. Holliday, 29 years old, isn’t just any plus-size model; she’s a size 22, and four years ago she launched the #EffYourBeautyStandards hashtag.
Her contract is with MiLK Model Management, whose owner toldThe New York Daily News, “I started following her [on Instagram], and saw how many followers she had — more than most models. She’s such an important role model for so many women.”
Role model? The woman has gradually entered the public’s field of vision by posting pictures of herself on the internet over the course of several years. If this is what it takes to be a role model, then virtually every millennial is.
I know, I know. What separates Holliday from most of her Gen-Y peers is that she isn’t concerned about being judged for her size. Her #EffYourBeautyStandards hashtag is proof enough of that, and it echoes the efforts of The Huffington Post, which last year attempted to redefine beauty no fewer than a half dozen times. Beauty is a subjective thing and even though there’s sometimes a general consensus about what it means to be beautiful, this hardly makes it objective. And certainly there’s something admirable about Holliday simply not giving a shit what everyone else thinks of her 5’5″, 260 pound frame. For that, I salute her.
What I can’t salute is the idea that simply being an obese model is “awesome,” or “inspirational,” or whatever the gushing commenters on this article are saying it is. When it comes to obesity, there’s obviously great sensitivity and immense pressure to ignore the health concerns that so often accompany it while we all nod in agreement that there’s nothing wrong with being obese. But there is, and to pretend otherwise is a detriment to the very people such self-censorship is designed to protect.
No one should ever be body-shamed, but there’s something pernicious about embracing “body diversity” campaigns celebrating diversity that includes unhealthy living. Holliday is from Mississippi, which regularly ranks as one of the most obese states if not the most obese state in the union (with a 35% obesity rate). No surprise then, that the state ranked the least healthy in the U.S. last year. Meanwhile, the percentage of obese Americans rose 0.6 points in 2014 to 27.7%. As the head of the country’s largest public health philanthropy said, “If we don’t reverse these trends, the nation will stay on course toward disastrous health and cost outcomes.”
Those disastrous outcomes include a myriad of diseases and disorders that are far more prevalent in the obese than the rest of the population. These include, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, sleep apnea, joint problems, metabolic syndrome, cancer, and other serious health problems. And as the demand for treatments for these illnesses continues to increase, as it surely will, costs — both human and financial — will continue to rise. The diversity of bodies shouldn’t be encouraged if it’s going to facilitate a diversity of serious ailments.
Holliday said she has a personal trainer and works out four days a week, which is great. I sincerely hope she does shed some pounds for the sake of her well-being. Maybe she’ll also show that you can be happy with your body while also working to improve it and your overall health.
Image credits: instagram.com/TessHolliday