Is Controversial Cosmopolitan Cover Star Tess Holliday Glorifying Obesity or Portraying a New Idea of Beauty?

Tess Holliday

I’ve long been a Cosmo Girl, with a collection of issues that would rival the shelves of Waterstones and WH Smith. Farrah Storr has been a role model of mine ever since she took over the position of Editor-in-Chief. During my placement year, any time I was on email to anybody from Cosmo, I had to pinch myself. I was on an email chain with Farrah Storr herself once and that was quite a moment for me. Anyhow, I digress, as per usual. Back to the issue in question.

When I first saw the cover of the October issue of Cosmopolitan featuring plus-size model Tess Holliday, I was taken aback. This was something very new, featuring someone of this size on the cover, and I knew instantly that the cover would spark mass debate around the country. We are all so used to seeing tiny models and celebrities on the cover of our magazines that this cover came as quite a surprise and who knows, may even begin a movement for other titles to follow suit. Props to Cosmopolitan to be the first to spark the change.

The controversial Cosmo cover has been the subject of conversation for the past few weeks now, even earning Farrah Storr a spot on Good Morning Britain, to defend the cover from sacked ex-Editor of The Daily Mirror and now presenter, Piers Morgan.

So what was it about this cover that had the whole country talking? What were the positives and what were the negatives? Are we looking at a new beauty standard, set by Cosmopolitan? Or are we glorifying obesity and telling people it’s ok to be overweight?

Who is Tess Holliday?

First thing’s first, who is this woman? I had heard of Tess Holliday before, but I actually had no idea why she was famous. So let me give you the low-down.

Tess Holliday (born Ryann Hoven) is a 33 year-old plus-size model from America and mother of two boys. Tess has featured in Marie Claire, Nylon and Vogue Italia magazines. She has a book entitled, ‘The Not So Subtle Art of Being a Fat Girl: Loving the Skin You’re In’.

In 2013, Tess started a body confidence campaign on Instagram with the hashtag #effyourbeautystandards aiming to show women that they don’t have to be a specific size to love their body. A champion of body positivity, Tess Holliday is very unapologetic for how she looks and doesn’t shy away from showing people the real ‘her’.

Tess Holliday Cosmo Cover

The debate

A lot of people took to Twitter and Instagram to voice their opinions on the latest Cosmopolitan cover and there were many differing opinions. Many were empowered by the cover, finally feeling like they may start to be accepted for being bigger and that this cover was paving the way for acceptance for those that aren’t stick-thin.

Others were offended that this ‘unhealthy’ image was being portrayed to a lot of influential young girls that would read this magazine and think it ok to put on weight and be overweight.

Another group were a bit on the fence (like myself) and could see that yes, this was quite an empowering image for a girl of this size to be on the cover of Cosmo, but then again this may be a negative idea to put out into the world that being overweight is a positive body weight to be.

Is this a celebration of obesity?

Is this cover glorifying obesity? Or is it promoting a positive sense of accepting and loving our bodies for what they are? The naysayers like Piers Morgan who took to Instagram to share his opinion by posting a photo of the cover, said

“As Britain battles an ever-worsening obesity crisis, this is the new cover of Cosmo. Apparently we’re supposed to view it as a ‘huge step forward for body positivity.’ What a load of old baloney. This cover is just as dangerous & misguided as celebrating size zero models.”

If we look at this in the way that he has put it, referencing the size zero models, there are two things to take from it. Yes, putting overly skinny models on the covers of magazines has long been tradition, as well as on the runways, but we have started to steer away from this as being the coveted perfect body image as it isn’t healthy and encourages eating disorders. Yet, here we have Tess Holliday who is on the opposite side of the spectrum as a largely overweight model. So can’t we also say that this could promote an unhealthy idea of the ‘perfect body’?

But if both of these body types are ‘dangerous’ then where is the inbetween? What is the ideal body size? Is it a size 12? Or is that too curvy? Is it a size 6? Or is that too skinny? Everyone has their own opinions on what a ‘perfect body’ looks like and the nation will never agree on what this is.

One thing Cosmopolitan is doing, is showing variety. The magazine is showing the world that there isn’t only one type of woman out there. It is accepting and promoting diversity which I can totally get behind. However, should they be promoting someone as overweight as this? If she is happy and confident in her body, then why not?

There is so much negativity surrounding our own body images and what we think of ourselves, that seeing this may make a lot of people feel good about themselves. This cover is not screaming ‘Go and put on lots of weight,’ it’s telling girls that they should love and accept themselves no matter what size they are.

But the facts need to be addressed. For some, health reasons may be a factor as to why some people are the size that they are. But if not, then a healthy body should always be promoted. There is no escaping the pressures to be perfect and to be skinny and fit and pretty and strong and smart. For a moment, this cover can help us to forget all of these pressures and for once accept ourselves for who we are and love the body that we have.

Tess Holliday Cosmopolitan Cover

Are we looking at a new idea of beauty?

What is beauty? Is it in the eye of the beholder? Is everyone’s idea of beauty the same? Not for one second.

We put so much money into making ourselves look better; makeup, cosmetic surgery, designer fashion, facials, hair dye etc. We try our best to look beautiful, but do we ever actually feel beautiful?

We always look at someone else and wish that we looked like them, even if just a tiny bit. Social media has a lot to do with this. We are forever comparing ourselves to others and never feeling ‘enough’. Never skinny enough, never toned enough, never pretty enough, never smart enough.

I’m sure we are all sick and tired of seeing the same stick-thin models on the catwalks, on the covers of magazines and in the public eye. So of course when something like this Cosmo cover happens to try and go against the norm, everyone freaks out. I welcome the cover. It’s diverse, it’s different and it’s something new. It doesn’t make me want to go and pile on weight or get bigger. It makes me feel good about myself and want to celebrate the body that I have and stop worrying about not being skinny or pretty enough.

When Farrah Storr appeared on Good Morning Britain against Piers Morgan, she put it amazingly:

“Are people going to look at that and go, ‘Do you know what? I’m going to go and mainline doughnuts, this is what I want for my life’. Of course not. It’s patronising to say. I’m celebrating her. I am not celebrating morbid obesity.” 

Farrah also went on to say, “The reason [Holliday] is on my cover is to show there is a different way to look,” and this is why I am totally supportive of the cover. There is no ‘one’ body image and although we all know this, we need to shout about it and put it out there in the public eye.

Touching on Tess Holliday’s #effyourbeautystandards, I again agree that we shouldn’t set standards as to what we should all look like. The world would be a pretty boring place if we all looked identical. We need to embrace diversity, embrace different body shapes and sizes and be happy with our own bodies without criticising others’ or our own.

Tess Holliday Cosmopolitan Cover

The obesity crisis

Aside from the body positivity that the cover embodies, we need to take a minute to talk about the obesity crisis that is facing this country along with many others. I am no spring chicken myself, nor will I be gracing the cover of Women’s Health magazine any time soon, but I do know the obesity crisis that we are currently facing is an epidemic. The UK is the most obese country in Western Europe, with 26.9% of the entire UK population classified as obese. It is estimated that over 50% of the UK will be obese by 2050*. The facts speak for themselves and as a population, we are killing ourselves. The obesity crisis needs to be addressed.

Although we all may hold a grudge against Jamie Oliver for making our schools stop serving unhealthy meals, it is progress and it is change for the better. There are a lot of things to blame, but there are also arguments as to why our nation is the size that it is.

We can blame technology all we want and that ‘Kids don’t play outside anymore,’ but it’s the food and drinks that we are consuming. That’s what it really comes down to. I had to do some research into sugar consumption in my second year of university and I quickly learnt that sugar is the thing that will probably kill all of us. There is way too much sugar in our diets. It’s in everything.

Because of this, we are encouraged to eat natural ingredients and cook from scratch. Therefore, you know what you are feeding yourself and your families and there are no processed foods in your diet with added sugars and god-knows what else.

But take one look at poverty levels in the UK. UK Poverty 2017 identifies that overall, 14 million people live in poverty in the UK – over one in five of the population*. We can’t question a mother that’s on benefits trying to feed a family of five, why she only cooks frozen food, or why she takes the kids to McDonald’s every few days because she can feed the family for £5. Convenience foods are cheap and they are convenient. Raw foods and healthy foods are expensive and inconvenient.

This isn’t the olden days when there were housewives who could spend hours cooking healthy meals from scratch. Maybe some people work two jobs and have no time, but still need to eat. Maybe we have commitments to attend to, or maybe we’re living on a student loan of £20 or less per week.

These aren’t ‘excuses,’ these are genuine reasons. We are facing a huge obesity crisis. But what do we expect is going to happen when our TV adverts are filled with KFC, Dominoes, McDonald’s, Coca Cola and more? When these fast-food chains are cheap and quick? Even I know that the food that tastes the best is usually the worst for us. Doughnuts, chinese takeaway, pizza… I could go on forever.

The sugar-levy is aiming to make things like the above more expensive, but by a few pence? What difference is it really making? How can we stop the epidemic before it gets any worse? Is putting someone like Tess Holliday on the cover of a popular nationwide magazine a way forward? Does it make any difference to the obesity crisis at all?

What are your thoughts on the controversial cover star, and indeed, your opinion on the current obesity crisis?

*Statistics for obesity found here.
*Statistics for poverty found here.

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