Apparently Size Does Matter, But Does Anything Else?
The internet blew up with an almighty misogynistic roar when the new issue of Cosmo came out. All the usual suspects were out in force, the P**rs M**gans, the people with questionable twitter handles, the trolls. With them, came the people who are potentially unaware of their biases against anyone over a size 12. The “That’s so unhealthy” sayers, the people who are just “concerned about her health” and who think she shouldn’t be “promoting obesity”. There’s definitely a large part of the Venn Diagram of these two groups which overlaps, however not all of them should be lumped into the one group. Intent (well-meaning but misinformed vs plain nasty) is the difference between the two.
In defence of Tess Holliday, came a large chunk of the bopo (body positivity) movement, helping her fight her online battles against people who, knowingly or not, have bought into the societal discourse that a certain type of body is lesser than another. Less healthy, less attractive, less worthy of taking up space on a magazine cover. Without a doubt, this is a battle that needs to happen. The anti-fat bias is so pervasive in our society, media, and everyday lives, and instils itself amongst us from a very young age. Some findings have shown that children as young as three can express weight-based bias, which can, in turn, lead to discrimination and bullying.
Children are not alone in their bias. With the discourse of “Fat=unhealthy” so pervasive in our society, it should not come as a surprise that doctors and other health professionals often display a lack of knowledge at best, and more often than not a prejudice, against people with a BMI over “Normal”. This weight bias in turn impacts individuals against whom it is directed, often preventing them from seeking healthcare with the fear that their ailment will just be attributed to their weight, and they will be told vaguely to “lose a few pounds” to set things right. This goes hand in hand with online trolls’ “concern” about people – in particular women – who are fat. Surprisingly, few trolls are concerned about the potential “damage” that overweight men are causing to society, in comparison to that which the women supposedly are. Nor are they as concerned regarding the health of a supermodel who smokes and binge drinks. Weirdly enough, it’s as if they don’t actually care about the health of strangers? For these reasons, Tess Holliday’s Cosmo cover is a good thing, appearing to break down barriers for plus sized models, and start conversations about society’s beauty ideals. However, it’s not all good.
With all the conversation focused on her weight, very little focus is being put on her as a person. She is a symbol, a sign of how the times are changing, and it is of little importance to a good chunk of her supporters that she is, and has been in the past, a very problematic person. Her racist comments in a 2015 interview, where she claimed “Black men love [her]”, the fact that she defrauded a number of fans who tried to buy her merchandise, and that when she was challenged about this, she fell back on how people were bullying her because of her weight, and not because they had a legitimate complaint about a business. This chance to follow this kind of behaviour with a cover shoot in UK Cosmo would not be afforded to her, were she not a white, cisgender woman. One Buzzfeed article, written by Ashleigh Shackelford, claimed that the body positivity movement looks a lot like white feminism, and unfortunately, this has not changed since that article was written.
Those of us who claim to not care about someone’s size, need to start caring about someone’s actions. If we truly accept people of all body types, then how about we get a few cover stars who are overweight, but who are also good role models because of their personality?