beauty

'When I saw Tess Holliday's Cosmopolitan cover, I was delighted. But that quickly turned to fear.'

If you are a woman who identifies as plus-size, this week will be a mixed bag of emotions for you.

At first you’ll feel like a kite soaring high above a sun-drenched beach. The next moment you’ll feel like you’re hurtling back down towards the sand, all because a bratty kid threw their dirty sandal at you and knocked you clean out of the sky.

You’ll feel like this because this week, Cosmopolitan UK released their October 2018 cover featuring plus-size model, body image activist and author Tess Holliday.

From the moment I saw that cover my reaction went from one of sheer delight to spine-tingling fear, because I knew what was coming next.

Before we could even take a moment to appreciate the glory of the deep green swimsuit Tess is sporting, or covet her mermaidesque hair, legions of people were opening up their social media apps ready to debate whether or not her body on the cover was “empowering” or “dangerous”.

Leading the stance that the newly released magazine cover is a positive and important step forward for body diversity and acceptance is Tess herself (real name Ryann Maegen Hoven) who posted the cover to her Instagram account accompanied by a message so joyous and proud that it surely sent a splinter of hope through the soul of every woman who chanced upon it.

“Phew, I’m literally a COSMO GIRL!! Can’t believe I’m saying that!” wrote Tess. “If I saw a body like mine on this magazine when I was a young girl, it would have changed my life.”

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Within minutes, her army of Instagram fans, 1.6 million of them in total, were gliding into her comments section to talk about what the existence of this cover meant to them and so many of their comments mirrored my own thoughts.

There, in front of our eyes was a glorious plus-size body on display for all to see.

Not swathed in a voluminous coat as so many mags have done before or hidden away in favour of an extreme close up head-shot, carrying on the eye-rolling tradition of so many plus-size women overhearing the condescending phrase “at least she has a nice face.”

However, much like inhaling a bottle of delicious Rose in one sitting will pretty much always lead to a hangover, a magazine cover promoting body inclusivity will always lead to a vehement social media backlash bemoaning the fact that showing such bodies promotes obesity.

Leading this particular charge, in an act that will come as a surprise to no one, is Good Morning Britain presenter Piers Morgan, who also posted the cover to Instagram with a caption that read: “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 and misguided as celebrating size zero models.”

His opinion also proved to be a very popular one, with hundreds of social media users and fellow media commentators jumping in to proclaim the cover a dangerous way to promote obesity and people who are a “drain on the health system”.

But which one of these stances, both put forward by people with millions of fans and both in possession of immense platforms that allow their voices to be heard across the world is right about this controversial Cosmopolitan cover?

The hard truth is, however, that neither of their voices or opinions are the ones that really matter to most of us at the end of the day.  As most of us exist in a world so far removed from these celebrity orbits that what transpires within them does not have the power to fully impact our lives.

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While seeing Tess Holliday on the cover of Cosmopolitan easily made me smile with happiness, and reading Piers’ comments equally made me frown in anger, both these feelings are business as usual when it comes to these public figures and will not directly impact my life as a plus-size woman.

But do you know who actually has the power to make my life more dangerous, more free or more valid?

You.

The everyday people reading this story, my friends, family, colleagues, the people who read my work and those who stand shoulder-to-shoulder on the train with me each morning.

Because no matter what kind of magazine covers sit on the stands there is no power in them unless we decide to take that message of body positivity and weave it into our own lives.

Anyone who has ever suffered through a body shaming comment from a family member, a friend or even from a stranger on the street knows that those words have the power to cut so much deeper and stay with you so much longer than any comment from Piers Morgan or any of his brethren.

And in the same heartbeat, knowing Cosmopolitan UK has tapped Tess Holliday for a cover is also little solace for any woman who has lived through moments when society has told her she is less-than because of her body.

It doesn’t help on the day she wandered through a shopping centre desperately looking to spend her cash on a colourful dress and found nothing but a misshapen grey sack embarrassingly buried at the back of a store.

It doesn’t help her on the day her mother/aunt/mother-in-law or friend quietly took her aside and told her they all think might be a good idea if she lost just a little bit of weight because she would look so much nicer.

It doesn’t help on that day no one wants to sit next to her on a plane, or when people shout at her from cars or even on the days when people think it’s ok to discuss her health in a public forum because her plus-size body has passed over from the realm of privacy into that of public opinion.

Representation in media and on magazine covers matters, but not nearly as much as the words we use in our own homes, within our own workplaces and on our own social media accounts.

If a magazine takes a gamble on a cover like this then it’s up to us to vote with our money and then banish body judgement from our own minds and voices and stop hiding behind the limp old argument that it all comes down a debate over “health”.

Because, frankly, if shaming plus size bodies or hiding them away had the power to magically make people lose weight as you’d like them to, don’t you think that would have worked by now? And perhaps then consider if that is the problem here that really needs to be fixed.

Tess Holliday’s controversial Cosmopolitan cover has the power to be immensely helpful or horrifically harmful, the final outcome is all dependent on you.

For more stories like this you can follow writer and Mamamia Entertainment Editor Laura Brodnik on Facebook. 

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