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What plus-size model Tess Holliday can teach parents about raising sons

Elise Solé
Plus-size model and activist Tess Holliday can teach parents a lot about raising sons. (Art by Quinn Lemmers for Yahoo Lifestyle)

Yahoo Lifestyle’s Diversity in Beauty Awards (the DIBs) highlight and celebrate personalities, brands, and products that embody inclusiveness and innovation. See the 2018 winners list here. We enlisted six experts who have championed diversity in their careers and cover all bases of the beauty industry to vote on the best in makeup, skin care, hair care, and more. Here, we put a spotlight on DIBs Model-Activist winner Tess Holliday.

At age 32, plus-size model Tess Holliday has accomplished a lot. She upended the fashion world by becoming the first woman of her size to be signed to a major modeling agency, created a viral revolution with the hashtag #effyourbeautystandards, and penned the recent memoir, The Not So Subtle Art of Being a Fat Girl, an achingly real account of growing up in Laurel, Miss.

“I wanted to take swim lessons, but my dad said, ‘You should probably lose weight first.’ I don’t think he meant it maliciously — in his mind, he was trying to help and he didn’t want people to be mean to me,” Holliday tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “It made me feel crappy, like when I go to the gym as an adult and get dirty looks. That stayed with me and made me more aware of my body, the fact that I was fat and maybe incapable of doing things because of my size.”

Maintaining positive self-esteem has been a gradual process for Holliday, who severed ties with her father about five years ago. She strives daily to evolve, whether sharing her lingerie choices or unretouched pics with her 1.5 million Instagram followers, reclaiming the word “fat” as an adjective — not a put-down, or owning her sexuality. For example, last August, Holliday posted a black-and-white Instagram shot of herself wearing sheer underwear, writing in part, “Fat people have sex. A lot of it. And it’s really f***ing good.”


Holliday’s revelation went viral, assuming more than 36,000 likes and fans commended her honesty: “Keep being the rocking positive role model, mommy, wife and stunning women you were born to be” and “I wish I had this confidence.” Most importantly, it was another example of Holliday shattering stereotypes that women of any certain size can’t be hot as hell.

Holliday first shot to viral fame in 2012, with the creation of her hashtag #EffYourBeautyStandards, which she launched, she told the Huffington Post, “Because I was tired of being told what I could and couldn’t wear by the media and how I should cover my body because of my size. I decided ‘Eff that,’ I will wear what I want!”

“The more or the less you want to wear, you should be able to do it,” she told People in 2015. “I realized I wasn’t the only person that had issues with my body and issues with the way society tries to place us in a box … but really, when I created the movement, it unified everything and made me feel like I wasn’t so alone.”

Today, the #effyourbeautystandards Instagram account is a judgment-free zone for more than 370K people of diverse body types and ethnicities, who submit photos of themselves to be featured, in their rawest or more confident form.

Holliday’s main priority is imparting her body-positive wisdom to her two sons, Rylee, 12, and Bowie, 18 months. “I talk about body image and fat-shaming with Rylee because he’s hitting puberty and his body is changing … he’s afraid of becoming a teenager,” Holliday tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Someone once asked him, ‘Do you know what your mom does?’ and he said, ‘She teaches people to love themselves and that it’s OK to be fat.'”

She adds, “Rylee once asked, ‘Am I a feminist, mom? I thought that was only for women.’ I said ‘If you want to be,’ and that I was raising him to care about and respect everyone. I hope from all I’ve f***ed up, I can lessen any male toxicity. That’s what happens when you have a big-mouth mom.” 

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