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Like most successful models, Tess Holliday, formerly Tess Munster, follows a regimented fitness and nutrition program. She works out with a personal trainer four times a week and enjoys walking, swimming, and hiking in her free time. She avoids soda and drinks a lot of water. She cooks healthy and indulges in moderation like any sane person would. Unlike most successful models, Munster is 5’5” tall and a UK size 24 (a US size 20). In an industry where the standard for plus size models is between UK sizes 10 and 18 (US size 6 to 14) and taller than 5’8”— waifish Kate Moss is considered short at 5’7”—Holliday is an extreme anomaly. She spoke exclusively with Yahoo Beauty about how she’s been leading a viral social media movement.
The 29-year-old Los Angeles-based model, born and raised in Mississippi, created the hashtag #EffYourBeautyStandards as an exercise in celebrating all body types and giving the one finger salute to unrealistic beauty standards that make people feel like they are never good enough. Women—and men—who don’t fall into conventional ideals of beauty are encouraged to share their photos and stories tagged with the hashtag, encouraging us to celebrate themselves and each other—instead of hiding themselves in shame. One Twitter user, Andie Lang, wrote, “I’m no longer going to feel ashamed of my body and hide it, it’s time [sic] flaunt my curves! #effyourbeautystandards.” In just a few days, the hashtag #EffYourBeautyStandards has over 495,000 posts on Instagram.
"I’m thrilled—it’s really humbling to see so many women support me and what I’m doing,” Holliday told Yahoo Beauty. “I know other women relate to where I’ve been and the feelings of not quite being good enough. I hope through all of this that they realize they are good enough and beautiful no matter what size color or shape they are.”
Here are just a handful of the women being inspired by Holliday’s message on social media:
Holliday was bullied as a child, getting shamed for her size and for not being “normal.” After leaving school and the South at 17, she became more outspoken about positive body image. As a blogger for The Huffington Post in 2013, she wrote, “Our bodies tell a story and everyone’s journey is different, everybody is different, unique, exquisite. The only problem is that not everyone respects that or comprehends that we don’t have to all look like a cookie cutter or perfect picture of ‘health.’” Holliday told Yahoo Beauty that she is the proud mother of a son that she has raised to be both feminist and respectful of all women and bodies.
With so many hurtful terms slung around, it’s important to remember that normal does not always mean skinny and skinny does not always mean healthy. In her memoir, Hungry, plus-size supermodel Crystal Renn—who also grew up in Mississippi—wrote, “[L]ife doesn’t have to wait until you’re skinny.” Before she achieved success in the plus size industry and learned about body acceptance and love, Renn suffered from eating disorders and went to two gyms every day because she didn’t want either gym to know she was working out so much. She mused, “I wonder whether today’s mania for super-thin, wide-eyes, less power-looking girls is tied to fear of female strength. Today’s girls take up less space, literally and metaphorically.”
#EffYourBeautyStandards, with its strong devotion to sharing body-positive images and speaking out against body prejudices, is combating the silence that women are supposed to take in submitting their bodies to strict beauty standards. They are strong, proud, supportive, confident—and very capable of sparking a new social media movement.