Warning: this is not news! Beauty “standards” are ridiculous and history has shown that they continue to change. Yet when you look at the effect of the media on young women and men today, there is still a huge unspoken sense of what is considered desirable, beautiful and ideal.
Plus size model Tess Holliday, formerly Tess Munster, has been the talk of the town lately because of a huge deal she just signed. She is now officially represented by MiLK Model Management in the UK, who also represent Hayley Hasselhoff, Candice Huffine, Robyn Lawley, Jessie J, Amanda Holden, Mike Skinner form ‘The Streets’, and Joanna Krupa just to name a few.
Why is this such a huge deal? Because at size 22, she is officially the largest person on the books of a major model agency. Tess isn’t just any model, she is a fierce body positive advocate who started the movement #Effyourbeautystandards on Instagram which today has a healthy 80,000+ followers.
She regularly models and travels the world talking about body image, but her passion is to use her experience to inspire other women not to fall prey to the often harmful body ideals perpetuated by fashion, media and advertising, and love your body the way it is.
Growing up in Mississippi she received relentless amounts of bullying for her body, and ended up leaving school at age 17 because of it. The mother of 1 is stoked about the positive reaction she has gotten from many women around the world in light of her new signing, because now the standards of beauty have been blown out of the water once again.
“I knew it would be big, but it’s far exceeded anything I could have imagined,” she told Huffpost UK, while also mentioning that despite her confidence in her body today, she still receives a lot of hate online, which only further fuels her passion to inspire.
“I understand not everyone understands what I’m about. But to me it’s such a simple concept. It’s all about loving your body regardless of your size and chasing your dreams. Everybody deserves to be happy but for some reason the fact that I happen to be plus size and happy seems to bother people. It’s odd really.”
She’s not the first to be advocating self-love despite cultural and social pressure, but hers is a very loud voice amongst many others who are trying to show the world that created standards and norms when it comes to physical appearances are just stupid and can be harmful.
Australian actress Rebel Wilson, best known for her comedic roles in ‘Bridesmaids’ and ‘Pitch Perfect’ recently spoke about her body in an interview, saying the way you look shouldn’t ever determine what you do in life.
Many people have been surprised about the huge success of a young woman who is not a size zero, but Rebel says she used that “underdog” mentality to her advantage.
“I took something that was seen as a disadvantage – no one thinks, if you’re fat, that you’re going to be an actress and everyone’s going to love you – and turned it into a positive.”
“And bigger girls do better in comedy,” she continues. “I don’t know why. Maybe because people find it easier to laugh. It’s very hard to laugh at someone who’s very attractive, I think. And normally those people don’t have a great personality anyway.”
“I do have these dreams, like, ‘What if I just went to a health farm and lost 50 kilos? What would happen? Would it affect my career?’ But then I think, that’s never going to happen.”
Her mere presence opens up a whole world of opportunities for actresses who have previously been told they won’t make it because of what they look like. People like Rebel and Melissa McCarthy are proving critics wrong left, right and center.
It comes down to diversity being represented in all forms, and because the media is so powerful a communication vehicle, it needs to be on the forefront of this mission. While major modeling agencies such as MiLK and even IMG here in the states are doing their part in creating less body segregation in the industry, other smaller boutique modeling agencies are also popping up in an effort to present a diverse array of talent right from the start and prove that narrow ideals aren’t the only thing that sells.
In the UK, a new agency called Lorde Inc was launched in May 2014 to bring a whole batch of fresh faces to the market.
“We wanted to create a space that was both non-normative and safe for people of color who seldom see people that look like us in magazines or art,” explained founder Nafisa Kap in an interview.
“Lorde Inc. is our effort to try to insert more diversity in mainstream visual spaces, but it’s also a way for people of color to support each other and promote our beauty among our own communities.”
“Everyone I’ve signed so far is completely with it but they all have their own stories of being tokenized, racialized, discriminated against, so it’s been an extreme pleasure to get to know these people, have this shared interest, crack them open, and hear their stories.”
A modeling agency that is more than just a pretty face and actually cares about intersectionality? Yes please!
In June 2014 journalist and blogger Esther Honig did an experiment and sent her photo to digital enhancers from 25 different countries and asked them to photoshop them according to their own country’s beauty standards. She received 25 different images of herself back!
Following on the heels of that project which went viral, Esther’s friend and blogger Yuki Wilson decided to do a similar experiment and sent her image to 30 people from 25 different countries. Because she is half African-American and Japanese, she found that the concept of not being Caucasian altered the way these digital technicians photoshopped her image.
More recently we have seen two awesome examples that have proved yet again (haven’t we got the message yet?!) that these norms are continually changing. Greatist.com compiled a list of infographic images exposing how beauty standards have changed over a period of 100 years.
Just the difference between the 1950s and 1960s is remarkable!
They weren’t the only ones. Buzzfeed made a short video (which has been viewed over 6 million times!) showing how different cultures throughout history, stretching back to Ancient Greece and Egypt, have decidedly different ideals of what a woman’s body looks like in her “most beautiful” and how the historical context often contributed to those ideals.
The point of all these examples in this article is that beauty does not have one ideal, one standard or one way of being achieved. It has been long argued that perhaps beauty shouldn’t even be considered a physical trait at all, given all the variables that alter it throughout history and across different nationalities.
No matter where you live or what you look like, just know that your body is not an accident, an anomaly or “different” because EVERY body is actually unique. The standards pushed on us by consumer-driven industries aren’t there to serve our self-esteems, and we’d do well to remember that.
In the meantime, thank you Tess Holliday, Rebel Wilons, Lorde Inc and all the women and organizations around the world whose collective voices are infiltrating the mainstream conscience and offering hope to those who have never had it before.