The porcelain white skin. The deep red hair. The soft yet bold expression; it reminds me of what an angel might look like.
Tess Holliday is one of the most beautiful women I've ever seen. The first time I laid eyes on her, I did an Instagram search immediately so I could scroll through her photos . . . and just marvel at her gorgeousness.
I know I'm not alone when I say the fact that she's a size 22 doesn't really phase me, but the recent announcement of MiLK Management's contract with Tess has really put this beauty on the map. Thanks to this modeling contract, Tess is the very first model who is not just plus size, but fat (her words) to be signed by a big agency. We all know—hope!—that this will slowly, but fundamentally change the state of fashion and size standards. Seeing a gorgeous fat woman plastered all over magazines, billboard ads, storefronts, etc. will surely be a welcome change as our society pushes forward toward more body acceptance.
Un-coincidentally, Tess also started a movement by implementing a hashtag—#effyourbeautystandards—meant to encourage women to love their bodies no matter what; it's cycled through millions of social media posts for over two years now.
And in truth, the timing can't be more perfect. There's a plus size model in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition (although that carries with it its own conflicted can of worms) and more designer labels are carrying larger sizes for women. There are countless articles written by women denouncing body image standards and celebrating their willingness to express themselves by wearing (or not wearing) whatever they want. I am enthralled. Tess Holliday's presence will add a loud voice to a much-needed chorus, challenging people of all sizes to love their bodies no matter what.
I have effed beauty standards. I will wear a bikini that reveals my stretchmarked abdomen. I don't even think about standing perfectly straight and sucking in anymore. My big thighs and jiggly arms can do all sorts of amazing things and I'd rather celebrate that than work tirelessly for my skewed perspective of what "perfect" looks like. It's been wonderful.
But I have to admit something: Tess Holliday's gorgeous face intimidates me. There is no way, short of wearing countless layers of makeup and spending hours at a salon, adding perfect lighting to every place in the world where I might be present, that I could ever look anything like that. If I aspired to beauty like this, I would forgo a lot of precious time and energy to fall very very short.
When I see Tess boast #effyourbeautystandards, it doesn't mean what everyone else seems to think it means. She's a professional model, perfectly coifed right down to her eyebrows. Slathered in makeup with the doe eyes and pouting mouth. To me, this is a contradiction.
Do not misunderstand me—I believe every woman should express herself in whichever way she finds most liberating and enjoyable. If a $70 eyebrow job makes you feel alive and free, who am I to object? If spending hours in a chair at a hair salon to get that perfect color brings true delight to your heart, I'll be the first to hold the salon door open for you as you walk in. And if debt in exchange for designer clothing and accessories brings you contentment, I might even help you shop.
But I have trouble with the faint line between these "methods" of self expression and conformity with societal expectation.
Like every other woman on earth, I am far too familiar with the pressure we put on ourselves to look our best. I want to feel and look my best whether I'm greeting the world or just looking at myself in the mirror in my bedroom. I want healthier hair. Beautiful skin. Brighter eyes. Whiter teeth.
Having these things will make me more confident. That confidence will make me feel great. Feeling great will make my life more enjoyable. Right?
But let's think about that for a moment.
When I've put my best attempt at a "perfect" face on after I painstakingly select an outfit through a long, long process of elimination—during which I have the most self-deprecating solo fashion show, trying on dress after dress that makes me feel disproportionate, old, ridiculous, or (heaven forbid) fat—and I finally step out into the world, what is really happening?
When I fastidiously scan fashion sites for the latest trends because my favorite boots or my most comfortable coat are "out," and although they are in perfectly useful condition I feel I must treat myself to something new, what am I actually doing?
When I take out the magnifying mirror and see the flaws and imperfections and discoloration on my face and I consider (again for the 234th time) a microdermabrasion kit or a spa facial or a consult at a high-end beauty counter that will surely change my life, I have to ask, is this really what I want?
Let's consider why I do these things. We can say that it's for me. I deserve the time and effort and indulgence it takes to look great. And well, I do. If this really makes me feel beautiful and liberated, why am I so delighted when I feel like I don't have to do these things?
Who am I when I am most authentic? When I truly exhibit the most real, pure expression of myself?
I love Sunday morning coffee in my bathrobe and slippers more than walking out the door in my "conquer the world" outfit. I love coming home, washing my face, taking my stupid constricting bra and pants off, and sitting on the couch under a blanket more than I love how my legs look when I wear high heels. I love when I'm in the ocean on a hot summer day with saltwater and sand in my hair so much more than I could ever love how my designer purse feels when it's hanging off my shoulder.
These are instances when I'm not even thinking about how I look, or what I'm wearing or how I am perceived because I am too busy living. And that is when my authentic self appears.
If we truly want to denounce beauty standards, we need to be authentic. We need to stop jumping through fashion trend hoops and get our feet out of the burning fire of beauty standards and just be. Tess Holliday may have hit a giant nail on the head when she started a social media movement emphasizing positive body image, but she can really drive it in if she encourages women all over the world to ditch makeup, hair products, salon treatments, and other fashion trends on a regular basis.
These things are supposed to enhance us, but all too often, we let these things define us. They have nothing to do with who we really are.
I hope that Tess Holliday and all the women who are declaring that they will reject beauty standards raise the bar by showing the world that they aren't afraid to actually do it—weight is just the beginning. I hope we can take less time to prepare our bodies and faces for the sake of appearance and allow more time to simply be joyful in life. Can you imagine what that might be like? It's practically a foreign country to some of us. But if we all do it together, much like a cozy Sunday morning or a soothing swim in the ocean, it will be welcome and familiar. Join me.