Tess Holliday in a rich green bathing suit, blowing a kiss with the slap line ‘Tess Holliday wants the haters to kiss her ass’. This week Cosmopolitan unveiled their October cover and plus size internet went for it.
A preview of the interview with Holliday mentions her tricky time with mental wellbeing over the past few years, but don’t worry she’s on the other side - this is about here her successes; how big her internet following is, which brands she’s worked for, her modelling contract, it even mentions how popular a hashtag she set up is. There's also pictures of her looking acceptably beautiful wearing a tiara, sat on a thrown.
The usual scrutiny of a fat femme body ensues, Piers Morgan even gets in on the act and, as ever, is a dick about it. The same old health arguments are rolled out and to avoid what some activists call ‘health fatigue’ I shut my laptop and begin eye rolling like a goodun.
There really is no reason why any fatty brave enough to step into the ring should be vilified, bullied or devalued to the extend Holliday was by Piers Morgan and his trolls but moments like these, when fatness is put on a plinth get me thinking about fatness beyond health. Ultimately they remind me that fatness in the UK and US is increasingly becoming an attractive, sanitised and manicured culture for the suitable.
I start to think beyond the public abuses fatness is subjected to and my minds begins to wonder about what happens when what the media call ‘body positivity’, what influencers call ‘plus size’ and what I call ‘fat’ is given a platform, an advantage point.
From my observations whenever fat is willingly pushed into the mainstream it’s always met with one defence, one query and one justification. The defence is health - we, the fat, need to be made aware the damage our bodies are doing the health systems - this is particularly pertinent if you live in the UK as our beloved NHS is used as some sort of batting tool to acceptably vilify your fatness. The query is if you, a representative of fatness are trying to promote or further a fat agenda. The justification for you being on that platform, taking up more room than you should? Normativity.
Those who are allowed to speak up in defence of fat, those given the space to fight its corner are always those deemed to have what I’m gonna call normative capital - those who are the considered acceptable fatties.
Most fatties who can carve out room for themselves, who are given platform to discuss fatness are usually fat and wealthy, fat and white, fat and het, fat and cis, fat and privileged, fat and middle class, fat and with sexual capital, fat and able bodied, fat and educated.
To be fat and OK, fat and queer, fat and working class, fat and black, fat and disabled, fat and depressed is not a place you can speak on behalf of fatness from - these factors mean your voice is placed within the so-called transformative reality telly realm where you are the contestant, asking to be changed and your perceived disadvantages exploited, underscored by some hyper-emotive instrumental music.
The acceptable fatties with normative capital are fat so do have a bonafide experience to speak from but they willingly and actively triangulate their fatness with the aforementioned capitalist ideals of successfulness to mask the failure of fat that the media, audiences and more broadly society place against it. Would Tess be on that cover if she didn’t have 1 million people (her audience) to bring to the table? Would she be there is she wasn’t attractive? These are not reasons why she shouldn’t be taking that place but questions I think are worth asking.
Fatness in the West has become about immaculateness - accepting your fatness through pseudo body positive movements and then curating your look, life and online friends accordingly. It’s about a replication of the ideals of someone like Paris Hilton - superficial. I can see why though - in a world where fatness is often devalued against thinness, where your sexual capital is considered niche who wouldn’t want to be considered more attractive, more valued, more validated?
Fat immaculateness is helping create a smoke screen of fat invisibleness. I call this ‘just like you’ syndrome, where fatness is the lead identity but those capitalist measures are throw on top to allow non-fats to feel OK with it.
Why is this happening? Fatness or radical fat culture has historically been rooted in queer and feminist sensibilities. It has previously been a space for protest, DIY culture, humour, radical discourse, community building and a rebellion against the men and their ideals. Fatness and fat culture has always been a great space to start from when trying to find routes into dismantling the patriarchy - fatness by de facto has rebuked the hegemonic cis male gaze because of our midrifts, our chub considered to devalue our sexual capital and so often widely ignored by the enemy (I accept that the BBW blokes are an exception to the rule here). It seems in a complex retaliation and/or fight for survival fatness has tried to assimilate to the ideas and ideals of the patriarchy and capitalism (some would say are the same thing) by using normative factors to regain capital and therefor validation, again centring maleness and money.
This homogenising of fatness is actively depoliticising itself. It’s eradicating any sort of politic because this rubs against the “just like you” modes and lessens the potential of mass appeal. Fatness is attempting, through the visibility of ‘followers’ and ‘likes’ to show its assimilative power.
However, there is one act played out that confuses the eye into thinking neo-fatness is rooted in some sort of politic - it always, without fail, mentions the D word (diversity). I’m yet to see how those on the plinths are accelerating anyone but themselves - how their actions reach beyond a 15 second story or a fleeting tag of a few folk they deem to be of less advantage.
However genuine these actions are they are again rooted in capitalism - they are to promote brands who want the fat pound, who want to be seen to be progressive when really they’ve worked out that we fatties are getting bigger, there's more of us and we’ve become an identifiable group that can be sold to.
Holliday for all her worth, value and appeal or any other fat person on the cover of any magazine is not countercultural, counter capitalist or as many have been saying this week progressive. I do accept that visibility is important - how kids seeking to see themselves will take a lot from these moments, that this will inform their relationships with their bodies and their fatness but does progressiveness have to be framed like this? Couldn’t progression come from other less capitalist and more intersectional means?
These magazines, the industries its working within haven’t suddenly got woke to the fat experience, they aren’t suddenly showcasing a wealth of fat models, fat content or fat experiences. We shouldn’t also consider them brave - bravery would have been for them to have done this 20 years ago. They are selling a magazine, they are trying to find ways of coercing money from you until body positivity isn’t the phrase du jour and they are on to the next thing.
There's no alliance here, its a temporal capitalist spotlight. These moments when fatness are put on the plinth are, in my mind, just another way we sublimely endorse everything we say we’re fighting against ...but without it, without that front cover maybe I might have not solidified by feelings towards it. Food for thought.