Tess Holliday: The supermodel leading the plus size fashion revolution

2015 was a very busy year for the body positive campaigner, and 2016 shows no sign of slowing down 

A number of women have emerged as champions of the body positive, plus-size revolution that exploded in 2015 but Tess Holliday, a supermodel who refuses to bow to the conventions perpetuated by the fashion industry, has arguably become one of the most prominent of them all.

With an Instagram following of over one million and her gaze staring out from billboards and campaigns, Holliday continues to take the fashion world by storm, challenging some of its most ingrained beliefs about size and appearance. Holliday also signed with London-based Milk Model Management, making history by becoming the first woman of her size and height (UK size 26, 5’5) to be represented by a major agency.

This news was eyed with suspicion by outlets not yet familiar with Holliday who believed the signing was merely a “gimmick”. However, those who predicted interest in her would quickly wane or believed she would resort to losing weight to please casting agents failed to recognise the five-year modelling career she already had under her belt, which includes campaigns with Benefit Cosmetics and Yours Clothing.

Holliday continues to campaign for body positivity and diversity within the fashion industry with her #effyourbeautystandards movement, which has grown substantially throughout last year.

It looks like 2016 is going to be even busier, with a fashion line, secret projects and now a baby on the way. The Independent spoke to Holliday about what 2015 meant for women, the term plus size and how social media is helping to change the face of fashion.

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You have over one million followers on Instagram. We’ve written dozens of stories about women being body shamed and abused on Instagram, but it seems to have empowered you and driven your success. What is your overall experience of Instagram, and social media in general?

Social media is a wonderful but very dangerous place. Yes, it has changed my life for the better, but it has a lot of disadvantages that come with it. You just have to remember that at the end of the day, social media isn't real life and do things that make you happy. That’s what I choose to do, people say horrible things about me online but that's not my reality. I share parts of my life online, and appreciate everything that places like Instagram and Depop have given me, as well as the people and opportunities it's brought into my life, but that's it.

You were one of the dozens of women targeted by ‘Project Harpoon’ on its Facebook page. What was your reaction after finding out you were one of the women?

To be honest, I thought it was laughable. Their “Photoshop” skills were horrendously bad, I don't even know how anyone could have taken them seriously. They should be ashamed for even thinking that was worth sharing with the world.

Were you encouraged by the furious backlash against Project Harpoon and the action taken to shut it down? Are attitudes towards curvier women improving?

Look, I think the bottom line of what they were trying to do is f**ked up. One 100 per cent. However, it was just executed so badly that I just couldn't take them seriously. I think some of the women affected by it were upset, and understandably but the rest of us didn't even bat an eye.

How do you feel about the term ‘plus-size’? The Drop the Plus campaign and others have argued that it promotes body shaming while others believe rejecting the term plus size promotes shame at being a bigger size.

I think Drop the Plus is stupid. End of story.

You started #Effyourbeautystandards in 2013. Looking back over the past two years, what do you think it has done and what are its biggest achievements?

It's really changed the way that I view others and brought a community into my life that I didn't even realise I needed. For me, the biggest accomplishment was bringing a team on to help me further spread the message, and just this month we celebrated one year of having them as ambassadors of Eff Your Beauty Standards. They are men and women from all around the world, all backgrounds, sharing what the movement means to them. We have someone from the LBGT community, two mental health counsellors, a plus size male fashion blogger and model, a plus size model, someone with PCOS that calls herself “the bearded lady”, and a plus size blogger. From South Carolina, to Canada, to Singapore, we are spreading the message that beauty can be whatever you want it to.

You were announced as the first plus-size supermodel and in a year have become globally famous. Do you feel a responsibility to curvier women with this title?

I feel responsible to women everywhere, I didn't start my career to just speak to plus-size women, although that was a massive part of it. Women of all shapes and sizes have issues with their bodies and most are too afraid to talk about it because the media has made us feel ashamed. I hope through mine and other women’s work the next generation won't suffer the way we have, and that the media will get it's s**t together.

Is it frustrating to still be modelling mostly for plus-size brands, and not more mainstream ones?

No. I was told my entire life that I would never be a model at all, so to be flying around the world modelling for any brand is a dream come true.

Why did you decide to launch your own plus-size range?

It's something I was always interested in, but none of the companies that approached me felt like a good fit until the most recent one. I wanted to make sure that who ever I worked with had the ability to give my fan base and plus women options that hasn't been available before. I'm so tired of the same prints, styles, and lack of options. I felt now was the time.

How does your line differ from other ranges?

My line doesn't have many prints or graphics. I wanted to keep it more about the design and aesthetic of the clothing instead of slapping a massive zebra print on a shirt and calling it a day. It's effortless and still very chic, easy to wear.

What are mainstream brands lacking that your clothes offer?

A lot of mainstream brands are really doing it right, so I don't necessarily think that my line is the be all and end all of plus size fashion. However, I do feel that it will appeal to a larger audience of women who feel they haven't been able to find pieces like mine in their size before. For me, it’s great to have platforms like Depop that help me reach out to a particular audience and connect with them about my clothing and the kind of pieces they’re looking for.

Why do you think mainstream brands such as Victoria's Secret choose not to cater to plus size women?

It says a lot about their company and who they want their target audience to be. They are saying that their aesthetic is sexy, and that they are interested in catering to plus women. The thing is, plus women have a lot of money to spend and will choose other brands that offer those options in our sizes. My issue isn't that stores like VS don't offer plus-size, it's that their brand potentially perpetuates unhealthy body image to millions of young girls and women.. that there is only one way to be sexy and that's not true.

Who are the plus-size women and/or men you look up to?

Miss Piggy, Beth Ditto, Bruce from Chubstr, Jes Baker, and seeing actresses like Melissa McCarthy and Aidy Bryant. They do roles that aren't about their size. It makes me feel like things are changing.

What are your plans for the future? Are there any other exciting projects in the pipeline?

Yes...so many amazing things are happening and it's only February. I can't share anything yet, but the best is yet to come!

Visit Holliday's online shop at Depop