I’ve written many times about model Tess Holliday. She’s the embodiment of playing by your own rules and smashing barriers as a result. This mother and model is well on her way to becoming a fashion icon, but apparently Facebook didn’t get that memo.
As outlets reported Monday, Australian feminist group Cherchez La Femme sought to promote an ad for its "Feminism and Fat" panel discussion, but Facebook banned the picture because they said it "didn’t comply with their health and fitness policy." Since the initial backlash, Facebook relented and said that the group could use the image, but they wouldn’t allow it to be boosted (paid to increase its views).
In case you were wondering, Facebook has a rather long list of guidelines about what images a business or fan page can use to promote themselves. Some of them include things like, “Images in your ads must be relevant and appropriate to the advertised product,” or, "Ads may not include images made up of more than 20 percent text, including logos and slogans."
As someone who works in the Digital Marketing arena, I can personally confirm that Facebook reps keep an eye on these things. It’s not unusual to have an ad pulled even after you’ve paid to widen its reach.
What is disconcerting about this news, though, is that Facebook made the decision to pull Cherchez La Femme’s image of Tess Holliday under the premise that the ad didn’t comply with a policy that states “the image depicts a body or body parts in an undesirable manner...Ads may not depict a state of health or body weight as being perfect or extremely undesirable."
This certainly wouldn’t be the first time Holliday has been trolled for her shape and size. Hop over to her Facebook or Instagram or any number of articles written about her, and you’ll see what I mean. A visit to her Facebook page yielded this lovely comment on a thread for a line Holliday is promoting for Penningtons: “you and all other obesity promoters make me absolutely sick. you're not "curvy". you're fat. stop with the b.s.”
The question that always plagues me, though, is this: On what grounds can being an arbitrary size excuse such harsh belittlement that we’d never condone in relation to race, religion or gender?
The answer: None
In a much more thoughtful and eloquent comment on Facebook, a woman named Caitlin McCormick had a very different opinion of the Holliday ad:
“Speaking very personally as someone who, like I have said, is close in size to Tess (of course I don't speak for all big people) seeing an image of her in an ad looking beautiful it doesn't make me want to stay fat. It makes me feel human. It makes me feel like a worthy, flipping human being. Because in my darkest moments I have felt less than human, because I'm fat. Like a sub-human who doesn't deserve to be seen or even be happy. I am happy to say that I don't feel that way today. Seeing a picture of a woman like Tess makes me feel like I might feel that beautiful, that confident, in my own skin one day...I'm not asking for pity. I am asking for acceptance.”
I, for one, do not ever want to be guilty of contributing to a culture where someone is made to feel sub-human based on the body they live in day in and day out. Instead of asserting fitness and beauty standards on every photographed human being, we should be concerned about reversing the damage we’ve done collectively to make others feel unworthy.
Women are held to unrealistic expectations to fit within a narrow standard of beauty and attractiveness to get ahead. These same pressures we encounter in the business and academic world are doubly applied to our bodies and faces. For women who, for whatever reason, don't meet these standards of conventional beauty, life can feel like a constant walk of shame.
In an interview with the Daily Mail Tess Holiday said, "Obviously someone doesn’t wake up fat. I know that I am fat, but people completely miss the point of me trying to educate women and show them that it’s OK to be who you are and love yourself and still live your life and not be miserable."
I can say this is true from experience. Formerly a plus-sized woman, I’ve undergone significant weight loss over the past six months, but for a long time I was literally fat and happy. But just because I'm losing weight now doesn't mean that who I was before was bad. My self-acceptance as larger person, however, didn't take away my desire to be a healthier person, the emphasis just wasn't on weight at the time. Stop worrying about stray plus-size ads "glorifying obesity," people. The much stronger (to the point of dangerous) messaging in our culture remains that women should be thin. Some women really don't mind being larger. For a long time, I was one of them. This is kind of a strange concept since we're really taught to believe that you can't be happy with yourself if you're not lithe and lovely.
Being thinner hasn’t made me a better mother, friend, sister, or writer. I see a therapist every week just like I did at my heaviest. It’s really not the package you come in that determines your happiness or defines your worthiness.
During this more recent phase of my journey, though, I’ve never stopped looking to Tess Holliday for inspiration as I did before. In fact, I've drawn a lot of strength from a caption under a photo she posted of herself at the gym, "I don't work out for you. I don't work out to drastically change my body. I don't do it because people shamed me about how I look, in fact I didn't even feel like I had the confidence to be seen as a fat woman working out in public until I was truly happy with myself." She’s more than a size or a number on a scale, just like I am. She challenges our conceptions of beauty and brains like so many trailblazing women before her.
Holliday reminds me not to glorify unhealthy weight, but to remember that I am human, no matter my size. And, no matter where I am in my journey, I am worthy of being treated with dignity. More importantly I'm charged with setting an example for others since I have been on both sides of this equation. Nothing is more beautiful than that self-acceptance, and that is a one-size-fits-all concept!