Tess Holliday is the plus size model who has been seriously shaking up the fashion industry for all the right reasons. With her size 26 body, petite frame (Tess is only 5 foot 5) and outspoken views (she will respond to abusive Twitter messages), Tess isn’t your typical catwalk supermodel. But with the average UK woman wearing a size 16, Tess is a powerful poster girl for loving your body no matter what size you are. We caught up with the social media sensation (50k followers on Twitter and a milestone 1million on Instagram, btw) at Manchester’s Curve Fashion Festival, where she let loose on the plus size modeling industry, being a role model and what’s really inside her wardrobe (hint: we can definitely relate).
How do you define plus size?
I don’t really define it, but I think anything above a UK 14-16 to me is plus size.
Some people want to get rid of the term ‘plus size’ in modelling, do you agree?
I think those people need to find hobbies, or they need to focus their attention on getting more diversity in the industry. Until I see plus size models that have bigger stomachs, bigger arms, darker skin tones and that are short, then I'm not even going to bother about a term.
Do you think there's a stereotypical look for a plus size model?
100% I do. I'm proud to be part of an agency that has diversity [Tess is signed to MiLK Model Management], but most tend to all have the same body types and the same height. There's definitely a place for them, but what's frustrating is there are a ton of plus size models that are diverse and people aren't using them. Especially in the big campaigns, they all look the same.
You looked amazing in the H&M Close The Loop campaign, what was that like to shoot?
I get chills, it was amazing. It's definitely the coolest thing that I've done so far. H&M speaks really closely to my heart. It's so in line with what I'm about and my #effyourbeautystandards campaign. It really showcased that it didn't matter about the gender and the skin colour, it was just be yourself and embrace that.
Tell us about your latest #effyoubeautystandards launch!
I just redesigned t-shirts for the campaign, I want to eventually do more but I haven't had the time and I don't want to put out something that's half assed. I wanted to do something that men and women could wear; there's a ton of guys that are involved in my movement that feel like they haven't been able to embrace it, so I wanted something that wasn't catered to any particular gender.
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Are plus size men getting lost in all of this?
100%. I have six people that are part of my #effyourbeautystandards team, and the newest member, Kelvin, is an art teacher in South Carolina. I love everyone who contributes to my #effyourbeautystandards, but I get most excited to see him contribute plus size men from all around the world. They get totally forgotten in the industry. My son’s father is plus size, he’s so handsome but he wears oversize shirts and baggy pants, he just feels like the options aren't there and he's right.
Do you think a model can ever be too big?
No. If I'm a working plus size model then there's potential for anyone. I don't like to put limits on things because that's how people set themselves up for failure. I would never want to tell anybody because you look that way you can't model, however I wouldn't be modelling if it wasn't for my face and that my body typically is hourglass, so even though I'm short, bigger and heavily tattooed, I have these things working in my favour. I had a lot of people telling me no but I didn't let it stop me.
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What about those models who are in between plus size and straight size?
I do think that there needs to be a bigger voice for the inbetweeners (that's what we call them), they're the ones that get the brunt of a lot of people's frustration because they get stuck on to the tail end of plus size but then straight size doesn't want to use them because they're “too big”, which I think is stupid.
What’s your advice for people who want to get into plus size modelling?
It costs money, but it's worth it. I don't believe in modelling schools, but I do believe in hiring a good photographer, good hair and make up and styling. Even if you have to travel, invest money in it to get good photos to put in your book. Also, network, talk to people and take risks!
What plus size clothing brands do you like in the UK?
ASOS! I’m wearing everything ASOS today except for my shoes. I think 80% of my closet is ASOS. My friend GabiFresh modeled the cape I'm wearing for ASOS, and I’ve been lusting after the sample. Now I’m the only person that has it in the world. I love Simply Be and Boohoo.
Do you think every plus size model has to be a role model?
I have quite a few friends who are plus size models who should not be role models! They're great people, but I think if the person’s comfortable with it and embraces it then cool. But look at Rihanna, she got that got thrust on her, and she said f*** you, and now she's a role model for a different reason.
What is the biggest myth about plus size modelling?
That it's easy and glamorous, but it's hard work and most of my days off are spent getting my hair coloured, my nails done, prepping whatever I need to for the shoot, doing yoga and stretching.
Is using a token plus size model in a campaign better than not having a plus size model at all?
I got a lot of hate for the H&M campaign, people were saying my outfit was rubbish, and I thought, number one call me when H&M pays you to do a campaign, number two, at least they thought of me they, did their best and I felt good in it. I don't believe in exploiting people at all, but I do believe in if a company is trying then they're at least moving in the right direction. You never know who's going to see you and identify with that, and it could change their life.