When Tess Holliday was featured in May 2015 in People magazine, I saw some commentary discussing whether Tess was a “good role model.” I felt very uneasy when I saw this.
Not even getting into the arguments that we can look up to people for their talents or accomplishments without wanting to look like them. Not even getting into the fact that people seem to always be quick to point out that happy fat people could be construed as “promoting obesity.” Not even getting into the fact that if a thin or average sized person becomes famous for their accomplishments or talents, nobody questions their body and whether it compromises their worthiness as a role model.
Not even taking any of these things into account, I’m going to go so far as to say that we NEED fat role models. Yes, I said it. Not just “it’s okay that they exist.” I’m saying that I’m glad that they exist, because we need them.
I need role models who look like ME, who are doing great things and are enjoying their lives and contributing to society in a positive way. Do I look up to them and think “oh, I should become fat to be more like them?” No. I am already fat. And I need role models who look like me. Whether I have always been fat or not, whether I like how I look or not, whether I wish to change it or not, whether it’s baby weight or not, whether I always will be fat or not, whether I am fat due to genetics or lifestyle or medical conditions or any other reason under the sun.
I need Tess Holliday to show me that even fat women can wear clothing that makes them feel beautiful. I need Holley Mangold to show me that fat women can have great athletic achievements. Whether they have always been fat or not, whether they like how they look or not, whether they wish to change it or not, whether it’s baby weight or not, whether they always will be fat or not, whether they are fat due to genetics or lifestyle or medical conditions or any other reason under the sun. I need them and I am glad they are here.
As a fat person, I find it so much more powerful and easier to relate to when I see people who look like me doing things that I want to do. Living the life I want to live. Establishing the habits I want to establish. Achieving great things with their talents. Contributing positively to society.
One argument people make about the existence of fat role models being problematic is the fear that children might see them and think that (gasp!) being fat is okay. Will children look up to Tess Holliday and Holley Mangold? I hope they will. Statistically speaking, many kids alive today may well grow up to be fat (whether this is a problem, whether someone is to blame for this, who that someone is, and whether that matters is not the subject of this post). Shouldn’t all those kids know that they can live their lives and be happy and fulfilled too, rather than hiding in shame, or spending all their energy trying to change? Shouldn’t they have role models that look like them too?
I grew up as a fat kid before the body positive movement, and I assure you that I grew up to be fat anyway, even without the presence of fat role models in my life. And the absence of fat role models did me more harm than good, in my opinion. I believed that I was not good enough. Even though I had excellent grades and talent, I didn’t believe anything in this world mattered more than getting my weight “under control.” I spent a great deal of my intelligence, energy and money chasing a body size instead of a fulfilled life. What good does that do the world, to have many people too ashamed to live fully and contribute?
Do I worry that seeing fat models will cause children or adults to aspire to gain weight? Personally I don’t have that worry, as there is still so much stigma around fat in the world. But if it does….well, we are having that issue anyway with very thin role models. Anorexia is notoriously difficult to treat, and can be deadly. I would love to see more role models of all sizes.
And… I’ll let you in on a little secret. DON’T TELL ANYONE! I’m serious, guys. Are you ready? Make sure you are sitting down. Are you sitting down? Okay, I’ll tell you: It’s okay for children and adults who are not fat to have fat role models too (gasp!). It’s okay to have role models and admire their achievements and talent without wanting to emulate them in every way. I’m guessing you already may have a role model who doesn’t match your height, hair color, age, gender or race. Guess what? You can have role models who don’t match your body type as well. It won’t suddenly change your body size any more than having a role model of a different gender or race will change your body in that way. (Okay, I guess I was going to go there after all).
My life has been so enriched by the presence of fat role models. So, I am going to stand by my statement that fat role models are needed in this world. Whether they have always been fat or not, whether they like how they look or not, whether they wish to change it or not, whether it’s baby weight or not, whether they always will be fat or not, whether they are fat due to genetics or lifestyle or medical conditions or any other reason under the sun. We need fat role models like Tess Holliday and Holley Mangold. We need more of them. They are needed, valued, and appreciated.