Tess Holliday: Are Things Changing Or Is Fashion Just Patting Itself On The Back?

Ray Tamarra

There’s no way around it. When you walk into a fashion show, whether in New York, London, Milan, or Paris, you see almost exclusively one "type" of person: thin, white women. That goes for the models and the editors alike, squeezing into tiny clothes or seats that, to be honest, are too small for anyone larger than a size 0.

The fashion industry at large has taken strides to embrace the “plus” market. We at InStyle make a concerted effort to include exciting options for petite, straight-sized, and plus-sized women in our shopping stories. And more and more, shoots are diversifying, in terms of race, body type, and body ability. But let’s face it: The fact that we’re still having this conversation is pretty pathetic.

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Tess Holliday will be the first one to point that out. Born Ryann Maegen Hoven, the 32-year-old model and body positivity ambassador began her career working for indie designers like Orchard Corset, Domino Dollhouse, and Jessica Louise Clothing, and she has been at the forefront of pushing the industry to accomodate women as they realistically look.

She was signed by MiLK Management in 2015 and was shortly thereafter named one of the world's top plus-size models by Vogue Italia. Fully aware (and frankly, frustrated) of the limitations for women with average-size bodies, she launched the body positivity hashtag #effyourbeautystands, which aims to help men and women—no matter their size—embrace the skin they’re in.

She has found fellow champions in the fashion world, like in Christian Siriano, whose designs Holliday is a fan of. “I didn’t see anything I wouldn’t wear personally,” Holliday tells me over the phone about the Christian Siriano Fall 2018 collection, which marked the designer's 10th anniversary. “Christian’s use of diversity is always really appreciated. I was backstage before the show and not only did he have plus size models, but he had a few different races, he had trans models, even his sister walked in the show! It was just was so beautiful.”

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In addition to presenting a critically acclaimed collection for the past decade, the designer has also made a concerted effort to show his pieces on models that others would shy away from, including not only plus-size, but also older women, trans models...He’s also one of few designers willing to dress every size. And he’s not doing it because it’s “in.”

“If I were to call him tomorrow and say ‘I have this event and I need something for it’, he would make it,” Holliday says. That’s a rarity. Many designers won't loan dresses to women who wear larger than a size 8.

“I’ve been working with my stylist Megan for a couple of years now. She’s reached out to designers that I didn’t think would dress me. I went to Kate Spade’s presentation, and Kate Spade dressed me for my book tour. But there are a lot of people that [won’t] even respond. Kate Spade was one of the big brands that did.”

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“Sometimes I just want to be like, 'Fuck it,'” Holliday continues. “It’s also hard because I’m mindful of the affordability of the clothing I’m wearing and I try to align myself with brands that are showing representation.”

Those brands, though, can be few and far between. “When you look at the runways you see one or two plus-size models in some of the mainstream, straight-size designer shows," Holliday says when I ask her what watching a runway show filled with size 00’s feels like for her. "But we know there’s way more models than just the one or two that we’re seeing. That’s really frustrating."

“I’m grateful that some of these designers are at least showing 12 and 14, but I think that it’s frustrating because I want it to be available for more plus-size women globally. I want to see more representation, I want to see them doing it in a really thought-provoking way and actually understanding how to dress our bodies. And yes, it is complicated, but we’re a huge percent of the market and we have so much buying power, and we’re just constantly being ignored.”

It's strange to think that a woman with 1.5 million followers could consider herself ignored. But at New York Fashion Week, it happens.

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“I had people taking my photo,” Holliday tells me. “It wasn’t as much that I thought it would be. I definitely saw people around taking photos, but I just assumed that they weren’t taking my photo because they didn’t know who I was.”

I remind her that she has more followers than most of the women getting shot: 500,000 more than Chriselle Lim. 700,000 more than Eva Chen. 400,000 more than Something Navy’s Arielle Charnas.

“When you look at the round ups of New York Fashion Week street style, you tend to see a certain type of person represented," Holliday says. "You’re definitely not seeing marginalized bodies and people of color as much as you wish you were.”

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In addition to winding up in street-style photo galleries, another with of Holliday's: seeing plus-size models on the cover of mainstream magazines, shot in real editorials (not ones simply pegged to the plus market).

“It’s nice to have a column that’s written by a plus-size person or a few plus size trend stories in each of the magazines,” she says. “It would be nice to see us in a little more glamorous spotlight instead of just being used to fill some quota. Really, sometimes I feel like we’re just used so people can pat themselves on the back.“

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