Photo: Instagram / @tessholliday
When English journalist and television presenter Piers Morgan wrote an open letter to plus-sized model Tess Holliday, commenting on her weight on the cover of UK Cosmopolitan magazine, he said that she is “someone suffering from morbid obesity” and thinks it is “a load of absolute nonsense” that Cosmopolitan would declare her a role model.
This naturally sparked a flurry of debate online between her fans, his haters and everyone in-between, with cries of “body shaming” and “mind your own business, Piers” flooding the comments section. While Holliday’s fans were quick to defend her, there were also many who agreed with Morgan that she is in fact, of an unhealthy weight.
We can all agree that considering Morgan knew nothing of Holliday until her cover dropped (he says so himself in his letter), he had absolutely no business calling her out – that’s a job for her family or friends, and he admittedly, rightly, says they should.
However, while he was insensitive and untactful in his letter, it doesn’t make him wrong. The question is, are the haters right in calling him a body shamer? When did pointing out the facts become ‘body shaming’? Holliday is known for being a big advocate of the body positivity movement, but with all the facts pointing toward the inescapable truth that she is, by the World Health Organization’s definition, morbidly obese, it begs another question:
Have we taken the body positivity movement too far?
Don’t get us wrong. The body positivity movement is great because no one should ever be made to feel ashamed of the way they look.
Body positivity means loving your body, whether you are thin, curvy, muscular or anything in-between. To be body positive is to not feel pressured into fitting a certain mould of what society or those around you perceive as beautiful. It is about being comfortable in your own skin, no matter what colour it is or what shape it hugs.
However, the line between body shaming and celebrating obesity has become blurred, and there are those who are taking the movement a little too far. It has stopped being about celebrating the way our bodies are unique, and become a cloak through which the unhealthily overweight hide under.
What is an unhealthy body weight? The World Health Organization says an overweight person has a BMI of 25 to 29.9, while an obese person has a BMI of 30 or more. By this definition, Holliday, who stands at 5 feet 3 inches and weighs 130kg, is not just obese but morbidly obese.
Morbid obesity is not just about appearances. Those diagnosed with this condition are usually at greater risk for illnesses such as diabetes, high blood pressure, gallstones, heart disease and cancer. In short, being morbidly obese can very easily kill you – if you don’t do something about it.
Sara*, 28, says: “I was overweight by nearly 30kg for the longest time, but social media [and other plus-sized influencers] made me feel like it was okay to be my size. It was really cool being able to go out in clothes “fat people” would normally not wear, like tank tops and tight jeans, but the truth was that I was ignoring the fact I had to do something about my weight.”
It was not until Sara had some blood work done that she realised she was at high risk of developing Type II diabetes, and after several months of cleaning up her diet and exercising, brought her BMI down to the healthy range. “Before, I would eat whatever I wanted. McDonalds and sweets at 3am, and drinking sugary drinks. I would tell myself it’s okay because I am not fat, I’m just ‘curvy’ but I know now that that was just me lying to myself.”
The main takeaway here: while we should not be made to feel ashamed of our bodies, or be pressured into achieving some ridiculous body standard, neither should be abuse and hurt ourselves by not exercising and eating all the junk food we want – then cry “body shaming” when someone points out our bad habits.
Take plus-sized model Ashley Graham. She is a shining example of a woman who is, by model industry standards, far from having the “perfect” body. But she strives to be healthy by working out and maintaining a balanced diet.
Cassey Ho of Blogilates does not have the “abs or figure of most fitness trainers” but if you try one of her videos, you’ll quickly realise how strong she is.
We are more than our appearances, and our self-worth should never be in proportion to the number on our dress tags. But let’s not forget that if body positivity is about loving ourselves, then the best way to do so is to ensure we’re nourishing our bodies with wholesome food and exercising at least 30 minutes a day.
You don’t need to be a size whatever to be beautiful, but you do need to be alive. Instead of focusing on the number on our weighing scales, let’s worry about the numbers on our medical reports instead. If those numbers are in the clear, then anyone who dares say you’re not beautiful can kiss your a**.
*names changed on request