When the news broke last month that Tess Holliday had signed with MiLK Model Management, everyone had an opinion about it. As a longtime Instagram fan of hers, I was thrilled. But, others called the move "disgusting." I watched as the joyful and vitriolic comments piled up beneath Holliday's photos — and, as expected, this is what rose to the top of the heap:
"Sure, she's beautiful, but is she healthy?"
The general consensus among readers was: No. No way could a woman that size be in good health. They were just so worried about her:
"So sad to see a young woman give up and accept obesity. There are no healthy obese people."
"What about her poor heart and lungs?!"
Even more worrying than Tess' own health was the danger of promoting her unhealthy lifestyle:
"Being obese is not 'trendy' and should not be glorified."
"Please, cut down the beer and alcohol! That's all calories! And sweets!"
"I'm sorry she's so lazy, but this woman is setting a horrible example for the nation's kids!"
Think of the children! Why was this terrible woman pushing her lazy, drunken, candy-bingeing lifestyle on our country's vulnerable children?!
Concern Trolls of America, this one goes out to you.
The concern troll is not exclusive to weight-related content. It pops up on cancer blogs, parenting forums, and even in the political sphere. But, when it comes to overweight people, there's a particularly insidious righteousness. Rather than launch an outright attack, the concern troll often posits a hypothetical question. Personally, the concern troll thinks you're great. They're just looking out for you, and for the nation's kids. They're just, y'know, a little worried. You know that feeling when you show up all dressed for dinner, and your friend tilts her head and asks, "Are you tired, sweetie?" It's like that — except, worse. Because, the concern troll is not your friend.
As we all know, a friend commenting on your health can be irritating enough. Because, really, how presumptive. But, it's nothing compared to the arrogance of concern trolls. Your friend is not your doctor, but at least your friend has a little experience regarding your personal history and lifestyle. The concern troll has only one thing on which to base a diagnosis: a photo.
I haven't had to deal with such a high volume of sincerely concerned readers as Tess has, but I've got them. Mine show up in every Anti-Diet column where I show my body. Earlier this month, I did a piece about Visible Belly Outline, a fashion story about how to stop stressing about hiding your tummy. The majority of comments were supportive, and for that I'm oh-so-grateful because, man, I was nervous about putting myself out there like that.
Next came the troll trolls — the old-school twerps who sit around signing in and out under different pseudonyms in order to call me a lumpen, revolting manatee. Actually, that's a little too creative; I think they just called me a whale.
Finally, the concern trolls showed up in droves, wringing their hands and saying things like, "It's great that she's so confident, but I'm worried about her blood sugar," and "I don't judge fat people. But, I judge the idea that being unhealthy and dying young is ok."
Wait, did I not tell you all about my new pro-death stance?
"I hope she gets help, soon. She looks cute, but I can't stand behind this unhealthy lifestyle."
"Lifestyle" — the concern trolls' favorite weapon and fatal flaw. For all their years of Internet medical training on WebMD and Wikipedia, they all seem to have missed one crucial fact: You can't see my lifestyle in this photo.
You cannot see the 45-minute treadmill workout that I did on the morning of this shoot.
You cannot see the eggs and tomato on toast that I had for breakfast, or the chicken-pesto wrap I had for lunch.
You cannot see my average alcohol consumption, whether or not I smoke, any drug use, my mental health, or my family history in this photo.
And, you certainly cannot see my medical records. The only thing you can see here is a photo of my body. Therefore, any assumptions you make about my health are the very definition of prejudice.
We all do it. Unconscious bias is the elephant in everybody's room. But, we still have to recognize it for what it is. Of course these strangers are not actually worried about me or Tess Holliday. They're unsettled and put off. My concern trolls came out in full force after my bikini shoot; the more of my body I show, the more they moan. That, I believe, reveals the crux of this issue. They're not used to seeing a body like this in a positive context. But, they don't think of themselves as outright bullies. So, instead of saying, "I don't like you; you're ugly," they say, "I'm worried about you; you're unhealthy."
Change is always uncomfortable, and Tess Holliday represents a major change in the way we look at fashion. With this column, it is my goal to make changes in the way we look at diet, exercise, and body positivity. I say that it's important to be healthy and happy and visible, no matter what your size. I say that even if you aren't in your personal-best shape, that doesn't mean you should hide out until you're a socially acceptable size. I say that respecting your body with real love is the primary step in health.
All of us should have true concern for our own health. Do not bury your head in the sand about your own risk factors, whatever they may be. If you're scared of going to the doctor, that's when you go. If you're intimidated by the gym, give it a shot. I guarantee you'll feel better after you do. The same goes for throwing on a fitted dress or a bikini that you love but don't feel good enough to wear. I do all those things regularly now, and my health and happiness is exponentially more stable. That's my lifestyle.
Before this project, all I thought about was weight and what other people said about me. With each of these stories, those things become a little less important. What matters is that I keep doing what I know to be responsible and gutsy (so to speak). If I sound proud of myself, it's because I am.
If that concerns you, don't worry — I've got this. You've got bigger things to worry about.
The Anti-Diet Project runs on Mondays twice a month. You can also follow my journey on Twitter and Instagram at @mskelseymiller or #antidietproject. Hashtag your own Anti-Diet moments, too! If you're new to the column, you can check out all the entries here.