Tess Holliday is the Disney princess we all need, and sometimes she feels like one, too. “I go to Disneyland a lot,” the plus-size model, activist and author tells Refinery29’s global editor-in-chief and co-founder Christene Barberich in the latest episode of UnStyled. Holliday and her family (husband Nick and kids Rylee and Bowie) “live 20 minutes away from there, and I go all the time. A ton of my followers come up to me when I’m there, and it makes their day,” says Holliday, whose Instagram is 1.7 million strong. “People are crying when they meet me...seeing someone like me, they’re able to exist in this world.”
The 5’ 4”, 33-year-old heroine is more visible than ever these days. Wearing an emerald-green one-piece and blowing a kiss, Holliday graced the October 2018 cover of Cosmopolitan UK in a groundbreaking moment for all women and the global plus-size community. While she’s become the poster woman for body positivity and self-confidence, Holliday suffered serious doubts prepping for that milestone moment. “Leading up to the cover, I was an absolute train wreck,” she admits. “I felt like I don’t look the way I should look for Cosmopolitan and I was picking myself apart. [Cosmo] was the stereotypical magazine that you'd seen so long – and the same bodies...I felt like I didn’t belong. It really, it really messed with me actually. I had to keep psyching myself up.”
Unfortunately, not all response to the cover was positive. “Obviously there’s always people in everything that I do that say I’m promoting obesity and how disgusting I am – I definitely have days that it bothers me...It comes down to people projecting their own insecurities onto me,” Holliday muses. “It’s frustrating to carry so much of people’s emotional energies with me all the time.” That close-minded vitriol is ultimately just a blip. “I’ve been on like, not even Cloud 9 – like Cloud 100. I’ve been so happy. The response has been incredible.”
It’s all been a hard-won victory and sense of peace for Holliday, who overcame a traumatic childhood and over a decade of rejection (she began attending modeling casting calls at age 16) before a savvy, inspiring hashtag (#EffYourBeautyStandards) galvanized a movement – and her career.
Hear Christene’s whole conversation with Tess – she talks motherhood, high-end fashion challenges for plus-sized women, sounding out the haters, and her most revolutionary year yet – by clicking here and subscribing to UnStyled via Apple Podcasts today.