This morning, I received an email about a product being marketed to new moms. It was a fitness belt designed to help women “bounce back” to their pre-pregnancy figures, with the hopes of helping these women reclaim their desirability.
As a plus-size mom who has spent the past two years uplifting new mothers to embrace and love their bodies, you can imagine how I felt about this.
Here was a product designed to teach me that my belly wasn’t attractive or lovable, unless it was re-shaped back into the condition it was before I birthed my daughter. Even more so, here was a very clear statement from a product born right out of the weight loss and beauty industries implying that unless a body reflects our media-laden norms, it needs to be changed.
Cue Heart’s “Barracuda” as I begin to roar inside with every ounce of mama bear fierceness.
As moms and women, we have enough daily reminders from society that our bodies are problems that need fixing. The mounting pressures from the media to remain thin, fit, and aesthetically pleasing is enough for any new mom to feel hopeless in her current state — especially if that state doesn’t reflect the social images around her.
Thankfully, there are many women fighting back in powerful ways to show the world that you can be healthy, happy, and lovable in a larger body. These women are stepping up to challenge the outdated dieting ideals that have perpetuated the myth that losing weight is the only path to wellness. A body-positive revolution has begun, and there’s one mama at the forefront of the movement.
Her name is Tess Holliday.
On Monday, SELF magazine produced its very first digital issue. In a bold and brave move, every single article is a powerful response to the broken system of the weight loss industry. Women of all beautiful shapes and sizes are celebrated on every inch of the magazine. And shining on their cover in all her glory is Holliday, who is also the main focus of the issue.
The model and author is the very first plus-size mother to grace the cover of SELF. Not only that, but she is at the heart of a profound societal shift happening for body acceptance.
“I feel really fortunate to be able to do what I love for a living and to have gone through everything I have in life,” she tells SELF. “I wouldn’t change any of it.”
As a woman in a larger body, Holliday has quite often been the subject of endless ridicule and hateful social media trolling. While at first, she made sure to combat any negativity with the assurance that she was indeed healthy, she realized that defending her health only perpetuated the abusive belief that people in bigger bodies owe it to the rest of us to not only be healthy, but to make losing weight their sole concern.
The bullying only worsened when she became a new mother.
“When I got pregnant, I was flooded with a bunch of stuff,” Holliday tells SELF. “I was flooded with, ‘You’re gonna kill your baby because you’re so fat,’ and ‘your baby’s gonna come out deformed,’ which is awful to say. Then there were other people that were saying that I wouldn’t live to see my child grow up.”
However, instead of giving in to the haters, Holliday focuses on what she does best — whenever they go low, she goes high.
“I just refuse to go down that road, and to feel like I need to prove my health and my worth to people that don’t care,” she says. “There’s a famous quote … ‘Never waste your time explaining yourself to people who are committed to misunderstanding you.”
This way of living has allowed Holliday to remain undeniably herself, and in doing so, she has inspired thousands to let go of societal pressures and embrace themselves wholeheartedly. As a self-love newbie, I definitely count myself as one of the women forever changed by her extraordinary example.
In SELF’s opening letter to readers, editor-in-chief Carolyn Kylstra shared why the magazine chose to focus solely on body inclusivity with their first digital issue. She made the powerful claim that prioritizing weight loss as the most important path to health can be hugely damaging. Considering SELF has been a magazine that previously devoted itself to highlighting weight loss efforts, I was crying happy tears as I read her words.
“The focus on weight and the pursuit of a certain type of physical body … can devalue other kinds of health — like mental health,” Kylstra wrote. “And people with bigger bodies face bigotry and fat-phobia on a daily basis: In doctor’s offices, in the workplace, walking down the street. Our society rewards people for having smaller bodies, even if the behavior that leads to existing in a smaller body isn’t healthy or sustainable.”
As a teen and young woman, I knew about that harmful behavior all too well. For nearly two decades, I battled with my body on a daily basis. Whether it was diving into an eating disorder or binging on diet pills, I went to extreme methods to make myself as thin as possible — and the entire time, not an ounce of concern was shown by those around me. To my friends and loved ones, I seemed perfectly healthy on the outside, so it was assumed I was healthy on the inside. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Then, in 2015, I got pregnant with my daughter and everything changed.
My body grew, stretch marks developed, and eventually, I found myself looking for clothing in the plus-size department. After years of fighting against it, I finally had the very kind of body I had spent my entire life fearing.
Yet, to my surprise, I felt totally happy and free in it.
Discovering the body-positivity movement definitely proved to be a huge game-changer on my journey to bodily acceptance. Advocates like Holliday have opened my heart to a greater understanding of health, beauty, and lovability. As a mom who is living life for the first time in a larger body, I thought I would need to change myself — but with the help of moms like Holliday, I’ve realized that I’m exactly where I want and need to be.
Congratulations to Tess Holliday and SELF magazine on this courageous accomplishment!