Wednesday, 17 June 2015
Tess Holliday: Not a role model.
When Jamelia recently made some bigoted and ill-informed comments about fat people (and thin people actually) the body/fat posi community took to arms, snatching up the hashtags and filling the blogosphere with a big 'fuck you' to people trying to police what people at any size can wear and how easily they access it. #wearethethey, spearheaded by Debz of A Wannabee Princess, took off. It was trending. It made some news outlets. I felt a swell of pride as our visibility, and our tenacity, punched a hole in social media for the day and we were all feeling pretty proud.
Days like that I love this community and I am overwhelmed by it's power. But there are times when I feel so disappointed in it too.
In a Guardian interview Tess Holliday, an apparently much beloved figure in the plus size community, made some racist and ignorant remarks. When reacting to an incident during the shoot where a black man made some comments to her, she naturally reacted. However, her follow up comment is where the problem starts:
“I do admit that black men love me. I always forget that, and then I come to a black neighbourhood and I remember.”
As a white person I’m not much of an authority on racism, given that simply by my colour I benefit greatly from centuries of it. However, I am smart enough to know what this comment is extremely ignorant and perpetuates very harmful, racist stereotypes of black men. But these stereotypes, and this attitude of being the beautiful, white women that black men love, also deeply harms black women, whose bodies are criticised and sexualised to a much higher degree than those of white women.
What followed from Tess was a very weak “apology”, and I use that word loosely. It was the usual “I’m sorry you’re offended” line. But what was even more galling was how Tess tried to back pedal, claiming that she can’t be racist because apparently there were black people on set.
Not to mention the fact that she bemoans how she never asked to be made a “role model”, but she seems quite happy to use this pedestal placement to further her career.
If Tess is so against being pigeonholed a role model she might want to re-consider her new website banner then.
I have many issues with Tess as an advocate for the plus size community, but it seems one can’t criticize her without seemingly jumping on a hate “bandwagon.” I admit, Tess has been heavily criticized by concern health trolls and that’s simply wrong. People are criticizing her for the wrong reasons. Prior to this incident I found her hypocrisy at advocating beauty at all sizes with her #effyourbeautystandards tag, while fully subscribing to beauty ideals, most galling. But now she can say racist things and barely even apologise for it and there is virtually no repercussions for it.
I am really disappointed in the community seemingly just ignoring that this happened, save for a few headshakes and a bit of tutting. Where are the posts, the critiques, the hashtags? Why aren’t we as angry at a representative of our movement making unapologetic, racist, and ignorant remarks as we were at celebs making fat jokes?
We HAVE to do better than this. We don’t have to accept our lot simply because we don’t have much representation. We, as fat people, should know what it feels like when people make harmful jokes at our expense. We know what it’s like when harmful attitudes perpetuate negativity about us.
We must do better than this. We must.