Self Help

The Toxic World of Tess Holliday and Fat Activism

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Matheus Puppe

· 9 min read

• Tess Holiday is a popular plus-size model featured on magazine covers and praised for promoting body positivity. However, some criticize her for glorifying obesity and spreading misinformation about health.

• In 2018, Cosmopolitan U.K. featured Tess Holiday on their cover and dedicated several pages to discussing her health and fitness regime. Many saw this as promoting the false idea that morbid obesity can be healthy.

• Tess Holiday claims to be healthy at over 300 pounds, but obesity at that level is medically dangerous. She has said, “you can be overweight and be healthy,” and “I’m extremely healthy.” However, extreme obesity is by definition unhealthy.

• Tess Holiday’s message focuses primarily on fighting fat-shaming and promoting self-love. While this is essential, spreading misinformation about health is problematic. Obesity carries real medical risks regardless of mental well-being or lifestyle factors.

• The Health at Every Size movement aims to fight weight stigma and change societal beauty standards. However, some supporters take the message too far by denying the health risks of obesity altogether. Promoting that any body size can be healthy is factually incorrect and dangerous.

• There is a distinction between accepting people of all body types and promoting the idea that obesity is harmless. Tess Holiday and some Health at Every Size supporters cross the line into the latter, which is medically irresponsible. Body positivity should not come at the cost of honesty about health.

• In conclusion, while Tess Holiday’s message of self-love and fighting fat-shaming is essential, her claims about being healthy at 300+ pounds are factually incorrect and should not be promoted. Obesity at that level carries real health risks, and it is dangerous to suggest otherwise. Promoting body positivity should not involve denying medical realities.

  • Being able to do essential life tasks or stand for long hours does not necessarily mean you are incredibly healthy. Data shows overweight people can be beneficial, but most data still suggests healthiest BMI is in the normal range.

  • No doctors argue that Tess Holiday’s level of obesity is healthy. This is like saying a high-functioning alcoholic or chain smoker is beneficial because they have no health issues. They have an addiction, and celebrating this promotes an unhealthy narrative.

  • Companies promote “health” as a subjective feeling rather than an objective reality of healthy lifestyles. Magazines like Cosmo and Self featuring Tess Holiday promote this view to the detriment of public health.

  • Tess Holiday, at 5’3” and over 300 lbs, has a BMI of at least 49, which is the most severe obesity. She is at high risk of over 200 diseases and health issues at this size. Obesity itself is a disease and debilitating condition due to:

  1. Dangerous visceral fat that causes inflammation and health issues.
  2. Mechanical issues from excess weight like joint and back problems. Her weight puts 450 lbs of pressure on her knees with each step.
  • Tess Holiday became an icon because her body looks more like the average plus-size woman. Many women relate to her and see her success and celebration, meaning they too can be beautiful and confident. However, with this comes promotion of Health at Every Size, an unsupported view that you can be obese yet healthy.

  • Tess Holiday constantly affirms she is healthy despite her obesity, and says anyone who disagrees is “fatphobic.” Her followers receive this message and believe obesity does not inherently mean poor health.

In summary, while Tess Holiday aims to promote body positivity, she spreads an unhealthy message that obesity is not inherently harmful or a disease state. This misleads her many followers and contributes to more excellent societal myths about health, obesity, and weight.

  • Health at Every Size (HAES) is a movement that promotes body positivity and acceptance. It discourages dieting and focuses on healthy behaviors for people of all body sizes.

  • HAES became famous following Dr. Linda Bacon’s 2008 book of the same name. The core ideas of HAES seem reasonable, like promoting self-acceptance, ending weight stigma, and encouraging healthy habits over weight loss.

HAES also pushes the false and harmful idea that obesity is not unhealthy. HAES claims that body size is genetically determined, weight loss is impossible, and excess weight has no health risks. This is contradicted by scientific evidence.

  • HAES has its roots in the fat acceptance movement, which aimed to change social attitudes about weight and push the idea that diets and weight loss are unhealthy. The founders of HAES were involved in fat activism and the movement is advancing similar goals.

  • Influencers who promote HAES, like Tess Holliday, have spread these harmful ideas to many followers. Their messages have convinced some people that obesity can be healthy, even though it puts people at higher risk of disease.

  • People are drawn to HAES due to experiencing weight stigma and bullying. But HAES provides a false message of acceptance and health, rather than helping people develop a balanced and realistic view of health at different body sizes.

  • In summary, while promoting body positivity and self-acceptance is essential, HAES combines these reasonable ideas with harmful obesity denial and spreads misinformation about health, weight, and dieting. The impact is that some followers develop unrealistic and unhealthy beliefs.

  • Some people criticize the body positivity and fat acceptance movements for promoting an “anti-diet culture” that can be toxic and unhealthy. These movements promote inclusiveness and acceptance of people of all body sizes. Still, they harshly criticize and ostracize members who lose weight or advocate for weight loss.

  • The writer Tess Holliday, a leader in the body positivity movement, has said she feels guilty about starting to eat healthier because she worries her fans will see it as abandoning the movement’s principles. She has to stay obese to retain the love and respect of her followers.

  • The author left the fat acceptance movement after facing backlash for advocating that weight loss can be acceptable in some scenarios, especially for health reasons. She realized the training was very judgmental of those who chose to lose weight to become healthier.

  • The fat acceptance movement bases many of its claims on the research of Linda Bacon, who denies that obesity contributes to increased mortality (“The death by fat myth”). However, the research on this “obesity paradox” is mixed, and many studies show obesity does reduce life expectancy. The prevailing view is that methodological issues likely explain the obesity paradox, and obesity remains dangerous to health.

  • The fat acceptance movement spreads misinformation by citing selective or flawed research to claim that obesity does not cause disease or reduce life expectancy. In reality, obesity is linked to higher risks of health conditions like diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and more. Promoting “fat is not unhealthy” is irresponsible and dangerous.

  • In summary, the body positivity and fat acceptance movements promote a toxic culture where people feel pressured to remain obese to retain acceptance in their social groups. They spread misinformation about obesity and health to justify their stigmatization of weight loss. A balanced and scientifically-informed perspective recognizes that while people of all body types deserve respect and dignity, obesity is linked to severe health risks.

Here is a summary of the evidence against the notion that fat is the killer it’s made out to be:

  • The prevailing medical view is that obesity contributes to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths and increased risk of disease in the U.S. annually. However, the evidence for this is primarily based on epidemiological studies that show associations but cannot prove causality.
  • The “obesity paradox” suggests that not all obese people experience adverse health outcomes or die prematurely. Some remain metabolically healthy. However, long-term studies show most metabolically healthy obese people will eventually become metabolically unhealthy, and even those who stay healthy have higher risks of disease than ordinary weight people.
  • The notion of “metabolically healthy obesity” has led to claims that you can’t determine someone’s health just by appearance. While an average weight does not guarantee health, severe obesity, like 300+ lbs at 5’5”, significantly increases health risks, according to experts. Claims that this level of obesity can be healthy are considered harmful.
  • Lindo Bacon, a proponent of “Health at Every Size,” employs “doublespeak” to misleadingly suggest excess fat does not cause disease. Bacon claimed “little evidence” shows weight causes “many diseases,” but epidemiological studies can’t prove causality. Bacon also said, “Excess body fat isn’t the killer it’s made out to be,” but likely meant the media overstates the link, not that excess fat isn’t deadly.
  • Bacon has a history of making claims and retracting them when challenged. An interviewer who quoted Bacon’s claims found Bacon complained to get a correction, then tweeted the article was irresponsible. When shown there were recordings confirming the quotes, Bacon emailed two apologies. This suggests Bacon employs misleading rhetoric and then avoids responsibility when called out.

In summary, while we can’t prove “obesity” causes disease or death in a definitive sense, the overwhelming evidence clearly shows excess fat leads to substantially higher health risks and premature mortality over the long run, according to experts. Claims to the contrary employ misleading “doublespeak” and avoid acknowledging the strength and consistency of evidence showing the harms of severe obesity in particular. “Health at Every Size” is considered scientifically unsupported and potentially harmful.

  • The link between obesity and disease is well-established scientifically. There is little room to argue against this. It is an epidemiological fact.

  • Lindo’s actions and the Health at Every Size movement suggest that health is not their primary goal. If it were, they would provide evidence and data to explain their position fully. Instead, they use vague language and cherry-pick data. The fact that Lindo’s mission statement does not mention health supports this.

  • Lindo and Health at Every Size promote a political agenda, not health. They want people to believe obesity is healthy despite evidence showing otherwise.

  • Tess Holiday, Linda Bacon, and companies promoting Health at Every Size have different motivations but spread the same harmful message. Their messaging is seductive to some because it provides an alternative to the difficulty of losing weight and feeling inadequate. But it is not scientifically valid.

  • Obesity is conclusively shown to be unhealthy, despite some researchers and activists implying otherwise or confusing correlation and causation.

The summary suggests the critical points around Health at Every Size and similar movements are that they are politically and ideologically motivated, not scientifically valid or focused on health, as they claim. They promote an appealing but false message about obesity and spread misinformation by misrepresenting or misinterpreting research. The evidence clearly shows obesity leads to health issues, despite their implications to the contrary.

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About Matheus Puppe