Tess Holliday is a woman that knows all about obstacles. Standing at five-foot-five and wearing a size 26 in clothes, there was a time when if she’d told people she was an aspiring model their reactions would have been laughter and/or scorn. But these days she can thumb her nose at her detractors, because she is now a major social media influencer with millions of followers. She is also considered the world’s first bona fide plus-sized supermodel. In The Not So Subtle Art Of Being A Fat Girl she tells us her story with the same frank and direct manner that she exhibits in interviews, with both positive and negative results.
This memoir is similar to Lindy West’s Shrill and Beth Ditto’s Coal To Diamonds in that they all encourage readers to be comfortable in the skin that they’re in. Holliday’s work is part manifesto, memoir and self-help guide as she describes her birth in Mississippi, and her early years where she moved around a lot with her family. Some darker subject matters are also tackled, like her mother being left permanently paralysed by a frightening act of domestic violence, as well as Holliday’s own experiences with rape, assault and bullying.
Holliday’s prose is quite matter of fact. It isn’t pretty or flowery, more straight-up and conversational. The tone of this book is quite uneven, and the events and topics jump around a lot in terms of themes and time. There are moments where she is cracking jokes at herself and then other points where she’s tackling some quite difficult and sensitive subject matters.
The fact she has decided to pepper the text with little tips for life is a tad misguided, especially when she encourages readers to drop out of school if it isn’t for them. She also contradicts herself in these asides; in one saying you should blame the behaviour and not the person, and then in another stating it is perfectly fine to cut-out a toxic family member from your life. One of her guides to life is purely about the cleanliness of tattoo parlours, another is a Spice Girls lyric that is supposed to be fun, but will leave you scratching your head wondering why it was included in the first place.
Tess Holliday is not a perfect person. In recent times she has come under fire for some comments she made about African American men. She also received a lot of criticism for the role she played in a debacle that saw some of her fans paying $40 for a t-shirt they never received. The shirt was supposed to raise money for a domestic violence charity. The charity eventually received a $1000 donation from Holliday and she claims that over 100 t-shirts went missing in the mail. Holliday states in the book that she was ill-equipped to deal with the situation at the time. But one can’t help but wonder if there is perhaps a little more to this story than is perhaps being let on.
Holliday also comes under fire quite regularly for “promoting obesity.” Her response is that her modelling doesn’t promote obesity any more than Stevie Wonder’s work promotes blindness. Whilst this feels like a muddying of situations, perhaps only Holliday can comment on her experience and perspective. It seems that she is regularly quizzed by strangers about the status of her health and this sounds damn tiresome to say the least.
The Not So Subtle Art Of Being A Fat Girl shows how Holliday overcame adversity to reach the point where she is today – a successful international model, who is also a happily married mother with two sons. That journey was a tumultuous one, as described here. Holliday also admits that in order to succeed in modelling one needs a combination of perseverance and luck and it’s quite commendable that she admits that this is really all you need.
Tess Holliday’s memoir is one that should be appreciated by her fans, and people who feel that she is helping the modelling industry to take steps towards greater representation (even if they still have a long way to go). Her memoir is chock full of anecdotes from her life and it covers a lot of different ground including conflicting emotions, ideas and sentiments. The result is a book that is by no means perfect but like Holliday herself, it shows that you can succeed by embracing your imperfections.
The Not So Subtle Art Of Being A Fat Girl is available now through Echo Publishing