Uncovering the Cosmopolitan UK Body Shaming Controversy

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Cosmopolitan UK recently turned heads with its magazine cover for the month of October 2018. In step with the growing movement for body positivity and self acceptance, the fashion magazine featured Tess Holliday, a plus-size model, with the caption ‘Tess Holliday wants the haters to kiss her ass.’

Somewhat unsurprisingly, the backlash has been monumental. Critics have argued that the cover promotes obesity by affirming the success and beauty of an overweight model. Said journalist and show host Piers Morgan on a Twitter post, “Apparently we’re supposed to view it as a ‘huge step forward for body positivity.’ What a load of old baloney. This cover is just as dangerous & misguided as celebrating size zero models.”

This may seem like a sound argument at first, for it applies the similar view of unhealthily skinny models to the opposite end of the spectrum. However with a more nuanced look, it becomes clear that this point drastically ignores the context of the situation.

Essentially, this argument lies on the presumption that the entire world’s beauty standards will be flipped upside down to encourage women to become or stay obese, and that is something this cover alone will not and cannot do. Being overweight has not suddenly become more desirable than being underweight, as evidenced by Cosmo UK’s November cover, which features singer Ciara, whose body is more typical of one one would see on a fashion magazine. It is clear that neither Cosmopolitan nor the beauty world are trying to reinforce a new perception of beauty. The October issue does not attempt to normalize obesity so much as it attempts to present a new point of view. The cover and the article both revolve around the fact that Holliday is overweight and how her life as a model has been influenced by it.

The cover does not glorify obesity, it provides a source of confidence that readers can use to better their lives. Obesity and low self-esteem are strongly linked, often creating a vicious self-fulfilling prophecy. In research compiled by NBC News, people who are overweight who reported experiencing weight discrimination were more than twice as likely to become obese by the next check-in date four years later.

Said Rebecca Puhl, deputy director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, in an interview with NBC News, “Stigma and discrimination are really stressors, and, unfortunately, for many people, they’re chronic stressors…And we know that eating is a common reaction to stress and anxiety — that people often engage in more food consumption or more binge eating in response to stressors, so there is a logical connection here in terms of some of the maladaptive coping strategies to try to deal with the stress of being stigmatized.”

Holliday shows her audience that people with body issues can be accepted and valued, and that self-worth is essential for people unhappy with their physical appearance. Before beginning to lose weight, a person needs to feel that he or she is important enough to invest effort into self improvement. As Holliday herself states, “My message isn’t, ‘Let’s all be fat!’. My message is, ‘Let’s love yourself, regardless of how you look in your current body’. Your mental health is far more important before you can worry about your physical health.”