How impactful are body positive magazine covers?

Orla Dwyer and Clara Kelly

Tess Holliday on the cover of UK Cosmopolitan

Following the controversial Cosmopolitan magazine cover featuring plus-sized model Tess Holliday, Clara Kelly and Orla Dwyer discuss whether the reaction was blown out of proportion or a real issue.

Clara Kelly: There is a bigger issue at hand. 

It seems that more so every day, we, as a society, are addressing the issue of body positivity.

There has been a surge in the plus-size modelling industry in recent years, with more brands and fashion magazines looking to stray from the norm of size six or smaller. Some popular brands, like Fenty Beauty, even used pregnant models in their fashion week show recently. More commonly, Tess Holliday’s recent cover for Cosmopolitan has caused controversy in the realm of body positivity.

Many people have been asking, is this representation good or bad? Is the body positivity movement, in general, a positive or negative thing?

In my opinion, I don’t think the Tess Holliday Cosmo cover, or more representation of other body types in general is a bad thing. I just don’t think it is helpful. I’m not against the idea for the reason that has been previously stated everywhere since the emergence of the body positivity movement, and more recently, the Tess Holliday cover, that it promotes a dangerous way of life to a young target audience.

I think it would be hypocritical to say that, when some of the skinnier models promote an equally toxic message to the young women who read the magazines. I just think that if we are going to have an issue with one unhealthy body type, we should try to remove that problem completely, and showcase women of all body types, not just extremes on either side of the spectrum.

Another issue with these portrayals is that unrealistic body images are still apparent in these covers and magazines, no matter what size the model they use to show them. The images are still Photoshopped, airbrushed and edited. Even for those that aren’t, the models are clad in designer clothing, luxury beauty and skincare products, and expensive hair care.

All of this creates an idealistic image of what women should look like, regardless of size and they make people, specifically women, self-conscious. If the women are self-conscious, they will buy those products in an attempt to look like the models on these covers, big or small.

I simply do not think that these movements can be fully positive or impactful on a larger scale to us, as a society, when so much else needs to change first.

Now we seem to be looking away from traditional media sources, with print and magazine paling in comparison to social media platforms and other representation. It could be argued that it is unhelpful to have more representation showcased on magazines and TV shows, when most young people are turning to the likes of Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube for their media instead. Influencers on these sites are pedalling tummy teas and tooth whitening kits, while also wearing the same over-priced clothing and products as models in magazines. Having easier access to apps and filters makes it even easier to showcase an unrealistic image to young people.

Overall, I think this movement and the Tess Holliday cover aren’t helpful, and won’t be until we address the larger issues at hand.

Orla Dwyer: Magazine covers do not have the power to influence public health. 

Putting a plus-sized model on a magazine cover does not promote health problems any more than featuring a particularly slim celebrity.

UK Cosmopolitan recently ran into controversy over their October issue front cover. They featured Tess Holliday, American plus-sized model, on the cover and people had a lot to say about this choice.

“I’m at the heaviest I’ve ever been in my life now and it took me being the heaviest to finally love myself,” Holliday said in the interview.

This is an important message and one we do not hear often. For years, Cosmopolitan and other similar magazines were the ones perpetuating these negative body images and stereotypes, advising young girls that being skinny was the only way forward.

It has been argued that this will normalise obesity, a claim Holliday herself has rebutted.  

The model says she exercises several days a week, but she should not have to say this. People have all sorts of genetic disorders and health issues that affect how their bodies look, but that’s not the point. Regardless of their reason, people do not have to justify their weight to the world.

This controversy is also under the deluded impression that the general public still look to magazines as their guide to life. In 2018, this is simply not still the case. As editor of Cosmopolitan, Farrah Storr said on Good Morning Britain: “Are people going to look at that and go, ‘Do you know what? I’m going to go and mainline doughnuts, this is what I want for my life’. Of course not. It’s patronising to say. I’m celebrating her. I am not celebrating morbid obesity.”

It is very assumptive to believe people are not able to decide for themselves what is and is not a healthy lifestyle for them to lead. People won’t look at the cover of Cosmopolitan, see Tess Holliday and actively try to mimic her body type. Somebody can see a person love their body without wanting theirs to look the same. The same argument could be made for any of the many, many cover stars who are quite slim, such as Hailee Steinfeld in the January 2018 issue.

Are they promoting an unhealthy lifestyle when they make it clear in the article that they are leading a healthy and happy lifestyle, as Holliday did? Of course not and it is ridiculous to say so.

Magazines are not hugely influential in our society anymore. Seeing a woman not hating her plus-sized body is not as refreshing as it used to be in the past, but it is still needed for young girls and anyone who looks like her. Even for those who don’t, it removes the stigma we have been taught growing up through media and television that plus-sized people are often something to laugh about.

Among all those outdated Friends gags, there are more fat people jokes than you can count. It is great to see people like Tess Holliday, who are being interviewed and featured for their lives, rather than their weight. It’s disappointing that, as always, the reaction focuses more on the latter.

Image credit: Róise McGagh