Sometime last year I was absentmindedly scrolling through my Facebook timeline when I was stopped in my tracks by an absolutely stunning face in a photo shared by one of my friends. The face, I later found out, was attached to Miss Tess Holliday (formerly Tess Munster), an up-and-coming plus size model from California. Soon enough, I my way to her Facebook page to become a fan.
I’ve been following Tess for a year now, and every day my fandom grows a little more. Not only does she model “fatshions” so cute they make an average-sized gal like myself jealous, but she’s also a mom, a business woman and an activist. If you follow her on Tumblr you’ll see her offering words of encouragement to men and women of all shapes and sizes on a daily basis – be yourself, don’t let the fuckers get you down, beauty has no size, etc. (And please, for the love of Godzilla, consult her FAQ before you ask about her make up routine or where she gets her clothes!)
I finally decided it was time to step away from all the baking and destroying for a moment, and to introduce this inspiring woman to those of you who haven’t already seen her in the pages of Inked and Skorch Mag, or modeling your favorite plus-sized fashions.
So Tess, you were discovered by a casting agent for A&E’s “Heavy” through your portfolio on Model Mayhem – what made you decide to pursue modeling in the first place? What were you doing before you started booking modeling jobs?
I had always wanted to be a model, but never thought that I would have the opportunity to because of my height and size. Once I landed the “Heavy” gig, I realized that was my chance to finally pursue my dream. Prior to modeling, I worked in banking and at a dental office.
Your style is a little retro, a little spooky and a little bit fairytale… what kind of little girl were you? Were you always dressing up and pretending?
I was always living in my own dream world. I have always had a very big imagination and I think that has a lot to do with my style. I spent my days hiding in the “clubhouse’” my grandpa had built for me and pretending that I was an actress, or some famous star. My mother would let me wear her makeup and clothes and I would dance around our house singing Ace of Base. While all of the girls around me were chasing boys, I was wearing Tweety Bird and playing with Barbies.
Do you feel like your personal style has changed or evolved since your modeling career has taken off?
Oh definitely. The access and knowledge that I have gained to different designers that I didn’t have before has really changed how I dress and look at fashion. Also, I have always loved fashion, but I didn’t learn how to truly love myself and feel comfortable in my own skin until I started modeling. With that came the confidence to be more adventurous with clothing. I take risks and don’t limit myself on what I “can’t” wear because of my size. Before modeling I didn’t even own lingerie, now I will wear a bustier or garter skirt out to an event. If you got, flaunt it, right?
Sometimes I read the fan letters you get on Facebook and Tumblr and I get choked up. It’s so amazing to see how much confidence you instill in other women of all shapes and sizes – did that take you by surprise at first? How do you feel about being a role model?
Yes, it was surreal… It still is. When I got my first letter I cried, and I thought, “Who? Me?” To this day, I don’t consider myself a role model, but more of an “ambassador” for women and men of all sizes, sex, race, etc. Believe it or not, I get a lot of emails from gay men that relate to me because they to know what it’s like to be treated like an outcast for something you cannot change. The message of loving yourself is universal, and affects us all whether we admit it or not. I just try my very best to make sure that everything I’m doing and saying is setting a good example for everyone that is watching me. There are so many examples of what not to do out there, and I don’t want to be one.
I’ve heard you say that the key to confidence is to surround yourself by positive people who build you up rather than tear you down. (And when all else fails, put on some lipstick and go out and have fun.) Do you still have moments when your confidence waivers? If so, what triggers that?
Like everyone, I’m human so I most certainly have my moments. It’s usually a combination of the opposite sex, online “trolls,” and old insecurities that sneak up on me. However, when I encounter those feelings, I just remind myself that I’m fabulous, and if other’s can’t see it, that’s their problem, not mine.
What are some misconceptions you think people have about plus size models and the plus size modeling world?
That it’s easy…and it’s not. We don’t just stand there and take photos, there is so much blood, sweat, and tears that goes into every photo, every job, and it takes a very strong woman to succeed in this very tough industry. Also, women don’t understand that a size 10 is industry standard whether they like it or not. With that being said, they have to remember that it’s just as hurtful to the “smaller” plus models to be bashed because of their size just like it is for larger plus models like myself. We are all working for the same cause and we can accomplish so much more united.
I’ve heard you say that some members of your family, and sometimes even your own friends don’t approve of your size, and get on your case to lose weight. How do you handle the assumption that a size 22 woman can’t be healthy? What do you do to stay healthy?
Simple… I ignore their ignorance. Do I eat cheeseburgers, cupcakes, and all things awfully delicious? Yes. Do I do it all the time? No. I try my very best to keep everything in moderation. I absolutely love to cook, and growing up down south, I only knew how to cook really fatty foods. So, I started reading and researching about how to eat and cook healthy. I drink a ton of water, exercise, and stay away from soda as much as possible.
Who are the people in your life who have always been supportive of you and your career?
My mother is really the only person that ever believed in me growing up and still to this day. She always encouraged me to chase after my dreams no matter how absurd or impossible.
Growing up I was the pasty -skinned girl with her nose stuck in a Greek mythology book, and later I was the “devil worshiper” in a Catholic High school. Now that I’m a grown woman and I’m comfortable with who I am, it’s so important to me that my son be accepting and understanding of people from all walks of life. How does being a mom influence your mission to empower other women?
I grew up in the “bible belt” where no one respected anyone that was considered out of the “norm”. That’s the reason why I do not live where I grew up because I too want my son to respect everyone, regardless. It’s a fact that we are not born prejudiced, it is taught, and it’s up to us to break the cycle and teach our children to love themselves and one another.
A few weeks ago someone on Tumblr used your photo as “thinsporation” on a pro-anorexia blog. They say “haters gonna hate” but how do you prevent things like that from raining on your parade?
When I first encountered that photo, and other down right evil things people have said about me, I was angry. Then, I realized that I cannot be mad at them because clearly they are sick and need help. I understand that not everyone has fully accepted who they are, and some never will, so for them, seeing a bigger girl like me in a bikini or sometimes…nothing at all, is foreign to them. So, what do we do as humans when we don’t understand something? We tear it apart instead of educating ourselves and opening our minds and hearts. So for me, instead of taking the road of hate towards them, I just hope that one day they learn to love themselves and get the help they need.
Let’s talk about fun stuff now… What is the single best cupcake you’ve ever eaten?
The Lemon Blueberry Cupcake from Sprinkles in Beverly Hills. YUM!
If you could steal the wardrobe from any movie ever made, what movie would it be?
I cannot choose just one, but I can narrow it down by saying either Tank Girl (because let’s face it, who wouldn’t want torpedo boobs?!) or The Great Gatsby. I know it’s not out yet, but based on the photos I have seen, I would die to prance around in it all.
What song results in a guaranteed dance party every time you hear it?
It’s a tie…and an odd tie at that: The Faint – Worked Up So Sexual. I cannot help but dance all over the room when it pops up on iPod! Murder City Devils- Boom Swagger Boom. They are my favorite band, so perhaps I’m a bit partial, but how can you not shake what you got to this song?
Are there any current fashion trends you’d like to make illegal?
Where do I begin?
Stirrup pants, they are down right awful and should have never been in style 20 years ago.
Ed Hardy & Affliction clothing makes me cringe, and I think it should all be burned and looks ridiculous.
Uggs. Enough said.
Jeggings. They don’t look good on anyone, and jeans are so rad – why ruin the idea of them?
2011 was jam-packed for you, and you just booked your first overseas shoot in Australia. What other forms of magic does 2012 hold for Tess Munster?
I think the best is yet to come! In the next month I’m hoping to launch my website, and start expanding into other areas of the industry. I am also modeling for a couple new clothing companies that I’m very excited about, as well as traveling and speaking to women about my journey of finding self love. I recently joined forces with a couple magazines that I will have monthly features in, so I will also be writing a lot more…which I love! Last, but not least, I will be spending more time with my son, and taking time to appreciate how far I’ve come, or as they say “stopping to smell the roses”. I know life won’t always be this sweet, and I want to appreciate every moment while it’s here!
If you could go back in time and tell 12-year-old Tess one thing, what would it be?
The bullies don’t know what they are talking about, and that you really are beautiful. So what that you are a little bigger than most girls, you are healthy, and there is nothing wrong with the way you look. Being unique isn’t bad, it’s just different…and not everyone will understand that, but that’s OKAY! Just be yourself, and everything else will fall into place.
Now it’s your turn to practice some body positivity. Leave a comment on this post that finishes this sentence, “I love my _______.” Yep, tell me one thing you love about yourself – is it your luscious lips? Your goofy laugh? Your big feet?
Try to do this every day, even if it’s just a one-second practice as you give yourself a final glance in the mirror on your way out the door.