By Tess Holliday, as told to Chrissy Mahlmeister and Gaby Wilson
Tess Holliday is continuing to make history whether you like it or not. Not only is she the “largest” model to land a major modeling contract at a size 22, but she snatched the cover of People magazine's body issue earlier this summer and landed a spread in Vanity Fair Italy. Lately, there's been discussion of a possible plus size addition to the Victoria's Secret roster, and since Tess (amazingly) took to Instagram to share her thoughts on the subject, we thought we'd ask her to comment first-hand on all-things VS. Below, she sounds off on the plus size industry, her dream Angel lineup, and starting her own lingerie line in a total Tess tell-all.
Growing up in Mississippi, I definitely remember Victoria's Secret being a huge part of my teenage mall experience, but I couldn't really fit into any of the underwear. I was always pretty busty, and they didn't have a band size big enough for me to wear their bras. To be honest, every time I walk into a Victoria's Secret, they look at me like, "You are clearly in the wrong store." I've been to Victoria's Secret stores all across the country—and even one internationally—but they've never offered to help me. Ever. Not even at one. Whenever I do stop in, it's mostly with my friends—not all of my friends are plus size—but I've never actually worn anything from there. I've never been able to.
Victoria's Secret loses $9 billion each year by not carrying plus size, so it's not a stretch to think that's just not a market they're interested in. There's a certain image that Victoria's Secret upholds for this "perfect body," and if they were to branch out and have plus size women, it might—in their eyes—ruin that business and branding goal. But I think to have the biggest lingerie retailer in the world carry plus size lingerie would be a huge step in the right direction and an accomplishment, not just for the industry, but for women in general.
When I heard about Victoria's Secret possibly adding a plus size Angel, I posted a picture in my underwear on Instagram calling them out just to be snarky. To be honest, I post underwear shots on Instagram a lot, partly because I know it will piss people off. I like to get people talking. We definitely live in a world where people hate seeing fat girls in their underwear, and they don't stop themselves from saying so.
I don't know if I was necessarily being serious about telling VS to call me, but if they ever did add a plus size model—me or someone else—to their roster, I'm sure the same thing would happen to them that did to me. Some people would think it's great, some people would say it's changing the industry, and then, you would have people who think it's gross and think that we should be covered up. It's always going to be divided until we shed our mentality as a society. We need more people and big companies saying it's OK to have a different body type than what we're used to seeing.
To do that, we need to get more widespread support for the plus size community with people speaking out and saying, "Look, not everybody is born with this body type. Some people were born this way and that way, and that's OK," and to celebrate diversity in not just genders and races but also body types.
If they ever really asked me to be an Angel, of course I'd do it—as long as it wasn't a publicity stunt. I'd want to make sure that they were offering the opportunity to a bunch of different plus size models and not just me to get attention, that they were making the move to broaden their customer base and celebrate different body types.
In terms of my perfect roster, I'd love for Victoria's Secret to also choose someone like Denise Bidot because she's an amazing model. I also love Chastity Garner of GarnerStyle because there are a lot of women who look like her. I have the biggest arms of anyone modeling—I know I do. My arms are the size of some people's thighs, practically. There are a lot of people that identify with that. I can hold it down for the big-armed girls. We'd also definitely need a lot of women of color—there are virtually no plus size Asian models and not a lot of plus size black models either.
The other problem, though, is that major companies don't think there's a demand for sexy plus size underwear. It's the same reason it's impossible to find good plus size activewear. The assumption is that we don't work out or that we don't want to look good. A more established brand won't take the risk—even though, in my opinion, it wouldn't be a risk—to do something slightly risqué for plus size women. Even for swimwear, there aren't many sexy plus size swimsuits. Before Gabi Gregg did her collection for Swimsuitsforall, that brand didn't offer a lot of sexy options. Once she did her collection, the company itself started to make more sexy swimwear outside of her collaboration because they saw how successful it was.
I was in talks to do my own lingerie collection. It didn't pan out at this time, but it's something I've always really wanted to do. I will 100% put out a lingerie collection one day. Before I found plus size retailer Hips and Curves, all my underwear was high-waisted briefs or something with a fun print, but I didn't have anything strappy. When these new styles came along, I was able to decide if those were even things that I liked or wanted, and it made me realize how limited my options were before. It's like how you don't know you like a certain ice cream flavor until you try it, and then it's all you think about. Right now, I only buy lingerie from Hips and Curves because, well, who else has it? It's really frustrating, but a lot of people don't really think about that—it's already few and far between that designers and retailers make the effort to give us better clothing, let alone what's underneath.
I know Lane Bryant tried to address the lack of plus size lingerie models with their #ImNoAngel campaign. They got a lot of criticism for it, but I'm glad they even tried. Personally, I would have liked to have seen bigger plus size models for it—models that had a bigger belly or arms or things like that. All of the girls they chose for the campaign are pretty slim in the grand scheme of the plus size industry, but for a big company to do something like that, it's definitely a step in the right direction. It could've been executed better, but maybe it was as much as they felt comfortable doing at the moment, and I get that.
The bottom line is that there's this pervasive feeling that fat girls aren't supposed to feel sexy, and that needs to change. It's something plus size women are constantly messaged—either overtly or subconsciously—and that shows in a lack of options for lingerie. It all ladders back up to giving women a choice of doing what we want with our bodies, regardless of our size, and making it normal to see plus size women in lingerie on TV, on billboards, and on Instagram is a great place to start.