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Model Tess Holliday reignites the debate over healthy at any size

Lisa Fogarty

by

Lisa Fogarty

Lisa Fogarty has written numerous articles for USA Today, The Stir, Opposing Views and other publications. She has covered everything from red carpet events to the discovery of toxic PCBs on school windows. She lives on Long Island, N.Y....

The blurred line between plus-size and unhealthy keeps getting fuzzier

Plus-size model Tess Holliday wants to change our perception of beauty. But are the 29-year-old's images depicting an unhealthy body ideal?

Let's just get this out of the way: Tess Holliday is so stunning she inspires clichés. Your jaw may drop right to the ground when you see her — she has thick, glossy hair, her cheekbones can cut glass, and her features are fine and delicate. Her beauty isn't up for debate. Whether her image is a healthy one, well, that's another story.

Tess wears a size 22 and has curves — breasts, hips, the whole nine yards. When she poses as a pinup, her face is serene, and she exudes sexy confidence. Hands on hips. Defiant glance. Lacy lingerie. She doesn't give a flip who thinks she's hot, because she knows she's hot.

Tess says she wants to serve as a role model for women who have been told there is only one way to be beautiful. A breath of fresh air doesn't even begin to cover what she offers. But while I feel her attitude is inspirational and healthy, I wonder if the body captured in her photos is as equally healthy.

More: Tess Holliday performs her version of Beyoncé's 'Flawless' (VIDEO)

I have no way of knowing how healthy Tess is but at 5 feet 4 inches tall and 250 pounds, her BMI is 42.9, which means she is obese. The health risks of being overweight or obese include high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, liver problems and a slew of other disorders and diseases.

More: France rejects ban on super-skinny models but started an important conversation

On the flip side, if Tess had a BMI below 18 percent, she wouldn't receive praise for her self-confidence. Even if she were a perfectly healthy woman with a naturally fast metabolism, a "too-skinny" model infuriates and worries us because she serves as a poster girl for eating disorders. We automatically assume a thin woman is unhealthy, both physically and emotionally, and if someone has the nerve to also be self-possessed and confident on top of it all, she is labeled as "vain."

If our ultimate goal is to find beauty role models who are confident and healthy, then perhaps the answer is to look in the middle and at extreme examples. There are many women who value fitness and healthy eating, and there is enough praise and attention to go around without singling out the opposite body type.

Tell us: What do you think?

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