2015 Voices

Tess Holliday opens up about body positivity and her breakthrough year in modeling

It’s been a watershed year for model Tess Holliday. Not only has the 30-year-old continued to promote body positivity and self-confidence through #effyourbeautystandards, a campaign she launched in 2013, she also made history as the largest plus-size model to sign a major contract — with MILK Model Management.

In May, People magazine featured her on the cover of its 2015 Body Issue, declaring Holliday “the world’s first size 22 supermodel.” She looks back at her year as a part of “2015 Voices,” a special series of essays and interviews with newsmakers behind some of TODAY's biggest moments of the year.

Courtesy of Tess Holliday

This year has been really crazy for me and has flown by! I’ve had some incredible highlights — the first of which was definitely signing to the MiLK Model Agency. I’ve been lucky to do lots of TV appearances all over the world — Russian TV, German TV, and I did the TODAY show, which was amazing!

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Size 22 supermodel shares message of body confidence

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I’ve always had a global audience, but it really transcended this year. My fiancé Nick commented, "Grandparents know who you are now." There was an older man at the TSA in New York (I practically live in airports), who came up to me and said, "I love what you're doing; you're so inspiring." And I thought, "How does he know who I am?" I was in California just the other day and these two women, who were my grandmother's age, came up to me and said they love what I'm doing.

I could usually pick out people in my fan base — but now they seem much more diverse.

Now that I'm at the agency, I've been shooting for stores such as H&M and Torrid, and I’ve shot the Simply Be bikini campaign. The H&M campaign featured people from around the world and different walks of life, but all being themselves through fashion. It was cool to be a part of that! I grew up wearing Torrid's clothes, so it was awesome to work with them.

However, the biggest highlight was probably being on the cover of People magazine! People gave me copies of the magazine to sign at events. I was at an event two weeks ago; they'd blown up the cover to put on the stand behind me and some people who didn't know me walked by and thought it was a joke — they assumed I'd photoshopped myself on the cover! That’s fine though, I don't need to be Beyoncé.

Personally speaking, in April of this year my fiance moved from Australia to Los Angeles. We’d been long-distance dating for three years, so it was amazing to finally have him here. We were supposed to get married earlier this year, but my mom, who is disabled, got a divorce and she moved in with us from Mississippi, so we decided to cancel at the last minute.

Courtesy of Tess Holliday
Tess Holliday with her fiance, Nick

He currently can’t leave the country as we are doing the green card thing, but I've been able to do a fair amount of traveling — I'm in the middle of designing a clothing collection, so I have to fly back and forth with the client. (I'll announce who it's with soon, so watch this space!)

If I hadn't had these amazing opportunities, I wouldn't be able to care for my mom and family. This year has been a whole new ballgame. I realize I don’t have as much personal time and space as I used to, so I had to adjust to that. I have a 9-year-old son, and being away for long stretches was hard.

Next year, Nick and I are going to get married. Originally it was going to be in March, but in true fashion for us it'll probably be pushed to fall. It's definitely going to happen though!

The way I look at it, we're putting in the groundwork now. Next year is going to be a million times better!

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