Obese modelling encourages unhealthy lifestyles

Illustration by Saida Saetgareeva
Illustration by Saida Saetgareeva
Illustration by Saida Saetgareeva

I’ve never been able to watch shows like America’s Next Top Model because I cringe at how unnaturally thin most of these models are. I simply can’t celebrate the accomplishments of these women; many of them live, and promote, unhealthy lifestyles to achieve the figure that they want.

Recently, I’ve considered the opposite side of the modelling spectrum, and I’ve found that the situation in this case isn’t any different. Models who are grossly overweight, like those who are dangerously underweight, shouldn’t be encouraged, as both promote unhealthy lifestyles.

Tess Munster, also know as Tess Holliday, is the first model of her size to sign a contract with MiLK, a major modeling agency. Tess is 5’5”, weighs approximately 260 pounds, and gained popularity through social media as a makeup artist and model. Tess is also behind an online movement entitled #EffYourBeautyStandards, which encourages body positivity and diversity. 

Now, let me be clear: I believe that shaming people who are overweight is wrong. However, there is a problem with praising Tess’s figure as a model; someone who is at a weight considered by medical professionals to be associated with a variety of diseases. Her recent ascent to fame now makes her a role model for millions, and sends the message that having a weight labelled as obese is okay, or even cool.

Is there no healthy way to model one’s body? I’ll make it clear that, in a world dominated by models who display bodies that are realistically too thin, I understand that many models deemed “plus-sized” actually show off realistic portrayals of what a healthy body should be. Many of these models aren’t overweight in the slightest, and I praise them for stepping out and providing the world with a sense of realism. This is the way modelling should be.

However, very overweight models fall into line with the underweight ones. Their bodies are related to serious risks such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, infertility, stroke, dementia, inflammatory arthritis, depression — the list is extensive. In North America, these health issues are already a devastating problem, and one that the media should encourage us to avoid.

A study conducted in 2013 by Roland Sturm and Aiko Hattori indicates that morbid obesity is still on the rise in the US. In Canada, we’re not much better. Obesity rates have nearly doubled in males and females of all age groups between 1981–2009. With this fact in mind, why are we adding gasoline to the fire?

It’s further disappointing that a company such as MiLK now exerts its ideological influence by glorifying someone for their unhealthy lifestyle, and successfully disperses a message to others that they should encourage this as well.

I agree that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but when you glorify obesity and promote serious health issues, it becomes a problem. Whether you think fat is beautiful or ugly is irrelevant, the fact is that that being extremely overweight is correlated with  a shortened life — one that we should strive to lengthen as much as possible.