Tess Holliday Cosmopolitan cover will change nothing

PUBLISHED: 15:24 03 September 2018 | UPDATED: 15:24 03 September 2018

Tess Holliday's Cosmopolitan cover

Tess Holliday's Cosmopolitan cover


Liz Nice argues that unless Cosmo puts women of all shapes and sizes on their cover every month, their talk of promoting ‘body confidence’ is just fatuous

I was in the newsagent’s last week and I spotted it immediately.

It was hard to miss.

The cover of Cosmopolitan magazine features a plus-sized model called Tess Holliday wearing a green swimsuit, blowing a kiss and proudly displaying her extremely large thighs and stomach, as well as her tattoos, in all their glory.

The cover has garnered a lot of media attention – which the editor knew full well it would because still, in 2018, it is a major shock to see a woman on a magazine cover who has not based her entire look on her desire to look like a pencil.

Apparently, the fact that Cosmopolitan has deigned to show an overweight woman on its front cover has been hailed as a stride towards encouraging body


It’s nothing of the kind though, is it? If Cosmo really cared about its readers’ body image, they’d be putting women of all shapes and sizes and skin tones on their covers every month instead of doing it once every couple of years whenever they want to give their brand a bit of a boost.

Next month, I guarantee they’ll have a Miss Slimcea (as my mother calls them) on the front again and will do so for the rest of the year - each size six young woman Photoshopped down to a size four.

Tess Holliday might like to believe she has made a positive difference – she said, “If I saw a body like mine on this magazine when I was a young girl, it would have changed my life,” – but it wouldn’t have because she has to live in a world where every other magazine cover but hers is populated by stick insects.

Nor will her cover change anybody else’s life, apart from providing a passing frisson of, ‘well, at least I’m not as big as that’. (Any woman who didn’t look at that picture and think exactly that is lying to themselves).

And the magazine’s sales will prove me right on this, I’m sure, because if that cover sells a lot of copies, despite all the media interest, I’ll be amazed.

One thing I learned as a magazine editor is that women don’t buy magazines featuring what they consider to be imperfect women.

The magazine industry has tried this experiment many times.

Marie Claire once featured two covers in the same month – one of a slender Pamela Anderson, the other of a then size 16 Sophie Dahl – it was the Anderson cover that sold best and Dahl gave up on being the poster girl for bigger women and shrank to a size 8.

Harper’s Bazaar once featured Lady Gaga without make up too.

Again, it bombed.

Women may say that they want to see ‘real women’ on magazine covers but they don’t really.

We buy magazines (those who still do these days) because we identify with them, because we see ourselves in the people on the cover. If that person isn’t an ideal, some sort of fantasy that we carry within ourselves about how we want to be, then we don’t hand over our cash, even if we tell ourselves that we should.

Meanwhile, Holliday represents not an ‘average’ woman, but an extreme, because to put an average sized 14-16 model on the front of Cosmo would not have

created enough of an impact.

Holliday is very overweight, unhealthily so, but there is no sign here of a (boring but worthy) debate about healthy eating. That would be considered rude.

So what we are left with is yet more of the usual and pretty much only way a woman can ever get any attention – by inviting us to focus on what she looks like, rather than what she has to say.

If Cosmo had really wanted to do something interesting with Holliday, they should have taken a picture of her brain.


I had a nice note from one of my regular correspondents Roger Fleming after I wrote of our national obsession with breasts:

Dear Liz, I notice you often write about “boobs”, especially more than once about men looking at a shapely bosom when talking to a lady. Some of my female acquaintances wear low cut necklines and even without a bra which any red blooded male would not be able to avoid looking below their face! If they had just a pair of fried eggs then one would look straight at their face! I presume you belong to the aforementioned ladies or you wouldn’t write about

them more than once.

I can neither confirm nor deny.

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