Facebook was right to remove an advert featuring plus-sized model Tess Holliday

Images of significantly overweight women are as damaging as size zero women


In April, a Gucci campaign was banned in the UK because the advert featured ‘unhealthily thin’ models.  We are used to the headlines lampooning leading fashion houses for using females who look malnourished and ghostly.

However, this week, Facebook was slammed for banning an advertisement using plus-sized model, Tess Holliday. Feminist group Cherchez la Femme wanted to promote a post for its upcoming panel discussion,‘Feminism and Fat’. The post featured a picture of the size 26 Australian model in a bikini .

Facebook says that it removed the post because the advert didn’t comply with its Health and Fitness Policy, which states: “Ads may not depict a state of health or body weight as being perfect or extremely undesirable (ex: you cannot use an image showing a person measuring his/her waist or an image focused solely on a person’s abs).”

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However, Cherchez la Femme appealed the ban on ‘body shaming’ grounds, leading Facebook ultimately to permit the advert and claim that the post had been mistakenly censored.

Facebook was right to remove the advert. Body positivity is one thing, but promoting an unhealthy body size as healthy is different.

Holliday appeared on ITV’s This Morning on Friday, where she discussed body image with presenters Ruth Langsford and Eamonn Holmes. She remarked, “I do believe health is not an indicator of size.” Her ambition is to normalise big and beautiful women, but her interview had an underlying message that it is okay to be overweight, that being overweight is ‘healthy’. The comment has caused a storm on social media.

There would be an uproar if a size zero model went live on air to saying that being underweight was okay. We cannot keep using the term ‘body shaming’ to excuse unhealthy bodies. It is irresponsible and devalues the real sense of the phrase. It is especially irresponsible at a time when child obesity is one of the biggest health problems facing the NHS.  Public Health England’s latest results show that a third of 10-11 year olds and over a fifth of 4-5 year olds are overweight or obese.

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Holliday also said that, “a lot of people who are overweight live healthy and normal lives. I do believe our bodies are our business. If I’m unhealthy in 20 years that is my business. I am happy and that’s all that matters.”

This is fine, but it is irresponsible to make it everyone else’s business – like through a Facebook ad. Seeing this is as damaging as a girl seeing a size zero model. It suggests both body sizes are ‘healthy bodies’, when really, neither are. Every body size is beautiful, but that doesn’t mean they’re all ‘healthy’. There is a huge difference between beautiful and healthy. They are emphatically not the same thing.

Facebook should have maintained the ban. It doesn’t promote a desirable body weight – just as a size zero model doesn’t either. We’ve had the size zero argument emphasised to us since primary school. It’s probably time we had the size 20+ argument emphasised too.