There’s no denying that model Tess Holliday has inspired many. Between shutting down haters and trolls, pioneering the #effyourbeautystandards campaign, and posing confidently on the covers of magazines like Self and Cosmopolitan U.K., Holliday is a master class in loving yourself on your own terms, society be damned. And now, she can add “reality-TV star” to her long list of achievements.
The model and her family star in a new series on People TV, Tess Holliday: Making it Big, which premiered online last week. It follows Holliday as she preps for photo shoots, engages with her fans, and confronts her own insecurities. To mark the launch, Holliday chatted with HelloGiggles about how she picks herself up when she’s feeling down, overcoming co-dependence, and her favorite tattoo that makes her feel confident.
HelloGiggles: You mention on the show that some of your friends and family didn’t support your decision to become a model. How did you cope with that kind of negativity, and how did you persevere towards your goal?
Tess Holliday: My mom was always incredibly supportive of me. My mom always told me, ‘If you want to be a model, then you can do it.’ If it wasn’t for her then I definitely wouldn’t have made it through. Everyone else was telling me that it wasn’t possible and that I wouldn’t be able to do it. So I think, just because I’d gone through so much at such a young age, and I had so much trauma and so many things that could have kept me down, I think that I always had the example of my mom, who persevered through everything. I realized that if I wanted to be a model, it wasn’t the most ridiculous thing in the world.
HG: You also mention at one point on the show that you weren’t confident enough to get up and dance with your husband, and we see him take you to dance lessons and help you grow in that way. But you’re a person who seems to radiate confidence, so it was moving to hear you talk about that fear. Are there other situations where you struggle with confidence?
TH: In every situation that most normal people would struggle with confidence, I do deal with it. It could be television appearances…I’m worried about how I’ll look on camera because I’m tired and my skin’s not cooperating. There’s a ton of stuff—it’s an everyday thing that I deal with. I think the difference between me and other people that are dealing with confidence issues is that I’m able to know that the feelings I’m having are temporary, and that at the end of the day I do love myself. I might have a bad moment, but that doesn’t mean that it’s bad overall. I remind myself that this is just how I’m feeling right now, and that tomorrow is a new day, and to not let the feelings take over. I can’t allow them to. I have too much at stake. I have to work and support my family, and I believe in what I’m doing outside of the monetary gain. I’m actually trying to push things forward. So I can’t allow myself to get completely down because I’m sad about how I’m looking at that moment.
HG: You’re a prominent person, but of course that doesn’t exempt you from experiencing discrimination and judgment—we saw that recently with Piers Morgan’s gross comments about your Cosmo cover. Are there any specific techniques you use or things you do to deal with that kind of prejudice?
TH: In this particular instance, I didn’t pay attention to what he was saying because it doesn’t really matter and, in general, when people make comments like that, I’m fully aware and removed enough to understand that that’s their own issues and their own insecurities. I just keep it moving. At the end of the day, the response to the cover and to most things I do is overwhelmingly positive, and that’s what means something to me. I’m not doing what I’m doing to prove people like Piers wrong. I’m doing it to show anybody who’s never felt like they fit in and feels badly about themselves because of society’s ridiculous standards of beauty that this is possible. Yeah, I’m fat, but I’m a lot of other things. I’m successful because I didn’t let the jerks get me down.
HG: Switching gears a little bit, I wanted to ask about your husband. It seems from the show that you two spend a lot of time together, working together and just being together. Is that true to real life?
TH: Yes, it is. We do too much together; I would say we do 99% of things together. He’s always happy to chill by himself; it’s me who’s like, “Come to this nail salon for three hours while I get my nails done,” and then I realize maybe I should just let him do other stuff instead. But we do have a lot of fun together and he’s really supportive of me and what I’m doing, and it’s nice to have someone like that on my side, especially when it happens to be my partner.
HG: How do you think that togetherness affects your relationship?
TH: We have worked together all over the world and it’s nice, but anyone who works with their significant other can tell you that it’s challenging. It doesn’t matter how much you love each other and how much you believe in what you’re doing, it’s tough. Also he’s always helped me do all of my stuff, and he’s been focusing more on his career and his stuff lately, so I’ve been giving him more space to do stuff on his own. That’s also because I’m co-dependent, and that’s something that I’m working on as well and I’m not ashamed to admit, because it’s only something that I just realized.
HG: I’d love to know if you have a particular outfit that always makes you feel confident.
TH: I guess it depends on my mood, but I have a vintage, ’70s caftan—it’s literally a mushroom acid print—and it always makes me feel beautiful because it’s so effortless. I can just put it on, it has side slits and you can definitely see the sides of my underwear and my legs, but I don’t care. It makes me feel good and it makes me feel effortless.
HG: We see on the show that you recently started working out with a trainer, Massy. Is there a part of her workout that you really look forward to?
TH: The end! I love Massy, I love working out, but to be honest, I am for the first time experiencing what the actual “workout high,” is and I’ve never had that before. She makes working out so much fun, and I genuinely enjoy it. So the end part, I’m always really excited and kind of stoked to do more and work out more, and I never thought that I would be that person. It’s nice to see what my body is capable of, and that I’m stronger than I thought I was.
HG: My last question: Do you have a favorite tattoo?
TH: I would say it’s probably Miss Piggy. She’s fun to look at and she gives me confidence, and I hope I get to meet her one day. It always makes me smile when I look down at my arm.
This interview has been edited and condensed.