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Dublin: 9 °C Monday 25 March, 2019

Here's why Sarah Hyland's body-negativity is celebrated over Tess Holliday's body-positivity

The rule is to take up as little space as possible.

IF PIERS MORGAN is to be believed, Tess Holliday will have a detrimental effect on society’s young women -  far greater than any of us could ever anticipate.

Take even a cursory glance along the shelf of glossy covers playing host to Tess’s image, and you’re dancing with the devil. 

Risk lingering on Tess’s photoshoot and you may as well cancel your gym membership and let out the waistband of your favorite jeans.

Oh, and dare actually admire it? Well, you’re on a slippery slope, and it won’t be long before you too weigh 300lbs and wear a size 26.

One woman plus one larger than average body equals one mortifying media storm.

The international scrutiny given to a single Cosmopolitan cover over the course of the last week was unsettling in and of itself, but when compared to the coverage given to Sarah Hyland’s recent remarks on her exercise regime, you really have to wonder if progress will ever truly be made in society’s perception of the female body. 

Speaking to her 5.8 million Instagram followers this week, 27-year-old Sarah said:

So, I have a break from filming right now before some other things, and does anybody else like working out naked in front of mirrors so you hate yourself and work harder?

On one hand, you have a 300lb woman celebrating her appearance, and by proxy, giving women who fall both inside and outside the ‘body ideal’ permission to celebrate theirs.

And on the other hand you have a woman of diminutive frame announcing that she exercises naked in front of the mirror in order to “hate herself”. 

And who of the two is pilloried in the media? Tess.

Tess’s body positivity was met with cynicism at best and utter outrage at worst while coverage of Sarah’s self-negativity focused on the vaguely titillating aspect of her remarks, and not the fact that she’s sending a message to millions of young women that to “hate themselves” is an acceptable form of motivation. 

Why? Because Sarah is smaller, and so what if she hates herself? She fits couture, doesn’t she?

We have one woman celebrating her body, and being criticised for it.

And another shaming her’s, and being used as a lazy form of lurid clickbait.

In order to sidestep accusations of superficial body-shaming, Tess’s critics used her as a vehicle to highlight the issue of poor physical health and obesity; a potential scapegoat if experts were to see a significant spike in that regard following the publication of her cover.

But in actual fact, it’s Sarah who suffers from ill health – having endured a lifelong battle with kidney dysplasia for which she received a kidney transplant six years ago.

And instead of lamenting the fact that a woman, who has bravely battled illness and endured multiple surgeries, speaks so casually about self-hatred, it’s dressed up as a form of mild titillation.

Why? Because her dress size does not exceed single digits which means the media whitewashes the self-hatred, and turns a worrying self-assessment into vaguely suggestive headlines.

And if Tess, who is ostensibly in good health and regularly documents her exercise sessions on social media, was to have said something similar about hating herself? Well, you can be sure there would be less whitewashing, and much more gleeful hand-rubbing from the Piers Morgans of this world.

Tess’s critics may suggest that her health is their concern, but you need look no further than the treatment of Sarah’s remarks to know that health is only wheeled out in certain instances.

She’s fat; let’s play the ‘health’ card. She has poor health and talks about hating herself; let’s play the ‘sex’ card.

The glaring disparity between the treatment of Tess’s approach to her body and the treatment of Sarah’s approach to hers is indicative of a larger problem; you can be as healthy or as unhealthy – physically, mentally and emotionally as circumstance dictates – just as long as you take up as little space as possible in the process.

Tess may goodnaturedly indulge critics who cruelly dub her the cautionary whale, but it’s Sarah’s wail we should really be listening to.

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About the author:

Niamh McClelland

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