Model TESS HOL­L­I­DAY says the key to han­dling haters is to show her­self—and oth­ers—some love

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Af­ter years of deal­ing with neg­a­tiv­ity, model Tess Hol­l­i­day has learned how to rise above it all

The other day I woke up to the fol­low­ing mes­sage on In­sta­gram: “Your body im­age is un­healthy and dan­ger­ous. You’re a blimp try­ing to layer your­self in nice clothes and makeup. Can’t wait for you to drop dead of a heart at­tack.” It ended with a smi­ley-face emoji.

I re­ceive mes­sages like this ev­ery day—and have my en­tire life. I would be ly­ing if I said they didn’t af­fect me. I go to ther­apy to try to make sense of it all. I will tell some­one to fuck off if they de­serve it, but I’d rather come from a place of com­pas­sion.

Re­cently an­other girl mes­saged me say­ing how dis­gust­ing I was and how much she hated me. In­stead of fir­ing back I went to her pro­file and saw that she was re­cov­er­ing from anorexia. So I wrote to her: “I’m sad be­cause you must be feel­ing re­ally hor­ri­ble to say such nasty things to me. The diet cul­ture is fucked up and has ru­ined so many lives. Good luck with your re­cov­ery.” I put a heart af­ter my mes­sage, and she re­sponded with “Thank you” and a sad face, which I wasn’t ex­pect­ing. It’s nice when you’re able to get through to peo­ple.

When I’m in a bad headspace, I def­i­nitely mute peo­ple on so­cial me­dia who don’t make me feel great at the mo­ment. And that’s OK. Who you fol­low is who you’re let­ting into your in­ner circle. It’s in your sub­con­scious. It’s what you’re ab­sorb­ing. Some­times I delete so­cial me­dia from my phone al­to­gether. Then I fo­cus on my “self

care folder” that has games like Cat Cafe, where you feed and pet lit­tle vir­tual cats. It’s silly, but it takes me away from the neg­a­tiv­ity.

What makes me laugh the most? When peo­ple say I’m pro­mot­ing obe­sity or re­cruit­ing peo­ple to be fat. If I say, “I love my­self,” and they think I’m say­ing, “Hey, you need to be 300 pounds, then you too could en­joy life as much as me,” I have to smile. Peo­ple act as if I’m sell­ing Tup­per­ware or some­thing—that’s not how it works. I wish I would’ve loved my­self 100 pounds ago, but this is the body I’m in. I can’t live life be­ing mis­er­able, be­cause I could die to­mor­row. And then what—i was mis­er­able be­cause I was fat? What a waste.

I think it’s im­por­tant not to take life too se­ri­ously. Not ev­ery­thing is the end of the world. That’s some­thing I’ve been teach­ing my 13-year-old, Rylee, as well. He’s been get­ting bul­lied at school be­cause of his freck­les. I try to build up his con­fi­dence and tell him to ig­nore those kids. He’s sen­si­tive like me, and it’s tough. But he knows when it’s time to laugh some­thing off and when it’s im­por­tant to stick up for him­self. I re­cently got him a phone, though he isn’t al­lowed to have so­cial me­dia. Some­times he wants to go on my page, but I’ve told him, “Don’t look me up. Don’t read nasty stuff about me.” He’ll say, “Mom, that’s silly. Why would peo­ple say such hor­ri­ble things?” He’s a lit­tle an­gel. I wish ev­ery­one thought like that.

It’s hard with the po­lit­i­cal and so­cial cli­mate we’re in, but, man, what a time to be alive. Peo­ple are ac­tu­ally lis­ten­ing,

pho­tographed by AN­THONY MAULE styled by MEAGHAN O’CON­NOR I will tell some­one to f– off if they de­serve it, but I’d rather come from a place of com­pas­sion.”

and things are chang­ing. See­ing so many plus-size women like [ac­tress] Danielle Brooks and [singer] Lizzo killing it out there in the me­dia helps me too. For so long I was just pre­tend­ing. There was a dis­con­nect be­tween Ryann, my le­gal name, and Tess. I felt as if I were two sep­a­rate peo­ple and Ryann was con­stantly try­ing to be Tess. And then I started to re­al­ize I’m the same per­son.

Mod­el­ing also changed my life. That sounds re­ally cheesy, but it’s true. I never felt con­fi­dent be­fore I got on set; there was never any cloth­ing I felt good or sexy in. Now I feel the most on top of my game when I’m at a photo shoot. I thrive in that space be­cause I know I am the per­son I al­ways dreamed of be­ing. And I’m cre­at­ing some­thing that’s go­ing to be around much longer than me, some­thing that brings more vis­i­bil­ity to the world so lit­tle kids and women feel rep­re­sented.

When those neg­a­tive mes­sages pop into my head, I’ll also think about go­ing to New York, stay­ing at a fancy ho­tel, and wear­ing a cus­tom dress by Chris­tian Siri­ano. My life is only get­ting bet­ter. —AS TOLD TO SHALAYNE PULIA

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