Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation

“My tattoos are like a living journal” plus-size model and feminist Tess Holliday on the story behind her inkings

tess holliday 2.jpg

In our regular column, stylist.co.uk looks at the layer of personal meanings that frame our beauty choices. This week, Mississippi-born plus size model and fierce feminist Tess Holliday, 30-years-old, who is behind the #effyourbeautystandards hashtag, shares the hidden stories behind her collection of tattoos.


A photo posted by Size Model | Mom | Feminist (@tessholliday) on

I got my first tattoo when I was 18. My mom took me on my 18th birthday but, looking back, I think 18 is too young when you had bad taste like me!

When I was that age I was really into fantasy, such as Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and even fairies. I’m still into it, although in a slightly different way, but I don’t really love fairies anymore. But back then I was obsessed – I think the idea of escaping somewhere other than the small town I lived in drew me to them.

For my first tattoo I got a fairy on my left shoulder blade and man, did I feel cool. I have no idea how many tattoos I have now since both of my arms are completely covered, but I’d say it’s around 30.

My tattoos are like a living journal for me as each one is indicative of where I was at on life. I was inspired by everything from other artists to nature and travelling when getting them.

For example, I've been a makeup artist for years, well before I started modelling. Ten years ago a makeup-themed sleeve tattoo seemed like a great idea and, although I wouldn't have really done it now, it doesn't mean I look down at my arm and hate it. I appreciate where I was at that time of my life.

Proving anyone can wear a crop in head to toe @additionelle pt.2 #tessholliday #IAMSIZESEXY #milkcurve (@nickhollidayco)

A photo posted by Size Model | Mom | Feminist (@tessholliday) on

Some of my other tattoos mean a great deal to me. On the back of each leg I have tattoos for my grandparents, one for my Grandpa (Paw) and for my Grandma (Maw). I also have a baby dressed in a teddy bear costume for my son.

My right arm is also decorated with all the women who I look up to and who have inspired me. It keeps me going.

Thanks @palehorsetattoo This is a reminder to keep pushing even when those around doubted me #iveburnedbridgesbiggerthanyou

A photo posted by Size Model | Mom | Feminist (@tessholliday) on

I see my tattoos as an extension of my style as they complement my outfits. I’m not sure if it’s something I do consciously, but I often pick out clothing to highlight my tattoos and work as an overall look.

My favourite pieces at the moment are crop tops and high-wasted trousers. They accentuate the curves and reveal just enough skin and tattoos. I usually opt for something vintage, often hitting up thrift shops when I travel or shop online when I can’t.

My personal favourite is an app called Depop, as it’s full of fabulous people, young designers and amazing one-of-a-kind vintage.

I don't need your approval Times are changin' & I'm not backin' down #EFFYOURBEAUTYSTANDARDS

A photo posted by Size Model | Mom | Feminist (@tessholliday) on



Science has good news for women with four or more tattoos

girl power.jpg

37 incredibly beautiful feminist tattoos


It's time to embrace hair tattoos


Exquisite tattoo designs inspired by the natural world

5. Lingerie & Other Stories_Kelsey.jpg

Is this the most brilliantly honest lingerie campaign yet?


See how this woman got 11 tattoos in one week


The story behind my tattoo: a symbol of someone I loved very much

jane austen pride and prejudice.jpg

Beautiful literary tattoos

peter pan.jpg

30 discreet and utterly magical Disney tattoos



These 6 beauty looks will be absolutely everywhere this Halloween

The most-shared spooky looks on Pinterest, from Harley Quinn to Maleficent.

by Moya Crockett
25 Oct 2016

31 killer beauty looks for Halloween

Scary good

by Anna Pollitt
24 Oct 2016

30 beautiful constellation and astronomy ear piercings

Get on board with the latest piercing trend

by Sarah Biddlecombe
21 Oct 2016

This is the one reason you need to wash your makeup brushes

Be right back, we've got some cleaning to do

by Sarah Biddlecombe
19 Oct 2016

YouTube star Tanya Burr defends the blogging industry

“Bloggers don't deserve to be vilified”

by Sarah Biddlecombe
14 Oct 2016

“I dream in perfume”: Jo Malone on her life in fragrance

The perfumier tells Stylist of how her remarkable sense of smell has shaped her entire life

by Harriet Hall
14 Oct 2016

Harry Potter make-up is here just in time for Halloween

You can now wear a love potion on your lips

by Sarah Biddlecombe
12 Oct 2016

MAC’s new Nutcracker-inspired make-up collection is truly magical

Totally dreamy.

by Moya Crockett
12 Oct 2016

Tiffany Blue nails are now achievable

"I believe in manicures"

by Anna Pollitt
10 Oct 2016

Read my lips: Stylist pays homage to the high-impact lip trend

Bold lips for autumn winter

by Joanna McGarry
10 Oct 2016