Beauty

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

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Sarah Biddlecombe
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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.

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.

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.

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.

Image: Getty