If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I recently spent a week at the beach, and wore a different Swimsuits for All suit each day — and all of them except one were bikinis. It was a big step in taking on my fear of wearing a two-piece in public, since it was a family vacation — my in-laws were going to see me in all my bikini-clad glory. I figured they’d have Thoughts about my body-loving practices — they’ve been known to gripe about their less-than-perfect bodies — but in the end, I didn’t have to employ any of these tactics. I was greeted with support, encouragement, and compliments on my beautiful swimsuits.
I took to Instagram all week to chronicle my Bikini of the Day photos. I tagged @swimsuitsforall, @healthyatanysize (a body-positive IG account run by plus model Melinda Parrish), and on the one day that I wore a suit designed by Ashley Graham, the curvaceously venerable Ms. @theashleygraham herself. And yesterday, Ashley Graham reposted it as part of a slideshow of 10 women wearing the swimsuits she designed. (I made it into a collage for this post.)
Since that post hit, it’s been an interesting exercise in observing the power of social media. I’ve been keeping tabs on the 73,980 likes and 990 comments (and counting) that are pouring in.
I’m happy to report that the vast majority of the comments have been supportive:
However, there are definitely some trolls lurking in these parts. Comments like “MAN THE HARPOONS!” followed by a couple of whale emojis, or simply “Ewwww” (so eloquent, I know) have me wondering if some of these people realize that they’re commenting on a plus model’s Instagram account — which also means they likely follow her. I guess this means that Ashley Graham has passed whatever their attractiveness-meter says is an acceptable level of hotness, but apparently no one else has.
Some of the commenters are apparently esteemed doctors secretly posing as Instagram users in an effort to save everyone’s lives. They insist that I and the other nine ladies featured in the post are going to get diabetes or asthma or both, and die by the time we’re 50. Ironically, one commenter, who said she was intentionally not “liking” the post because “I don’t support people being overweight cause I don’t want people to get heart disease,” has this quote in her IG profile:
“Be kind, always.”
Ashley Graham was quick to respond to the backlash. She posted several slides to her Instagram story, asking followers not to comment on anyone’s health — that health is each person’s prerogative. She reiterated that beauty comes in all sizes, a mantra that she’s been preaching for years. Yet one more reason I love her so.
Now let’s talk about the creepers.
I’ve had no less than a dozen message requests from complete strangers, all of them men. Most of their accounts are private. The messages are simple enough, yet cryptic: “Hello” or “Hi there gorgeous” or a heart or rose emoji. But the subtext is what freaks me out: “I saw one picture of you in a sexy swimsuit and now I’m sending you private messages.” Why? Because you’re genuinely interested in getting to know me?
One of these private messages asked if I wanted to participate in a “purely academic” project about body image — a project that included posing nude. One of them sent a photo. I declined all of the message requests, so I’ll never know what that man tried to show me.
I’ve gained more followers, too. All but a handful of them are men — complete strangers. The only word that encompasses how that makes me feel is … exposed. Which makes no sense, because I’m the one who posted that photo in the first place, right? Sure, Ashley Graham saw it and passed it along. But I posted it first. I wanted the exposure, didn’t I? Wasn’t I asking for this attention?
Well, sort of. Except that the attention I was hoping for was to encourage others to love their bodies because it feels so good when you love yourself. I was embracing my curves and celebrating my body. But now the post has become something different — its original intent has been warped and manipulated by unwelcome observers.
These men are raping my Instagram post. And I feel like it’s my fault. Like I asked for it by daring to be sexy.
I’m trying to keep things in perspective; to hope that as soon as I start posting about food and cats again, the creepers will drop off. And I’m trying to remember all of the positive feedback and the comments from women about how inspiring it is to see other women — confident women — with cellulite and lumps and bumps and bellies.
If I help even one woman to feel more comfortable in her own skin, to feel like she can put on a bikini and feel the warm breeze on her bare belly and have a great day because of it, is it worth the violation I feel now?
Maybe. Or maybe I shouldn’t have to feel violated in the first place.
Maybe I should be free to wear what I want to wear — on the beach, to a bar, at a concert — without being catcalled, leered at, or made to feel like an object.
Maybe that man should know better than to ask a total stranger to get naked for him.
Maybe these men should know that it’s not always about pleasing them.