TODAY   |  October 23, 2012

Her body-baring photo goes viral, sparks debate

College student Stella Boonshoft, 18, posted an image of herself in her underwear online, hoping to spread a message of body acceptance and it has since earned over 4 million views. She and a photographer who helped make it viral talk about why the image has sparked such an outpouring of responses.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> back now at 8:12 with a young woman who sparked a new debate over body image . 18-year-old stella boonshoft posted this image on her tumbler site to send a message of body acceptance . picked up by other blogs, and it's now been viewed more than 4 million times. stella is with us along with brandon stanton the photographer who reposted this picture on his site. good morning to both of you.

>> good morning.

>> stella , you're 18 years old. you gave us permission to post the photo and your parents are cool with it, too.

>> yes.

>> let's talk about how it is that you decided, first of all, to pose in your underwear and take this picture and then to put it online.

>> well, i found that after years of struggling with my body image that really there was no way to justify the bullying and the torment i endured as a child and as a teen, and it took a lot of years of self-searching to understand that like this isn't right. we don't have the authority to go judge other people's beauty, and we don't have the authority to make, you know, assumptions about other people's health based on the way they look, and i finally came to a place where i was really happy with the way i looked, and, you know, hi found on tumbler there's a huge body positive, body acceptance movement, and i wanted to, you know, give a message to the bullies who had tormented me and show them that it didn't work.

>> part of your message on the blog that accompanied the posting was, warning, picture might be considered obscene because subject is not thin, and we all know that only skinny people can show their stomachs and celebrate themselves. well, i'm not going to stand for that. this is my body, not ours. mine. how did you get to that place of acceptance, and beyond acceptance, wanting to show the world?

>> well, i didn't expect the world to see it, so this has definitely been a whirlwind couple of days, but way i saw it was that, you know, every single day i'm bombarded, especially living in new york city , with images of naked women or half- naked women , and they all look the same. they all have the same kind of body type , and somehow that's okay, but, you know, god forbid we put someone like me, who is a size 12 on the billboards.

>> let me bring brandon into this. you didn't know so much people would see it and that's partly how all this happened. brandon , you have a website called humans of new york. you take pictures of people on the street. you ran into stella and then what happened?

>> well, i ran into her. she approached me while i was taking a photo of somebody else. i stop people in the streets all day and i take photos of them, and i took her photograph, and as i normally do with my blog, i'll take a photo of somebody and then i'll start asking questions, and so she started telling me about her blog and, you know, her interests, and she told me about this picture that she put up, and then when i got home she kind of e-mailed me, you know, a full bio along with a link to the picture and i looked at this, and i think that this is something that's going to resonate with my audience.

>> stella , you didn't know he would post the underwear pictures. you cried when you first saw that he had done that.

>> right. well, i don't want people to get the wrong idea that he somehow did this without my permission. i shared the information with him openly. it was on the internet.

>> it had been shared about 80,000 times on tumbler already.

>> shared 80,000 times on tumbler already, so i think the reason i cried was because it was so amazing, you know. i got an outpouring of love, like pretty much instantly, but it was also extremely overwhelming because i made myself so vulnerable on the internet. it's a one-way conversation with people.

>> people have been incredibly supportive, more supportive than not, but people can be cruel, and you know that very well. did you ever think, what, gosh, why did i do this and open myself up to it?

>> i did think that, but i think that, you know, people being cruel, it doesn't really get to me because i have to remind myself i have a real life and i have real people who support me. you know, i think people are cruel because they are uncomfortable with seeing images of someone who, you know, is not thin, and they also don't understand what the body acceptance movement is. it's not to promote being unhealthy. it's not to promote anything like that. it's to take await stigma of overweight people in america because, you know, a lot of us are, and -- and that's all right. it doesn't mean that you can look at someone and know what is wrong with their health.

>> well, you've go the a lot of people talking. brandon and stella , thanks for coming by and telling your story. appreciate it.