She’s struggled with body issues for her entire life, and as a size 12 woman attending college in New York City, Stella Boonshoft is faced with images of skinny, half-naked women everywhere she goes.
To stand up to all of the people who have picked on her and to spread her message of body acceptance, the 18-year-old Boonshoft posted a photo of herself in her underwear, an image that has won her thousands of online supporters as it went viral in the last week.
With the photo now having been viewed more than 4 million times, Boonshoft explained her decision to show her stomach and her stretch marks, telling Savannah Guthrie on TODAY Tuesday that she finally realized it was wrong for people to harass her because of her size.
“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,” Boonshoft said.
“We don’t have the authority to judge other people’s beauty,” Boonshoft said. “We don’t have the authority to make 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 I wanted to give a message to the bullies who had tormented me that it didn’t work,” she said.
Boonshoft posted the picture of herself in a bra and undies on her Tumblr site, The Body Love Blog, with a 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 yours. MINE.”
It had already been shared some 80,000 times when Boonshoft met Brandon Stanton, who photographs people on the street for his blog, Humans of New York. He took her picture and she emailed him her underwear shot, which he shared on his site on Thursday.
“I said, ‘I think this is something that’s really going to resonate with my audience,’” Stanton said on TODAY alongside Boonshoft.
She was stunned to learn that he blogged that photo, rather than one he took of her clothed, even though, as she wrote on her blog, it was “getting thousands of likes every minute” on Stanton’s Facebook page.
“The reason I cried was because it was so amazing,” Boonshoft told Guthrie. “I got an outpouring of love pretty much instantly. It was extremely overwhelming because I made myself so vulnerable on the Internet.”
There were detractors as well, but she said she doesn’t let the cruelty get to her.
“I have to remind myself, I have a real life and I have real people who support me,” she told Guthrie. “I think people are cruel because they’re uncomfortable with seeing images of someone who is not thin, and they also don’t understand what the body acceptance movement is.
“It’s not to promote being unhealthy, it’s to take away the stigma of overweight people in America, because a lot of us are, and that’s all right. It doesn’t mean that you can look at someone and know what is wrong with their health.”
In a blog post a week ago titled “I love my doctor,” she wrote that her cholesterol is normal and that doctor told her that her blood pressure was “beautiful.”
While Boonshoft said she never expected that so many people would see her photo, she said she wanted to the show the world something different.
“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,” she said. “They all have the same kind of body type and somehow that’s OK, but God forbid we put someone like me, who’s a size 12, on the billboards.”
Lisa A. Flam is a news and lifestyles reporter in New York.
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