Like many college professors, Nerissa Reaves likes to dress comfortably at work. Jeans, a nice blouse and heels make her feel polished, so the teacher has turned the look into one of her go-to ensembles.
These seemingly harmless wardrobe staples unexpectedly landed Reaves a wave of criticism on social media after she recently posted a video of herself teaching on Instagram Live.
The reason? Reaves, who also models part-time, has a naturally curvy physique and critics are claiming her form-fitting attire isn't appropriate for the classroom.
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As a model, Reaves is used to comments about her body, but she certainly wasn't expecting to get body-shamed for a post that focuses on her role as an educator.
"I’ve been modeling on Instagram for the last two years and most of those pictures/videos were very sexy. I was tired of the world only seeing me in that light so I wanted to share other aspects of myself. Of course I love sharing my sensuality but there is so much more to me. In addition to modeling, I have experience as a restaurant owner, Japanese linguist, bed-and-breakfast owner and a teacher," she told TODAY Style.
After several days of fielding comments criticizing her choice of attire, Reaves decided to speak out in an Instagram post that's since gone viral, writing: "I understand that my shape causes a lot of attention on social media but in real life it’s a bit different. My students focus on the lectures and lessons and they all work hard to achieve results."
Although critics called out her clothing, Reaves told TODAY Style the issue runs much deeper than that.
"The ironic part is it’s not truly my clothing which is being called in to question. Tons of teachers and college professors wear jeans, blazers and heels. The real issue is about my anatomy," she said. "I understand that many people see teachers from a very traditional lens but we live in a very nontraditional society — especially in 2018. Humanity is evolving and as we evolve, we must broaden our understanding of how we view ourselves and others."
Since posting her reply on Instagram, Reaves, who teaches English, English as a second language and writing, said she's experienced an outpouring of love and support from many other social media users.
"I have women reaching out to me from all over the country who are faced with this same issue in their workplaces and they applaud me for standing my ground," she said.
It would be easy to get mad or feel hurt at the cruel words online trolls have written about her, but Reaves prefers to view the whole situation as a teaching moment.
"I look at this as an area of growth for humanity to learn how to support others who are different. We will get there together. I’m confident of this," she said.
In the meantime, Reaves has some advice for women who are also experiencing body backlash from online haters: "Stand your ground and do not allow others to define you. Be the goddesses that you are."