How I accidentally ended up as a (temporary) face of the body-positive movement
By: Kelsey Fox
Summer is right around the corner. As the solstice looms (June 21st this year, FYI), we tend to start making plans for sandy, sunny days by the shore. Around this time of year, I am just as excited as anyone for warmer days and outdoor activities, but I'm also always reminded about a simple decision I made a few summers ago that ended up having unexpected and far-reaching consequences: I put on a bikini.
It wasn't just that I put on a bikini, of course, but also that I took a picture of it. That morning, I grabbed a top and mismatched bottoms (they were all I had) and a brimmed hat to try and keep the sun off my pale face a bit. I put on a cover-up and tried to act like I didn't have any trepidation taking it off on the sand later.
Once my boyfriend and I got to the beach, I reminded myself over and over again that everyone else there were complete strangers to me, I'd never see them again, and they weren't worried about what I looked like.
So I stripped down to my bathing suit and ran into the water and guess what? I was right! No one gave me the side-eye. No one acted like I was anyone out of the ordinary, and it was in that moment that I realized that I wasn't.
You see, the reason I was so worried about baring so much skin is because I have two 9" scars, one down my chest, the other wrapping around my side and back, and a collection of smaller but deep scars scattered about my torso. They're a result of four open-heart surgeries, as I was born with a condition called tetralogy of fallot with pulmonary atresia. You may recognize this as the same condition Jimmy Kimmel's son was born with.
Anyway, scars and all, I was having a great time. I felt good, happy, and confident, and I asked my boyfriend to snap a picture. It came out cute and I was pleased. So pleased, in fact, that I shared it when I got home, both on my private Facebook and on Imgur. I'd seen body-positive posts on the site before, and I wanted to share this positivity with the folks in User Sub. I went to bed that night expecting to wake up to a couple upvotes and a few kinds words, but instead, I woke up to my post on the front page, meaning thousands of upvotes, thousands of comments, and scores of messages in my inbox. It was a little embarrassing (what was I thinking sharing a picture of myself in a bikini where so many people could see it) but also exciting. And after a day or so, the hubbub died down.
Until about two years later.
I was on Facebook and suddenly, a friend shared an article with me. It was from a site called Hello Giggles, and Zooey Dechanel had shared it first. And the picture that showed with the article was … me. In my bikini. From two years before.
This opened up a wormhole and I found that my picture had been used on an Irish feminist blog, Her.ie, it'd been shared online on Seventeen.com, and various other sites. I did a reverse image search of the picture and also found myself plastered across Hot or Not sites and private blogs with people pretending to be me. The Daily Mail even contacted me for an interview, and, since they were the first publication to actually talk to me, I acquiesced.
Years later, the picture is still going around. You might see me pop up once in a while next to women who are owning their body regardless of size, people who have survived burns or have big scars of their own, and lots of other strong, brave folks. I feel a bit like an impostor, like I am getting attention I don't deserve, and it's a hard feeling to deal with. I want to tell people I don't deserve it, that I didn't ask for it, and I'm not really so great at all. But immediately after the picture really started going around, I began to receive message after message on my social media accounts from people saying how much it meant to them to see me out there, smiling. How they worry for their infant daughter or son who has just had surgery, but I gave them hope their kid doesn't have to grow up without confidence. Parents told me they had saved my picture to show their scarred child when they grow up. Others have just wanted advice on how to make their kids more comfortable and accepting of their own bodies, scars and all. Teenagers and adults wrote to me about how I gave them courage to finally go shirtless at the pool or to wear a two-piece to the beach themselves. I don't deserve any of the accolades these message writers so kindly offered, but even if I am a little embarrassed about my bikini picture being spread all over, I now believe that that minor discomfort is worth it if it helps someone somewhere, even a little bit.
In fact, I've tried to embrace the photo and the positive message it sends, and after Jimmy Kimmel talked about his son's condition and the importance of healthcare, the Philadelphia Metro got in touch with me for an interview, and I had the honor of sharing the front page of the paper with Kimmel and share some more positivity and well wishes to anyone dealing with surgeries, scars or waning self confidence. I even wrote my own article about my experiences with my condition and multiple heart surgeries as well.
So, aside from learning that you should really be careful what you post on the internet, this experience taught me a lot about the importance of the face that you choose to show the world. It became clear to me that with the right confidence and a positive attitude, anyone can be an inspiration. You don't have to be a millionaire or a super model or a genius, you just have to be you.
You are enough.
Go out, do what you do, and do it well. Do it proudly. Even if you don't end up all over the internet, someone will see you, and your confidence and positivity will mean everything to them, even if you don't know it. It never occurred to me that being a pasty girl in a bikini on a New York City beach could be meaningful to anyone but myself, and here we are, so don't ever sell yourself short; own what you've got and be an example. Maybe you don't have physical scars or obvious hindrances to overcome, but we're all fighting something at some point, whether external or otherwise. We all have our weaknesses and our triumphs. You never know how much your fight, your brave face, your perseverance, or your triumph might mean to someone else. Go be someone's inspiration. You might be just exactly what they need.