I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with Instagram. I was late to the party, only setting up my account in 2015 – waaaaay after everyone else I knew, and despite the fact I had been writing my blog for a good while. Back then, it was unheard of not to have an Insta if you had a blog, but I’ve never been one to jump on a trend – I mean, I only just got around to watching Game of Thrones in lockdown, sooooo…. Eventually though I let the peer pressure get me and decided to see what it was all about. And do you know, I liked it. It felt like a nice change from Facebook, which just seemed to be filled with mean sentiment and advertising (EDIT: reading that back just made me chuckle given that Facebook is now quite literally the meanest place on the planet. 2015 was such an innocent time in Social Media!) But to be honest, it took me a while to really ‘get’ it. I didn’t understand hashtags. I didn’t have a beautifully curated, colour themed feed, and couldn’t make myself want one. And most importantly, I struggled to find content I resonated with. Sure, I saw thousands upon thousands of slick flatlays, gorgeous dresses on beautiful girls and meals that looked like they belonged in an art gallery rather than on a plate. But none of that was really, well, me. I am not, and have never been, a glossy, perfect image of a woman. I like nice things, but too much flashy excess makes me cringe a little. And while I crave validation as much as the next person, being the centre of attention makes me uncomfortable. So while I felt this was a platform that held some value for me, it took a while for me to work out what exactly that was. Finally, after a couple of years I managed to penetrate the intimidating wall of influencers and all the talk of algorithms and monetizing and found what I was looking for – my tribe. At first it was relatable fashion, worn by women in their 30’s who couldn’t afford new designer gear every other week and weren’t afraid to repeat their favourite outfits. Then I fell pregnant and found a wonderful, welcoming community of supportive, real parents who helped me through some of the hardest parts of becoming a new Mum. Then as Coronavirus hit and the world started changing what I got from being here deepened. I found the guidance and encouragement I needed to break up with fast fashion and start trying to live a more sustainable lifestyle. I gained the confidence to be more outspoken about social issues and found inspiring people to follow who I learn from every day. And when I found out I was expecting not only my second but also my third child, that community really opened it’s arms to me. Whether it was an ego boost on a hard day, a friendly ear and advice when I felt I had no idea what I was doing or gifts someone thought I’d like or find helpful, my Insta friends really rallied around me. It was then that I realised this was more than just a fun hobby for me. I have made genuine connections. There are still things that annoy me. I still don’t understand the algorithm. It frustrates me when no-one sees the content I’m really proud off but some hurried, blurry mirror shot becomes my most popular. And I’ve seen plenty of the poisonous, bitchy behaviour that turned me off Facebook. But ultimately, this little grid of mine has become something really important to me, and I love having it in my life.
Then you lot stepped in. I don’t know what it was specifically that drew your attention to me in the first place – it seems like a perfectly innocent outfit photo that triggered the events of the last couple of weeks. But somehow that seemingly ordinary photo of me outside work in a perfectly modest dress gained traction far faster than any others I’ve posted before. Within a day it wound up on the explore page, and the rest, as they say, is history. That is where you found me, it seems, and you’ve been harassing me ever since. It started with an unusual spike in new followers. Then my other posts started getting more likes than usual. Then the tell tale comments – seemingly innocuous at first until you notice the same account has posted heart eye emoji’s on the last two months worth of posts. At first I wrote it off as your garden variety creep – the men we’ve all put up with from time to time, who lurk behind anonymous accounts messaging thousands of women in the hopes that at least some of them might respond. But then it got more, shall we say, niche. I started getting direct messages and I quickly realised it wasn’t me you were interested in. It was my babies, or more specifically, the huge belly that was carrying them. Some of you were brazen in your approach, thinking nothing of telling me how aroused you were by my stretched out, broken body and what you’d like to do to it. Some of you were more subtle, pretending to ask innocent questions about my pregnancy. But your profiles gave you away, and it wasn’t long before I learned not to trust anyone, not even the ‘women’ who claimed to be sharing all those pictures of pregnant women to normalise ‘real’ bodies and celebrate them. Yes, some of you even pretended to be women to get what you wanted from me. And you are still doing it now. Some of you have even stolen my pictures and shared them on your bogus pages without my consent, all so you can lure yet more unsuspecting pregnant women into engaging with you. The comments, the messages, the emails still come in in their droves and now most of my time on Instagram is spent monitoring my notifications so I can block you before you have access to too much of my content. Frankly, you’ve made the last few weeks pretty hellish, and I can’t describe how angry I am at you for hijacking a place I thought of as home.
I’m not naive. Like most women I’m used to being objectified, harassed, receiving unwanted advances sometimes. I’m not special – some of you just think you’re entitled to treat all women that way. And I try to be a tolerant person, believing that what two consenting adults get up to in the privacy of their own bedrooms is entirely up to them, no matter how difficult I find it to understand. But this is not consensual. What I post on my page is not in any way sexual. My profile and my posts clearly indicate I am in a happily monogamous relationship and I have given absolutely no indication that I am open to hooking up with anyone, certainly not in the ways that are being suggested. And yet you feel you have the right to approach me anyway. To ask me to engage in sexual acts with you. To ask me to send you more photos to use for your sexual gratification. Maybe if it was once or twice it would be something I brush off, and you probably assume you’re the only one doing this to me. But you’re not. You are one of hundreds, and between you you’ve taken over my life. I don’t know what you imagine I’m doing when you rattle off those barely thought out words, probably for the hundredth time today to many, many different women. Do you imagine I’m lying suggestively in fancy underwear on satin sheets? Or soaking in a bubble bath surrounded by candles in anticipation of hearing from someone just like you? If so, I hate to shatter the illusion, but when that notification comes through I’m normally in a hospital waiting room, full of nerves about an impending scan or appointment. Or scrubbing the bathroom. Or hurriedly trying to wash and put away all the tiny clothes that these little ones will wear while my partner prepares our dinner. When you send me graphic pictures in the middle of the night I’m only awake because my toddler had a bad dream and needed consoling, or because the sheer weight and size of these twins is making me so uncomfortable that sleep is near on impossible. Or because my fears and anxiety about my sweet babies arriving safely and soundly regularly keeps me from dropping off. These days my lack of sleep is due in part to worrying about just what vile things you’ll have dreamt up while I was incapacitated and unable to block you. Maybe that’s it though? Maybe you’re under no illusion that I want or invite this kind of attention. Maybe you know full well that your uninvited intrusion to my day rattles me and that’s actually what gets you off – knowing that you repulsed and degraded me without warning. Perhaps you are simply the tech generation’s version of a flasher in a dirty mac?
Who knows what your true motivations are, because I just don’t have the time, energy, or desire to enter into any kind of dialogue with you, especially since on the few occasions I’ve challenged the behaviour I’ve been told I should just accept it and be flattered. I will continue to waste my time reporting, blocking and deleting your pathetic attempts at engagement, because I refuse to let you win and take something that I love away from me. But I thought you should know this. It might only take you a few seconds to write those lewd words, and I’m certain you don’t give it a second thought after I block you – you just move on to the next unwitting victim. But your words – as much as I hate to admit it, because it gives you far more power over me than I’d like – stay with me. I can’t unsee those pictures or unhear what you said. When I’m showering my aching, bruised body I remember the things you said you wanted to do it and shudder. When I catch sight of my angry, purple stretchmarks in the mirror I remember how you said they turned you on and asked me to describe how much they hurt, knowing that me being in pain is all the more exciting to you. When I feel and see my tiny babies moving and kicking in my belly, I remember the vivid fantasy you described of me swallowing you whole like a snake and feel physically ill. When I’m trying to hand express colostrum in case my babies are poorly when they’re born, I remember the adult breastfeeding depictions you posted and realise you’d love it if you could see me now. When my partner reaches for me with his loving, caring touch, i have to force myself not to flinch, because of how violated you’ve made me feel. You may find it perfectly easy to dehumanise me and forget that there are human beings growing in that tummy that turns you on so much, but I can’t. I am a real person, and these are my precious children, and you have tried to boil us all down to be nothing more than objects to satisfy your urges. This is most likely the last chance I get to experience carrying babies. It’s been hard and stressful, painful and exhausting, but also very, very special to me, and you have managed to taint it without even giving a second thought to how it makes me feel. For that, I will never forgive you.
I know writing all of this is a huge waste of time, because you don’t care. You know how to cleverly circumnavigate the community guidelines. You know full well that your excessive likes aren’t classed as inappropriate behaviour, even though your profile clearly states that you are here for no reason other than to pleasure yourself over unconsenting women. I am one of literally millions of women out there for you to abuse, and I doubt any of you will ever even read these words (heck, you can’t even read a short caption on one of my posts, that much is clear, or I wouldn’t need to be writing this in the first place!) But I didn’t feel like I could let it pass without having my say, without taking back a tiny bit of my control and my dignity. And maybe if just one of you does happen to read this you may think a little more deeply about the way you treat women and the impact it has. Maybe you might imagine how you would feel if it were your wife or daughter feeling this way (and oh so many of you have your wives and daughters in your photos, which frankly sickens me!) I doubt it, but it at least makes me feel a tiny bit better to know I tried. I won’t make my profile private and risk missing out on making more of the genuine connections I’ve found so far. I won’t hide myself away or censor my content so you can’t twist it for your own sick purposes. I will somehow learn to block out the fact that my images have been saved thousands of times and that I have no knowledge or control over what they are being used for. I won’t let you win, of that I am determined.