Anna O'Brien, founder of curvy fashion blog Glitter and Lazers, wasn't prepared for the comments she received during a public photo shoot.
Standing in the middle of Times Square, it wasn't super hot, but the pressure of what I was about to do was making me sweat. My fingers slipped against the fabric of my maxi skirt as I fumbled with the tightly-knotted bow. My outfit fell away, revealing my pink bikini beneath it. I heard hollers from strangers, but their words blurred into an indecipherable mess as I tried, unsuccessfully, to remain calm. A sliver of sun peeked out from behind the skyscrapers, reminding me we were about to lose the light. No more time for nerves — it was now or never.
"Let's do this," I said out loud. My clothes dropped all the way to the ground, and the voices around me became clear.
“I want to suck on them tasty toes.”
“Hey baby, let me butter them biscuits for you.”
I looked up to see three men with camera phones filming me. Our eyes met, and one uttered, “Twerk for the camera baby, show them how that ass clap.”
Tears began to well up. I was prepared to be pointed at, shamed, and called fat. I didn't expect to be fetishized.
When RTL, a German news channel, reached out to me to film a documentary-style shoot about life after a Las Vegas photo shoot that went viral, I was the one who suggested Times Square. I could have picked a park, a hotel, a pool — literally anywhere else in the city. I chose this. Before, I'd shot in hotels or on beach boardwalks, but I'd never snapped photos with so much attention on me.
The world only really sees plus imagery that is perfected and somewhat vanilla — usually that of smaller, perfectly proportioned curvy women. It didn’t need another stock image of an hourglass figure, in an indiscernible space, wearing a one-piece. I wanted to make a statement and I wanted to be seen — I'm more than my body and I deserve respect and human decency.
Fifty feet to my right in the busy, tourist-filled space were two thin, large-busted women, wearing only g-strings and some body paint. I watched them with envy. Nobody yelled at them as they worked to hustle up a few dollars selling photos with eager tourists. They were just another part of New York.
My mind jolted back to my reality as a man reached forward to hand me his mixed CD. As I pushed it away, he tried to grab hold of my wrist to talk to me. I yanked my hand back. “Hard pass,” I screamed with the toughest face I could muster. “No thank you. Please leave me alone.”
He stepped back into the crowd that was slowly forming, and his friend then began to call out to me. “I’m just showing love for a BBW, baby. I want you to know that men want you. We love them big booty queens like you. Show off for your fans, baby.”
My tears turned to anger, and the words began to fly out of my mouth: “It doesn’t make it OK. You’re disgusting. Please stop. Please just stop…” The man justified his response by saying that plus women "don't know they're f*ckable." Let me be very clear here, as I stated in the caption for the photo I later posted to Instagram: A plus-size woman's worth, or any one woman's worth for that matter, is not contingent on someone wanting to have sex with them. You don't exist to pleasure someone else ... you exist to change the world.
My rant was interrupted as another man carrying a "Give me cash for weed" sign passed between us. He looked at me, grimaced, and shouted out an uninspired fat joke, grinning proudly. Little did he know he'd just done me a favor by silencing the other men and causing a distraction.
A crowd fully formed after that, and the men who had made the lewd comments remained relatively silent. The film crew told me I should only do what I felt comfortable doing, and that we could stop if I wanted to. A few minutes passed, and I was able to reset myself and push away my experience with the lewd commenters. Now I was safely in model mode. Pose. Click. Pose. Click. Magic.
Still, as I turned around for some side-angle shots, I noticed one of the men had continued to film me from behind. In nearly every image I have, you can see him standing there, holding his camera-phone up at the perfect height to capture my backside. I was faceless to him. I was just a body he wanted to exploit and use. My feelings didn’t matter.
I felt humiliated and questioned why I was even enduring all of this. I considered stepping down and ending the shoot early — it only had been about 15 minutes — but just when I was about to give up, my eye caught sight of a little girl in a red tank top and denim overalls watching me.
I waved at her, and she returned my gesture with the biggest grin.
“You’re pretty,” she whispered.
I realized in that moment, it had all been worth it. I had been seen.
Anna O'Brien is the founder of fashion blog Glitter and Lazers. Follow her on Instagram.