Photo that cost sex influencer followers
Trigger warning: Discussion of self-harm
The floor is covered in broken glass.
My bed is strewn with motivational quotes scrawled on scraps of paper in Sharpie marker.
I'm in the corner, knees tucked into my chest, with the phone pressed tightly to my ear.
"I think I need to take myself to the hospital," I sob into the receiver.
"That's a good idea, darling. I'll stay on the phone with you till you get there," my mum responds from the other end.
I've just had what my therapist refers to as an episode.
These episodes have been my best-kept secret for the past two decades - since I started self-harming to cope with the intense emotions I'd later learn were part of my mental illness.
For an outsider, self-harming can make little sense. It's often labelled by those who don't understand it as an extreme form of attention-seeking.
However, for those of us who live with it, self-harm is about anything but getting noticed.
I've spent countless summers sweating through long-sleeved shirts to conceal my scars. Made dozens of excuses for the bandages on my arms. Even told my employers I was home with the flu when I was checking in to rehab.
The angry, purplish lines that appeared on my body every time my illness flared were my greatest source of shame.
Until this week.
After a year in recovery, thanks to an extended stint in a treatment program and a prescription for antidepressants, I relapsed.
Lying in a hospital bed, answering questions about the marks etched into my arm a few hours later, I felt the shame sink in again. Like a thick fog, it hung heavy in the air as a nurse bandaged over the evidence of my failure.
"What do you do for work?" she asked, fastening the bandage shut with a piece of medical tape.
"I'm a writer," I muttered back, avoiding eye contact.
"Oh wow! Where would I have seen your work?" she rejoined chirpily.
I mumbled off a list of titles, still eschewing her glance.
"Are you on social media, too?" she asked, seemingly unperturbed by my half-hearted responses.
"Yes, but you wouldn't recognise me there. I'm much happier and prettier than I look now," I joked grimly.
"You should share this," she urged back, reaching for the clipboard of notes at the end of the bed.
"You'd be surprised to learn how many people are dealing with this. People act like everything is perfect online."
Indeed, self-harm is far more common than our social media feeds would have us believe. It's estimated roughly one in five women, and one in seven men, self-harm every year.
Though its causes are still widely misunderstood, self-harm typically results from an inability to cope with intense emotions. And while the behaviour itself is linked to suicidality, for many who live with it, self-harm is rooted in emotional relief, rather than a desire to no longer be around.
Back at home from hospital the following morning, I curled up on the couch and scrolled through Instagram to reconnect with normality. Instead, I was struck with a reminder of my nurse's words in hospital.
My page was an emotionally uniform picture of a carefree existence spent laughing in front of pink statement walls and white-washed fences.
I flicked on my selfie camera and snapped a spontaneous shot of myself, collapsed in against the arm of the lounge. The resolution was grainy, my eyes were sunken and expressionless, and the bandage on my arm was clearly visible.
I took a deep breath, and hit "Share".
Within minutes, I'd lost a hundred followers. And by the time I checked my page later that day, I'd lost almost 400.
Not everyone in my following was ready for a radical dose of reality.
"I follow you for your positivity," one commenter wrote.
"I'm not happy … I think you need to live by your story, or not."
And yet, it seemed, for every lost or disgruntled follower, there were at least two messages of hope.
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This is my favourite picture of myself. There's no filters or careful positioning; it's just me, in my body, embracing who I am. You can see my tummy rolls, my scars, and the way my jawline disappears when I laugh, and it's beautiful. It's beautiful because it's so utterly imperfect. For years I wasted my energy trying to be 'sexy' and 'beautiful' only to find it in the place I least expected. It wasn't in a restrictive slimming diet, in achieving the abs I used to have when I worked out six days a week, or even in all the money I spent on injections and makeup and tanning. It had been there all along. I AM BEAUTIFUL AND SEXY because I love myself. That kind of beauty can't be bought or attained through calorie counting; it's inside you already, waiting to be discovered. So throw away the scales and the self-criticism and start embracing yourself RIGHT NOW. You will discover a kind of sexy, glorious energy in yourself you never knew existed. 💕#sundaymorningview ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ .⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ .⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ .⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ #bodypositivity #bodypositivebabe #bodypositivepower #selflovewarrior #selflovefirst #selfcarefirst #anxietywarrior #anxietygirl #sexpositive #sexpositivity #sexpositivefeminism #womenempowerwomen #instafemale #lovemyrolls #thickgirls #effyourbeautystandards #pussypower #feministasfuck #lovetheskinyouarein #thoughtleader #thoughtfortoday #thefutureisfemale #girlbossquotes #girlswhowrite #girlbossgang
"I have PTSD and depression … I held it in for many years till it consumed me. You need to talk and not be afraid of what people think," one wrote.
"I used to be a self-harmer … the beauty of this picture is your honesty and solidarity with all of us that suffer," followed another.
As more people joined the comments section to share their stories of mental health struggles, more were emboldened to follow suit. Before long, the post's comments had taken on a life of their own. People weren't just sharing their own experiences; they were rallying to support one another, too.
In researcher Brene Brown's now-viral Ted Talk, 'The Power Of Vulnerability', Brown postulates that, "Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection," going on to state that, "Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren't always comfortable, but they're never weakness."
I lost an unprecedented number of followers this week when I shared my truth, but I don't regret it.
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Come meet me at @sexpoaustralia this weekend in Brisbane! I’ll be giving live talks on how to empower yourself in your sexuality and sharing my controversial thoughts on porn addiction (spoiler alert: it’s not a real thing!). Can’t wait to share my passion for all things sex with you guys and meet you all! X
Because in doing so, I released my shame, and owned my story. I recognised that I am not my illness. That my ability to use what I once considered my greatest weakness to connect with others is ultimately my superpower. And no social media metric is worth that.
If you or someone you know needs help, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14
Nadia Bokody is a freelance writer and Instagram influencer. Continue the conversation on @nadiabokody