Two months ago on a whim, I got my first tattoo. After an hour and a half, I emerged with a tiny Egyptian cross etched between my least favorite parts of my body—my breasts. It was a daily reminder not to ignore them and to finally start to embrace them. It’s safe to say I felt like Rihanna standing in the bathroom mirror post-shower, angling my phone to take the ever popular “sexy bathroom-mirror” pic. That picture is also still in my phone.
The few times I attempted to post it on Instagram, or TwitPic it, I decided against it. Truthfully, I was afraid. I feared that after posting, I would certainly be called a thot or receive a few “R U OK?” text messages. I convinced myself that I didn’t have to be the needy millennial stereotype that uses social media to seek validation. I was convinced that my photo would be labeled just another thirst trap that served no other purpose than to call attention to myself.
But if we define body positivity as a movement dedicated to embracing all bodies, we aren’t always talking about the ones fully clothed. What you send to future bae or post online on a Thirst Trap Thursday is a form of activism. Yes, activism. This is also why we need thirst traps online; they help shape a more inclusive narrative about body positivity and can inspire other women of color to act in ways that are liberating on their terms.
Collectively, we’ve been trained to believe that openly sexual women pose a threat to social movements and, therefore, should be kept separate. This is why you are more likely to see people call Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” video a feminist battle cry and write off Nicki Minaj’s opinion on why “Anaconda” wasn’t nominated at the MTV Video Music Awards as divisive. Minaj critiqued how black women’s bodies are hypersexualized or shamed, but the focus was how she chose to address it. However, it is women like Minaj and Amber Rose who push the envelope enough to start the right conversations.
When a woman isn’t so famous, their nudes may not get the same level of admiration that fame grants. But with a simple search of body-positive hashtags like #CelebrateMySize, you can find solid examples of why activism can and should be provocative. Not only did this hashtag tackle body positivity in a very personal way, but many women posted photos of themselves that could easily be posted on a #WCW or be considered a thirst trap.
Consider sex coach and advocate Tyomi Morgan. By simply embracing her body, she’s empowering and teaching others how to do the same:
But according to Morgan, there is a clear difference between a thirst trap and body positivity. In a brief email, she defined thirst trap as “[a] photo or post that is placed on one’s social media page with the intention of eliciting a response from potential partners or paying patrons.” However, a thirst trap’s ability to pull people in is how Morgan creates dialogue about sensuality.
“I’m very aware of how people are drawn in by the naked body, and I use my posts as a way to grab attention, and once I have it, I follow up with a meaningful message with the intent of enlightening, inspiring and encouraging,” she said.
To Melanie Ennis, the term “thirst trap” is “dripping with misogyny” because it is usually used as a tool to shame women online. Ennis viewed the difference between a thirst trap and a body-positive post as being more about our inability to accept women’s liberation on their terms.
“While we’re taught that one is acceptable and one isn’t. I think the difference between the terms is if I love my body and share it (whether I note that in the caption or not) I can’t help what the viewer thirsts after,” she wrote in an email.
For marginalized women, Twitter and Instagram are spaces to discuss and dismantle layers of oppression, but those women need space and acceptance to do it on their terms. And users like Ennis and Morgan are using these spaces to embrace their bodies regardless of what others deem “appropriate.”
“It’s beautiful,” said Ennis. “I do believe we are existing in a special time, and social media has a lot to do with black women being able to share our beauty, on our own terms with each other and the world.”
Ultimately, what demotivates women trying to explore self-acceptance and liberation is slut-shaming and respectability politics. So any time a black woman has the confidence to post the most intimate parts of herself online, that is a public declaration of self-love and resistance. Instead of shaming that woman for her approach, be honest with yourself about why it annoys you or makes you uncomfortable.