A college freshman posted a half-naked photo of herself to her blog's small group of readers, hoping to make a strong statement about body image, health and beauty.
Beneath the black-and-white dorm room shot, she typed several declarations including "This picture is for my horseback riding trainer telling me I was too fat when I was nine" and "This picture is for the girl from summer camp who told me I’d be really pretty if I just lost a few pounds."
Over 90,000 photo shares later, Stella Boonshoft seems to have been more successful (and her picture, much more public) than she could have ever imagined.
Boonshoft struggles with her weight and was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome, but recently began The Body Love Blog to celebrate acceptance and "just as a way to get out my thoughts and feelings."
Well, online worlds collided last week when she posed for a photo for Brandon Stanton, creator of the massively popular Humans of New York photo project (with its 363,000 Facebook fans), on a New York street. She told Stanton about her blog for the mini-bio he attaches to each photo and later sent him a link to her Tumblr.
But Stanton didn't post the clothed, NYC street photo of Stella to his hundreds of thousands of readers. Instead, he used that bra-and-underwear picture ( warning: link is NSFW ) Boonshoft had taken herself for her own blog.
From HLNtv: Meet the 'Humans of New York'
"Needless to say I was a little surprised when I saw my half-naked self on Facebook, getting thousands of likes every minute," Boonshoft wrote on her site. "My first instinct was to burst into tears. It’s what I do when I’m too overwhelmed and don’t know how to feel."
But that instinct eventually passed and she began to see this not as a humiliating debacle, but as an amazing opportunity instead.
"I know what I am trying to do, which is help young women struggling with their body image and expose the hypocrisy and cruelty that is sizeism, is SO MUCH MORE IMPORTANT whatever feelings I may have about myself," she posted.
The upshot? A tidal wave of positive comments and encouragement -- and also that particular kind of hurtful, nasty vile which only the Internet can rain down upon someone.
Humans of New York's Stanton says the photo has been viewed more than three million times and he has spoken with Boonshoft, advising her "to stop reading the comments."
More effective though is what the pair plan to do now: join forces to expand the scope of Stella's body acceptance mission.
"Over the course of the next few weeks, me and my friend Brandon (who you all know from Humans of New York) are reinventing this blog," the once-reluctant viral star wrote late Sunday night.
"I'm hoping it will turn the focus off of me, and onto a much larger issue. I want this blog to turn into something about YOU, not me."
"My dream is to go back to my middle school, where all my body image issues began, and work with young girls on the issues of self-esteem, body image, sizeism, and bullying," Boonshoft added in a Humans of New York follow-up. "I want to give these girls something I never knew, which was that your body does not define who you are as a person."
Follow Jonathan Anker on Twitter @JonFromHLN