It’s safe to say that we’re living in a Golden Age of Wokeness. While there are still miles and miles to go in terms of cultural parity, conversations surrounding homophobia, misogyny, racism, and trans rights have been thrust to the forefront. There’s been a lot of shouting, but also a fair bit of listening and learning. Bit by bit, we are chipping away at the status quo. It may be a slow and painful process, but the progress is real.
As with any cultural shift, people are eager to capitalize on this change — spouting messages of progress all for the sake of followers, notoriety, or even financial gain. The latest of these cases reared its head on Friday, when Buzzfeed published a glowing write up of an Instagram post from Robbie Tripp, a social media influencer, author, and giver of the TEDx talk, Why Millennial Narcissists Are Changing The World.
In the post, Tripp expressed his love for his wife, Sarah, a body positive blogger:
The post’s caption reads as follows:
I love this woman and her curvy body. As a teenager, I was often teased by my friends for my attraction to girls on the thicker side, ones who were shorter and curvier, girls that the average (basic) bro might refer to as “chubby” or even “fat.” Then, as I became a man and started to educate myself on issues such as feminism and how the media marginalizes women by portraying a very narrow and very specific standard of beauty (thin, tall, lean) I realized how many men have bought into that lie. For me, there is nothing sexier than this woman right here: thick thighs, big booty, cute little side roll, etc. Her shape and size won’t be the one featured on the cover of Cosmopolitan but it’s the one featured in my life and in my heart. There’s nothing sexier to me than a woman who is both curvy and confident; this gorgeous girl I married fills out every inch of her jeans and is still the most beautiful one in the room. Guys, rethink what society has told you that you should desire. A real woman is not a porn star or a bikini mannequin or a movie character. She’s real. She has beautiful stretch marks on her hips and cute little dimples on her booty. Girls, don’t ever fool yourself by thinking you have to fit a certain mold to be loved and appreciated. There is a guy out there who is going to celebrate you for exactly who you are, someone who will love you like I love my Sarah.
The internet memed the post into oblivion, but it’s safe to say that there’s still a lot to unpack here. While at first glance it seems like an ode from a man to his wife, deep down this is just an eloquent neg. By listing all of his wife’s perceived flaws, Tripp elevates himself: “Thank god I have the wisdom to to love this woman, because look at those side rolls.” And while’s he’s reducing his wife down to her individual “problem” parts, he also wants us to see him as some kind of folk hero for being attracted to her. (Perceiving Tripp’s message this way isn’t a stretch for anyone who has peeked in on Reddit’s Red Pill forum.)
The self-gratifying sword Tripp swings cuts two ways: It also perpetuates the damaging idea that women with curves are the only “real women.” Yes, heavier women may be more common than supermodel-sized waifs, but thin women are real women, too. Why does one group need to be broken down to lift up another? These qualifiers are one of many ways that our societal narrative continues to separate women; to remind them that they will never be quite enough.
Beyond that, the idea that a woman’s value is entirely dependent upon how a man perceives her beauty will always be harmful, no matter what faux progressive spin a TedX speaker puts on it. Just look up any woman who posts a selfie on a body positive Instagram account and you’ll see the comments inundated with accusations that she’s promoting obesity. It seems strange then that a man proclaims that his curvy wife is lovable gets thousands of likes and is #relationshipgoals.
The many cringe-y problems of Tripp’s post all lead to the same place: Narcissism. Couch it in some surface-level feminism all you’d like, but the man is clearly chasing internet points. In doing so, he’s perpetuating the idea that women’s perceived flaws are something to heroically overcome. And guess what? It worked. Good Morning America praised Tripp in a segment and the story made national news.
Part of what makes Tripp’s token feminism so performative is the fact that while he’s screaming about one societal barrier, he’s casually maintaining the ugly status quo for other oppressed groups. He may have gone on a tweet deleting spree following the media attention, but people have found some real gems in his history.
With these instances of racism and transphobia, one can’t help but think that Tripp is merely cashing in on society’s appreciation for wokeness for two reasons: to inoculate himself against the accusations of “just being another white bro,” and to use the progressive movement for personal gain. People who feel marginalized are so thirsty for allies that it’s easy to overlook some of the more problematic elements of the very people that we lionize, but is progress that excludes people of color, LGBTQIA people, and other marginalized groups really progress at all?
With this kind of self-lionizing post, Tripp and those singing his praises misunderstand the whole point of living a woke life. It’s not for credit or clicks. Real people are feeling alienated by societal standards, and being woke is an effort to break down systemic barriers in an effort to build a more inclusive society. The inherent nature of social media makes it difficult to avoid being performative, but ultimately the people you’re trying to highlight should be the focus.
To be fair, Tripp is a symptom, not the overarching issue. He’s a product of a system that rewards people from majority groups that pay lip service to inclusivity without looking at the problematic implications of their methods. To be in a privileged group means that you need to listen to the experiences of others and acknowledge that you are not the end-all arbiter of who has value and how. It is a far better thing to help those who are frequently denied their seat at the table than making the narrative all about your own goodness.