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Paris Harvey, a 13-year-old girl from Gillingham, Kent, stood up to her bullies and faced her fears when she showed some skin at the beach last weekend. The photos she shared of herself in a swimsuit on Twitter attracted both haters and supporters—including Fifth Harmony’s Ally Brooke Hernandez—launching her into internet virality.
As an overweight teen, going to the beach became a source of anxiety for Harvey, according to KentOnline. She loves to swim, however, so she decided to make a trip to the beach for the first time in three years.
“I was worried someone would come up to me and stop me or stare at me but there was no response, people were just acting as they did before,” Harvey said. “I stayed like it for a few hours and I started to feel comfortable in my own skin. I was proud afterwards. It was quite an achievement.”
To celebrate her triumph, Harvey shared photos of herself at the beach. Since posting, Harvey’s tweet has been retweeted over 46,000 times and liked by over 336,000 users.
The young teen suffers from a metabolic condition, so she gains weight quickly and struggles to lose it. On top of that, she was born with hip dysplasia so her left leg is 1.5cm shorter than her right, and she has pins in the joint, which causes her to walk with a limp.
Despite her medical issues being conditions she can’t control, Harvey grew up bullied by her peers. She told KentOnline her classmates have called her fat and told her she walks like a penguin. When haters began to troll her body-positivity post, Harvey already knew how to ignore them and focus on positive tweets sent her way.
“There were some bad comments and I read them at first, but then I thought, ‘Why am I wasting my time on those?’” Harvey said. “I chose to focus on the support because hate is nothing compared to love.”
The highlight of the Twitter responses to her post was when Fifth Harmony’s Ally Brooke Hernandez—who is in Harvey’s profile picture—sent her a tweet.
“I’m so proud of you my baby,” Hernandez wrote. “And you look so beautiful!”
IM SO PROUD OF YOU MY BABY 😭AND YOU LOOK SO BEAUTIFUL!!!!! YES QUEEN 👑👏🏽— Ally Brooke (@AllyBrooke) May 28, 2017
LOVE THIS!! you look great have fun & don't get burned <3<3— Tyler #ChosenFamily (@tyleroakley) May 29, 2017
Aside from Hernandez and Oakley, many users responded to Harvey and said she inspired them to also go to the beach and wear what they felt like.
“You’re beautiful,” one user wrote. “You’ve inspired me so much that I’m going to start going out in my shorts, which I’ve never done before.”
You're beautiful!! You've inspired me so much that I'm going to start going out in my shorts which I've never done before 💕💕— austin 🖤 (@AustinWM97) May 27, 2017
Heck yeah you do it! I bought my first pair of shorts in years and trust me when I say you won't care because it means you ain't roasting !— Hayley [PB] (@5SOSFalcon) May 28, 2017
hi i just wanted to let you know that you've inspired me to buy a swimsuit for summer thank u for being so confident and beautiful https://t.co/jCq9hGFZIe— bianca (@tiddiepower) May 31, 2017
Friends and strangers alike also responded to critics who called her fat or said she promoted obesity.
“Who’s supporting obesity?” one user wrote. “We’re all happy to see a beautiful girl enjoying herself at the beach, especially when she was afraid to.”
Who's supporting obesity? We're all happy to see a beautiful girl enjoying herself at the beach, especially when she was afraid to.— Castrate All Rapists (@ineedhelplovem) May 28, 2017
I don't think you understand my point. Health (or lack thereof) ≠ beauty. It's fine if you don't find her pretty, many other people do.— almost human (@CerebroDeQueso_) May 29, 2017
Y'all only like big women when they are overly sexualized and curvy, otherwise they get body shamed.. pic.twitter.com/le3AC6LFFd— الأزرق ضبابي (@TreN0Songz) May 29, 2017
Harvey said all the positive responses way than more make up for all the negative ones. “Facing online backlash and humiliation to me is worth it if it means people will start to feel a lil more accepted and less alienated,” she said.
Facing online backlash and humiliation to me is worth it if it means people will start to feel a lil more accepted and less alienated— Paris⇩ (@ArtHopeAlly) May 29, 2017
Harvey shared advice for others struggling to feel comfortable in their own skin with Yahoo Style.
“It’s important to embrace who you are and be free to love yourself,” Harvey said. “People growing up latch onto certain superficial things but you should look within yourself and let that define you.”
Tess Cagle is a reporter who focuses on politics, lifestyle, and streaming entertainment. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Texas Monthly, the Austin American-Statesman, Damn Joan, and Community Impact Newspaper. She’s also a portrait, events, and live music photographer in Central Texas.