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YouTube’s Meghan Tonjes is saving the world, one butt selfie at a time
Hers was the butt selfie heard round the world.
For Tonjes, this act wasn’t any different than the hundreds of other butt photos she’d uploaded along her body transformation on Instagram. Except this time, Instagram flagged the photo as pornographic. Taking to her YouTube channel, Tonjes challenged the claim, claiming the site had only targeted her photo because she was a curvy, plus-sized lady.
To those of us already in love with Tonjes, it seemed only fitting that she would use this experience to continue her campaign of promoting positive body image: Enter the Booty Revolution. The campaign exists on both Tumblr and Instagram, and in the short time it’s been active, hundreds of people of all shapes, genders, and sexes have shared their own photos celebrating their bodies. The revolution’s conversation gained national news coverage, and eventually, Instagram reinstated the photo and apologized to Tonjes for the mistake.
“My life was seeing other women who looked like me, and I kind of want other people to be like, ‘OK, just because I’m being inundated by images of incredibly beautiful, incredibly Photoshopped, incredibly oversaturated images of what we should be; if we see realistic images and other women that [are] happy, it makes us feel a little less alone with where we are,’” Tonjes said of her campaign. “We need to educate ourselves on other bodies, and we need to be kind because usually when someone attacks your body and says, ‘This isn’t worthy, this is disgusting,’ [it] doesn’t say anything about me, that says something about them.”
Long before she was the mother of the Booty Revolution, Tonjes was a girl from Michigan with a love of music and a lot to say about, well, everything. In 2006, Tonjes started her main YouTube channel as a place to simply store her music. Looking back, she laughs at her first 10 videos, in which she didn’t even talk—she just turned on the camera, played her song, and signed off. Her big break came after her appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, where she recounted for a national audience her journey of overcoming bullying she endured because of her weight. Over the years, she has made her channel a home to her original songs, covers, vlogs, and commentary on social issues such as body image, and most recently, the Sam Pepper sexual harassment allegations.
She produces two videos a week, answering questions and taking requests directly from her audience every Tuesday during the segment Frequently Asked Tonjes (F.A.T.). It’s this kind of direct interaction that has fostered a strong and tight-knit community around Tonjes not only among her fans but fellow YouTubers as well. She also regularly posts on her secondary channels LifesizeBeauty and meghantonjes, a gaming and lifestyle channel.
Shortly after joining YouTube, Tonjes founded her own project, Project Lifesize, with the hope of starting conversations with plus-sized women and their need for greater representation in the media. “I started that because I was getting so many comments from girls saying, ‘I look like you, but I read your comments and I couldn’t do music; I couldn’t do anything like that,’” Tonjes said. “I thought that was so sad that people are stopping themselves from doing something they would have a lot of fun doing because they see a comment.”
Tonjes is arguably one of the greatest pioneers on the YouTube platform when it comes to combating society’s rigid notions about body image and beauty. Her bravery in the face of hateful comments has inspired younger girls, who make up a huge portion of her audience, to stop shaming themselves about their weight. “I had never heard, growing up, about feeling good in your body and not feeling like when you hit a certain weight or a certain size then all of a sudden you’re perfect,” Tonjes recalled. “I don’t subscribe to that idea; I never have. I might not fit into a certain mold, but I’m worth things. I’m still worth respect and love, and I can be funny and I can be sexy and I wanted this world that I see to come to reality.”
Her inspiring attitude and refreshing viewpoints have crowned her one of the most well-known body activists on YouTube. Despite her packed résumé of internationally touring musician—”Canada counts,” she laughs—and constant invitations to body positivity conferences, Tonjes expresses a level of comfort in our interview that makes her words of advice feel as if they are just meant for me. Curled up between her adorable pup Margo and her roommate Keith, one of her favorite people in the entire world, Tonjes seems just as at home here as on the YouTube stage. But it’s the off-camera moments that she relishes: the daily trips to Santa Monica for the Godmother sandwich she’s obsessed with, gaming nights with her roommate and the weekly podcast they produce together at their kitchen table, laughing at her dating misfortunes, her theories on the internal rotting of Los Angeles men, and her past profession as a 15-year-old fanfiction writer.
“Being a bigger girl, you’re taught to feel that you just deserved whatever you get because you’re lucky to get that,” Tonjes candidly said as we discussed the L.A. dating lifestyle. “I think getting older, I started to realize no, you can get a lot of things that you didn’t think you could get and dudes that might not necessarily just be into big girls. It’s kind of more than your body and kind of how you carry yourself. If you feel good in your body, other people are going to want to be around you, and dudes are going to be attracted to that.”
Listening to Tonjes, it’s hard not to be inspired to go accomplish your wildest dreams and let her level of frankness bleed into your own vernacular. And there’s more where that comes from: For the rest of the year, Tonjes is working toward producing an EP of original songs, going back on tour with Mike Falzone, and what the heck, maybe even writing a book. But one thing is for certain, we can definitely count on the booty pictures to keep on coming and for Tonjes to continue serving social justice on a weekly basis.
“Being fat is the best thing that ever happened to me,” Tonjes laughed. “People are like, it’s the worst thing, but kind of the best thing that’s happened to me because I think it’s made me have to work incredibly hard and be incredibly passionate and deal with people that underestimate me a lot. It’s worked in my favor, so I’m lucky for that.”
Screengrab via Meghan Tonjes/YouTube
Carly Lanning is a journalist who covers social media. Her work has been published by Psychology Today, NBC, Thrillist, and Ms. Magazine.