Last week Uzbekistan-born American actress Milana Vayntrub went on Instagram Live to address hypersexualized comments about her appearance as Lily Adams in a series of AT&T commercials.
During Vayntrub’s livestream she admitted to thousands that she felt uncomfortable with the way people on the internet sexualized her and that it hurt her feelings. Yet, throughout the duration of her speech hundreds of comments poured in with different variations of crude milk jokes and other references to her breasts.
Internet users sexualizing Vayntrub, known more commonly on social media platforms as “AT&T girl,” tells us a variety of things about sexism in the digital era.
First and foremost, sexism is as real as we have been telling you it is. The blatant disregard for Vayntrub’s feelings in the midst of her outpour on the internet reiterates the archaic idea that women are sub-human. When internet users view Vayntrub as merely an object for pleasurable consumption, rather than a person trying to accomplish a task, they are guiltlessly denying her basic human respect and dignity.
Second, no amount of clothing or professionalism will prevent someone from sexualizing you. The old-fashioned argument used as exculpatory evidence in rape cases, still used today to victim-blame in some corners of the internet, was that if you dressed scantily or acted a certain way then you were inviting harassment. Vayntrub’s character, Lily Adams, appears in commercials neither scantily clad or sexual in her way of speaking.
All the areas of skin that high school administrators mandate be covered to prevent distractions, e.g. shoulders, knees, ankles, midriff and cleavage, are covered when Vayntrub wears Lily Adams’ costume.
In her commercials, Vayntrub wears a modest blue button down and black pants. She has minimal makeup on her face and her only enthusiasm is directed towards peddling phone plans.
Yet, internet users still gawk at her; so much so that AT&T began turning off the comment section on their Instagram ads. Vayntrub has limited comments on her personal Instagram as well.
The internet’s hypersexualization of Vayntrub is frightening. It is frightening because Vayntrub is simply a woman existing and as a result she is being bombarded with harassment. If it could happen to her it could happen to anyone. It could happen to someone you know. It could happen to you.