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PRUDE sits down with TikTok influencer Florence (Flo) Simpson, as she chats all things changing narratives on body positivity, transparency and self-love.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without my jeans,” declares Flo Simpson, with absolutely zero remorse. And if you opened TikTok at any point during the first lockdown in 2020, you’ll know exactly the jeans she’s referring to. Light-wash blue with a classic silver button-up waist, and creased slightly in the way that all jeans do after they’ve sat in a drawer all summer. These jeans made their claim to fame after Flo’s first weight-loss diary TikTok went instantly viral, with now over 1.7 million views.
Flo joined the platform because she wanted to fit back into her jeans, using the expectation of posting every day to hold herself accountable and keep track of her progress. Documenting what she ate daily to try and lose weight, each TikTok would compile snippets of anything and everything she ate that day, all squished into a 60-second day-in-the-life style vlog. Flo charmed the TikTok algorithm to the top of millions of For You Pages (FYP) as thousands followed her journey to feel happier in her clothes.
At the time of her first post, Flo was a 20-year-old law student living in Portsmouth, and came across as instantly relatable. As another student dealing with the frustrations of online learning, while also struggling with body insecurities at a time when slim fashion and beauty influencers dominated social media, Flo’s videos served a refreshing dose of sincerity and authenticity that many craved.
“I was writing my dissertation, we were midway through a pandemic, and I was going through a breakup. I just needed an escape. I’m so fortunate that it fell in my lap during lockdown, because it’s something that I really needed,” she recalls.
With no prior social media presence, Flo never expected her first TikTok to gain such immediate traction. She recalls having almost 40,000 views within the first two hours of her app debut, and amassing a whopping 20,000 followers just four days after.
So what started out as an unassuming personal project, transformed overnight into an instantly recognisable series. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who checked my FYP daily in the hopes of hearing the familiar introduction: “Hi, my name’s Flo, and I’m trying to fit back into my jeans,” accompanied by a charming wave and infectious smile.
Two years on, Flo has ditched the jeans. She sat down with PRUDE to reflect on a journey not to a slimmer waist, but to self-acceptance, body positivity and embracing herself the way she is.
Like many of us, Flo turned to TikTok in lockdown as an outlet to help deal with her mental health. But as her weight started to drop and the jeans got looser and looser, Flo realised that her original goal wasn’t helping her at all.
While her videos were loved and replicated widely, she admits that it started to distort her own self-perception. “I lost all the weight, and I was like, ‘oh great, I’ll be really happy now.’ But then I realised that I wasn’t happy. I didn’t care that I’d lost weight.
“Trying to lose the weight and proving to myself I could, then not being any happier in myself after I lost it, proved to me that my weight wasn’t the issue. It was the way I viewed myself. It was the way society viewed me. It’s almost like a switch went off in my head.”
From that point forward, Flo stopped trying to fit in – not only into her jeans, but into expectations of ‘beautiful’ body standards, and more importantly, into old expectations of herself. And in doing so, she felt liberated. Now she uses her platform to change the discourse on body positivity; calling out the lack of genuine diversity and inclusivity for plus sized women in fashion brands and, more recently, working to destigmatise conversations around safe sex for young people.
For Flo, TikTok has pioneered a space to finally see and interact with diverse bodies. Instead of intricately finessed snapshots or the classic not-so-nonchalant Instagram photo-dumps, TikTok has allowed influencers like her to share a light-hearted insight into the highs and lows – but more importantly the reality – of their daily lives.
“On Instagram, you only see people you follow,” she says. “And if you only see influencers who don’t talk very positively about themselves, this can be projected onto you. But on TikTok, you see such a wide range of people on the FYP – not just who you follow. It’s changing perspectives of people’s bodies.”
But it’s not all viral videos and double-taps. Putting yourself online can be rewarding, but almost always comes with the knowledge that you will receive hate at some point. And for people who put their bodies on display like Flo, online abuse is relentless.
‘Hairy’, ‘fat’, ‘gorilla’, ‘shave’ – these are just some of the malicious comments Flo has encountered across her social media accounts.
Her reaction, however, is to be resilient. When asked how she deals with negative comments on her body, she proudly replies: “It doesn’t bother me anymore. It’s funny because if you comment on my TikToks you’re going to see more of me on your FYP, because the algorithm thinks you like me. So they’re shooting themselves in the foot.
“I would rather somebody in my DMs calling me fat, calling me ugly, telling me to kill myself, than them telling someone whom it would really negatively effect.”
The now 22-year-old has since shifted her focus to becoming a body positive and sexual health advocate by sharing her experience of getting back into the dating scene while managing polycystic ovaries syndrome.
Flo recently posted a video of herself completing an STI test. With over 600,000 hits, viewers watched her hold her breath and pinch her eyes shut while pricking her finger to complete an at-home testing kit.
Her goal is to normalise conversations about sexual health for young people. “I have a very young and impressionable audience who are exploring their bodies and are coming to that age where they’re starting to have sex,” she says. “It’s natural and normal to want to experiment, but you need to be safe. The more we have an open and honest dialogue, it’s just going to encourage more people to remove that stigma.”
Turning to influencers for sexual health advice, of course, can only go so far. And Flo stresses that while she can provide some insight into her own experiences with STI testing, contraception and having polycystic ovaries, if you have or suspect you have a sexual health-related issue, you should consult your GP or a sexual health clinic as soon as possible.
Nonetheless, having someone who openly works to destigmatise looking after your sexual health is a necessary cultural change, one that Flo is helping to ensure. “The more we have an open conversation, it’s going to encourage more and more people to think ‘okay, I need to protect myself. I need to protect the people that I’m having sex with’,” she says.
By outgrowing her jeans, Flo outgrew something even greater – no longer confining her self-worth to outdated and unrealistic body standards.
When asked what one piece of advice she would give to her younger self, she says simply: “Your weight is the least interesting thing about you. You can do whatever you put your mind to and the way you look does not matter.” Smiling irreverently with a charm that hasn’t faltered since she first announced herself to the world in May 2020, Flo ends our chat with a piece of advice to her young followers that we’d all do well to take: “Leave that jacket at home because nobody cares if your arms and tummy jiggle. Oh, and have safe sex.”
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