When Lillian (aka @thefleshlightchronicles) signed up for Tinder, the meme creator soon realized that her experience of the dating platform was dramatically different to that of her white counterparts. “I noticed that I was getting a lot of terrible messages that my white female friends would not,” she says. “Often, those messages fetishized me.”
Lillian initially set up her account in 2017 to poke fun at the men who slid into her inbox with lines like “I’ll eat your pussy like shrimp fried rice” and “I want to try my first Asian woman.” (Lillian did not wish to disclose her last name, citing privacy concerns.) The longer she spent on Tinder, the more she registered the uncomfortable connections between what she encountered on the app and the racism and sexism that Asian women endure in real life.
“I began to realize that these interactions on Tinder matched up with my lived experience of being an Asian woman,” she tells Broadly, “and I realized I could use this platform to talk about those experiences—and help others find validation through them, too.”
For Asian women with similar dating app encounters, @thefleshlightchronicles feels like a jubilant reclaiming of our experience. For any of her 14,700 followers lucky enough to have never received a message like “I want to absolutely dominate your small, Asian body,” the memes serve to highlight the absurdity and frequency of the sexualized comments received by Asian women.
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Most of the memes on @thefleshlightchronicles are pictures of Lillian herself, overlaid with screengrabs of the messages she receives from Tinder users and occasional commentary. One image responding to the Tinder message “I want to try my first Asian woman” shows Lillian reclining on a bed in lingerie under the headline: “Asian teen has a sweaty middle-aged man fetish.” Another meme shows Lillian sitting in a bath, with a Tinder message that simply reads, “You seem like a slut. Nice.”
“Memes condense down a common or shared experience into a few words and a picture,” Lillian tells Broadly. “With the increased use of social media, it makes them easily consumable which many people enjoy.” She believes that the images function “as a way to make information accessible, especially with a format like Instagram.”
An estimated 50 million people around the world have signed up for Tinder since its 2012 launch; they swipe around 1.4 billion times per day. As Lillian has discovered, some of these interactions can take a particularly nasty turn for women of color, especially after she created her Instagram account. She says she regularly receives rape fantasies and threats on Tinder; she shows me some messages that men have sent her. One says: “I want to fuck your arse so hard your nose starts bleeding.” Another sent her a fantasy of “using your little body like a fucktoy… I want tears streaming down your face.”
“To be honest, sometimes I get very scared," Lillian tells me. "I have got threats in the past but not from people that I actually know. It has always been strangers on the Internet. Of course, it shocks you and you do get worried for your own safety. It can be overwhelming but my account is also a coping strategy to make something out of it and to share with others who are going through similar things.”
Although many women receive this kind of harassment online, Lillian believes that there is a significant racialized element to the more threatening messages she receives. “The West has an extended history of exploiting and penetrating Asia for profit and gain,” she explains. “I believe that this power dynamic, combined with stereotypical and shallow representations of Asian women in the media, causes this global power dynamic to be replicated on a smaller scale with women of color. Men genuinely seem to think that Asian women are submissive and are desperate to be dominated.”
While Lillian was able to report and block the worst offenders on Tinder, she has seen others re-emerge with new profiles. “Instagram and other digital media platforms seem quicker to shut down feminist accounts that show nudity,” she says. “They censor them but they aren’t so quick to respond to harassment claims or when people are receiving racist abuse.”
Plus, the dating app is not just the only place on the internet where women can be harassed. According to Amnesty International, one in five women in the UK alone have suffered online abuse or harassment, with 55 percent saying that they had experienced anxiety, stress, or panic attacks as a result. Until big internet companies take women’s security more seriously, we’ll settle for a daily dose of humor from @thefleshlightchronicles.
“To be honest, you can’t not laugh at the shit that happens on Tinder,” Lillian says. “It is content that writes itself!”