Urban Dictionary defines a Thirst Trap as "a sexy photograph or flirty message posted on social media for the intent of causing others to publicly profess their attraction." A couple of times a day on my timeline a post will show up that features a friend in little to no clothing. I'm generally a fan of the pics, even if they make browsing feeds at my day job a risky proposition, but always wondered about the rationale behind posting these types of photos publically. Who were the photos posted for? Were people affirming self-love or looking for outside approval? Was the attention that the thirst traps received worth the societal hang-ups they came along with?
To answer some of these questions I asked a handful of friends and acquaintances on my social media why they post the photos and what they get out of it. Their answers are below.
In athletics shirts are always optional. I'm half kidding of course, but in reality,
much of my time at the "office" is either spent sweaty or shirtless. It's part of the job and any photos I post are going to reflect that. As far as what I get out of it, attention, follows and likes are all part of it. But more importantly, because I am aware of my following, I get to maximize my results. For example: my Twitter is 70/30 comprised of male followers and Instagram is 65/35 female. The basic analysis: men like to hear me speak, while women like to look at me. Duh.
I'm not just a fighter, I'm a brand. In many ways, I am selling the brand that is myself. I think most fighters fail to understand that at their own peril. Two things I've been very successful attaching myself to are live UFC events adding commentary and dubbed as "The Official Unofficial Commentator of The UFC." Receiving a constant flow of seven million plus impressions a month. The second thing obviously being my hair. I'm the proud owner of "The Best Hair in Combat Sports" to be exact. That obviously came with how I present myself, photos included. In many ways they are connected. Both titles were built over time and are now paying off greatly. "If you build it they will come" and my social following proves that. Of course I get some hate, but overwhelmingly most of the outreach is positive. I sleep fine regardless.
Confidence can be perceived as "cocky." The fact I am confident in myself, how I look, and my ability as a fighter can come off negatively to people that want to preserve it that way. In reality, I am very aware I am in a very humbling sport. They day you think you know everything, is the day you can get your ass kicked on (inter)national TV. Those that criticize don't understand the game we are competing in. For better or worse, it's not only how good you are, but rather how many asses you can put in seats. Fighting (and competition in general) was created to fill our natural desire for competition. A fight is much more than just a fight, it's a story, and the fans have two sides to choose. My side or my opponent's.
The best and worst thing that has come from social media would have to be the direct contact with fans and others. That includes an organic conversation with Pert Shampoo and conditioner, which became my marquee sponsor to date. I am the first UFC fighter to receive such an endorsement. The ongoing campaign has been HUGELY successful for both parties and furthers my narrative and brand. First is king in marketing. Negativity or weird messages are sometimes a bummer, but to be honest, I don't really ever sweat too. It's sometimes even a powerful tool, allowing my to dive into the physiology of an Twitter egg or picture-less profile and better understanding their comment to be an extension of their hurt / sad world view. To quote the immortal words of Arnold Schwarzenegger "Ignore The Nay Sayers".
I have an incessant need for external validation and strangers on the internet always come through for me. Some people might call that thirst. I don't think there's anything wrong with embracing that. It's why I love the term thirst trap and it's why I post the pictures I do. I'd like to think most of my followers are there for my wit and social commentary, but when I am not dissociating I know that isn't the case. Social media is actively rewarding my mental illness. I use thirst traps to suppress my neuroses. The attention distracts me from the void and makes me feel worthy of existing. That feels like self care but I know it isn't. I keep doing it anyway and I keep getting more attention. My therapist loves it. The attention I get has its ups and downs. Recently an incredible body positive artist I admire, Chelsea Donovan, drew one of my Instagram photos and I love it so much I am getting it tattooed. Women who follow me regularly tag me in their own thirst traps and it's always extremely validating. At the same time I want to publish all of my instagram DM requests in a book called Yes All Men. Every single message is the worst thing that's happened to me. I don't understand how anyone can be upset about a woman choosing to pose in her underwear when the earth is literally dying.
Anyways, I've been trying to be proactive with how I respond to DMs. A couple of days ago I posted a photo with a flower emoji covering my breast. A man messaged me asking: how many retweets for you to remove the emoji? I replied: Paypal me $100. The interaction made me laugh so I tweeted a screenshot of it with a link to my Paypal and…. men are ridiculously thirsty. Five hundred dollars thirsty. I want to be clear that I didn't remove the emoji for anybody. Nobody who paypalled me even reached out. I paid my overdue phone bill and donated the rest of it to Planned Parenthood.
I've posted a lot of photos online in various states of undress. When people ask me why I do it there are a bunch of different answers. I do it because I like to. I do it because being looked at turns me on. I do it because I'm a performer and attention succubus and sometimes it makes me money, honey. Everybody has causes that rile them up and the destruction of body shame/modesty culture is one of mine. I want people to stop associating being naked or sexual with a morality compass! People should respect other people's choices, whether they cover up or strip it off, but for me what it comes down to is that I enjoy being active in queer nudie spaces. That includes being naked on the web.
Posting the photos can be fun, and it can be sexy, but like anything else it's easy to tie it into larger ideas about how we are absorbing each other's images. You can't talk about this without talking about how important the representation of diverse bodies is online. I'm trans and will soon be making surgical/hormonal changes to my body. Personally, I dig the idea that once I have top surgery scars and different bone structure posting photos becomes even more radical, since I will have a body that exists beyond the gender binary. I'm sure that those photos will be a shock to the system for all those straight dudes who throw a heart up on my pictures or dismiss them as thirst traps. The term itself is rooted in a sexist interpretation of selfie culture. It's been used to demean (mostly) women's reclamation of their images. So you posted a photo of yourself, you dig it, and it turns people on. Why is that something to be admonished? You should flatter yourself and do what makes YOU feel sexy. I'm privileged in that I have the comfort of not caring who sees me and knowing that it won't affect any of my career/professional choices but I think if you have the chance, get out there however you want to! Don't cater it to what you think wants to be seen, and I promise there are people who will be into it no matter what.
What do I get out of doing it? A lot of likes on Instagram. When I post a photo of course it's for attention. You don't come around to that type of thing if you're not looking for attention. And attention feels good. I don't know how else I'm supposed to break that down.
I work in a lingerie store and so photos have become commonplace for me. I don't feel like they're scandalous because I'm taking pictures of myself and other girls in lingerie all the time. It's part of my work, but it's also an excuse to do it, it's like: I can post a picture of myself in this bra because it's a fancy bra from work! It's like: I feel great in this! I look great in this! Everyone should see how great I look in this!
The other day a friend of mine told me that they tried to take a selfie and it was horrible. They said it was only then they realized how much time I must spend on getting good photos. Of course it takes time. And practice. Angles can make or break a photo, if you don't know your angles it can get pretty sad. Lighting is also really important, and the self-timer has been a game changer. But that practice can definitely pay off.
Graham Isador is a writer living in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter.