Editor’s Note: Melissa Blake is a freelance writer and blogger from Illinois. She covers disability rights and women’s issues and has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Harper’s Bazaar, Good Housekeeping and Glamour, among others. Read her blog, So About What I Said, and follow her on Twitter. The views expressed in this commentary are solely hers. View more opinion on CNN.
The trailblazing social network Bumble has had a busy, history-making month, one that proves the female-focused company’s strategy is poised to shape the future of social media.
The loud-and-clear message?
Women have power in tech, whether that’s as a consumer or as a CEO. And with that power comes a drive for change.
First, Bumble rolled out a new policy on body shaming in an effort to “create a kinder and more accepting internet for everyone.”
Their updated terms and conditions explicitly prohibit “unsolicited and derogatory comments made about someone’s appearance, body shape, size, or health. This includes language that can be deemed fat-phobic, ableist, racist, colorist, homophobic or transphobic.”
Users who engage in body shaming, either in their profile or through the app’s chat feature, will receive a warning and repeated violations will result in a permanent ban. To illustrate the prevalence of body shaming, Bumble also released a video featuring disabled users talking about times they were shamed for their bodies.
When we think of body shaming, we typically think of things like weight. But disability is all too often left out of these discussions.
As a disabled woman, I’ve regularly experienced body shaming on the internet; in fact, the taunts and mocking has steadily increased over the years. People have made fun of my appearance, called me things like “ugly” and “blobfish” and even used my photo in last summer’s cruel new teacher prank on TikTok.
While I mostly just roll my eyes at these comments now, they still hurt because it’s another reminder of just how embedded ableism is in our culture. And it’s also one of the reasons I’ve avoided joining dating apps altogether — I don’t need yet another place to be bombarded by body shaming and ableist rhetoric.
That’s why I was thrilled to see the disability community represented in Bumble’s video. In a world where we continually view disabled bodies as “less than” and unworthy, this ad is the societal pushback we need in 2021. We need to normalize disabilities and disabled bodies and Bumble is taking a much-needed step in that direction.
Bumble user Alex Dacy agrees. The social media influencer, who has spinal muscular atrophy, appeared in the video and was excited to be a part of such a pivotal moment for disability representation, especially coming from a large company like Bumble. The conversation around disabilities and body shaming is long overdue and Dacy is happy to see Bumble leading that conversation.
“Many times, especially during topics of dating and intimacy, disability is completely left out of those conversations,” she told me. “I don’t think people realize that disability being included in a body shaming policy is much bigger than just a policy by Bumble. It’s a chance to have a seat at the table.”
This perspective is likely to have a wider platform now that Bumble has made its Wall Street debut, with the release of its first IPO. In an industry dominated by men, Bumble founder Whitney Wolfe Herd, 31, is making history as one of the youngest female CEOs in tech to take her company public. That’s not to mention that the majority of Bumble’s board is made up of women.
“It’s not just me, I built this with a wide team … but I think everyone can be here if they stay true to what they’re trying to achieve,” Wolfe Herd told CNN. “It is time there are more women in positions of leaderships, on boards, receiving capital and funding.”
So has Bumble changed my mind about using dating apps in the future? I’m still a bit wary of cruel comments, but it is encouraging to know that Bumble is taking the necessary steps to make sure all people feel welcome as well as creating an environment where people can truly connect with one another.
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Right now, that connection is needed more than ever as we continue to navigate life — and loneliness — during the pandemic. With its friendship offering, Bumble BFF, the company is in a unique position to help women, disabled or not, connect with each other in a time that can be incredibly isolating. Knowing that Bumble is a safe space where they can get support from others who are going through the same things, like the stress of working from home or the struggles of helping children with e-learning, could very well be life-changing for women.
Here’s hoping that Bumble’s actions will inspire other companies, especially those involved in social media, to take similar steps to combat body shaming because when women aren’t constantly judged for how they look, they’re able to thrive and become the next generation’s tech CEOs. The future Whitney Wolfe Herds. And those women are not there for opinions on their bodies.