The internet was very, very angry at the man who loved his curvy wife.
To be fair, it is not that difficult to feel cynical toward a man who achieved viral international fame — like, newspapers-in-Turkey-were-covering-it international — for simply professing on Instagram to love the woman to whom he is married, a woman who is also extremely pretty and not very difficult to love in the first place. Millions of people love their spouses whether they are curvy or not, after all.
Yet in doing so, the man in question had become a flashpoint in the fraught discourse on the concept of what “body positivity” should mean. And what business did this skinny white guy have joining that conversation, anyway? What was he really after? More Instagram followers? An appearance on Good Morning America? A five-figure deal with a sneaker brand?
He got all of that, but that’s not the point. He did it, he says, because he really does love her, his curvy wife. Her name is Sarah, by the way.
On July 30, 2017, a 26-year-old man named Robbie Tripp posted an Instagram photo of himself and his wife on a beach.
“I love this woman and her curvy body,” the caption began. “As a teenager, I was often teased by my friends for my attraction to girls on the thicker side, ones who were shorter and curvier, girls that the average (basic) bro might refer to as ‘chubby’ or even ‘fat.’”
The full caption is very long, but its general spirit was that while Robbie’s wife did not fit American culture’s narrow definition of the perfect female form, he thought she was very sexy. He urged men to “rethink what society has told you that you should desire” and women to “don’t ever fool yourself by thinking you have to fit a certain mold to be loved and appreciated.”
These are all perfectly nice sentiments, and when the likes, comments, and shares began to roll in and news outlets started picking it up, the reception was almost exclusively positive. “The majority of body-positive advocates we see on social media are women, so it’s refreshing to see a guy jump in on the conversation and spread the good word,” began PopSugar’s blog post on August 1. HuffPost deemed it “required reading.” And then there was the BuzzFeed post on August 3 that was so hilariously swooning (“I’m not crying, you’re crying,” read the subhead) that it alone sparked a ruthless, still-ruminating backlash.
“Strong contender for least fave type of male feminist is ‘man who thinks liking a curvy woman is revolutionary,’” read one of the most viral curvy wife tweets the day the BuzzFeed post published. “The bar is too low,” said another.
i love my idiot husband. idc what society says i LIKE how dumb he is. i love his very smooth brain. i love his hair he tried to cut himself pic.twitter.com/2Gw1OqytPX— TORMABLAIEFDHZSJKLNBDSFEJKL PICKASDFJKLFDSNMKOFDSJ (@Tormny_Pickeals) August 4, 2017
The backlash was such that outlets who had fawned over the Curvy Wife Guy only a few days prior were now joining the chorus of mocking him. There were a few common threads: that yes, the bar for men was much too low, that Robbie was objectifying or fetishizing (or negging!) his wife, and that a slender, straight, cis white man should stay out of the whole body positivity discussion altogether.
Robbie Tripp had waded into an internet community that was pretty sure it didn’t want him there. Before “body positivity” became a marketing buzzword to sell soap, the fat acceptance movement involved anti-discrimination protests and anti-capitalist activism against the diet industry; its roots lay in the fat radicalism of the ’60s and ’70s. Now, however, body positivity is more popularly equated with unretouched ad campaign images, brands that make clothing in a wider range of sizes, and a handful of plus-size models who have reached the highest echelons of the fashion industry. All good things, but far from holistic solutions to the way society systemically treats fat people.
Yet even in the movement’s corporate-friendly current iteration, it still bristled at a man being heralded as heroic simply for being married to a woman who, some argued, barely “counted” as curvy at all.
But there is also a reason the early reception to Robbie’s infamous “curvy wife” post was almost exclusively positive. Women have endured centuries of watching men determine which of us gets to be portrayed on screens and in pages. And while public discussion around women’s bodies is a near constant, it is rare that straight men have much to add in the way of body positivity. For many women, watching a man publicly lust for his size-12 wife did feel radical and empowering. And it is nearly impossible to convince someone that their definition of “body positive” is wrong, because you are essentially saying that the way they feel about their body is wrong, which feels, well, not very body-positive at all.
All of which is to say that Robbie Tripp — who in the nearly two years since the viral post has courted the spotlight in various ways, including most recently releasing a “curvy girl hip-hop anthem” and accompanying music video — has become a sort of avatar for multiple internet phenomena wrapped in one: the debatably “woke” male feminist, the Instagram hustler, the TED talker, the online wife-haver, the milkshake duck. He’s a viral meme who stumbled into a much larger discourse and is still finding his place within it. But he is determined to carve out space for himself, despite whatever gets written about him. Toward the very end of the two days I spent with him, Robbie told me, “I have a motto: that whatever people hate you for, do more of that.”
I meet Robbie when he picks me up from my hotel in his massive white Lexus, which he climbs out of to greet me with a hug. He is affable and effusive, which also makes him a very good interview subject. I ask him basically nothing and he gives me answers to all my questions anyway, which means I am free to observe everything else about the Curvy Wife Guy: He is wearing a tropical-print Bonobos button-down, flashy Nikes with pastel socks, and sunglasses with the Louis Vuitton logo not only on the frames but on the actual glass part, which I imagine makes everything looks expensive.
His speaking manner is equally extravagant — Robbie frequently uses metaphors (ever heard the one about the crabs in the bucket theory?) and sometimes slips into third person, which gives me the sense that he’s had to explain himself a lot.
We are in Scottsdale, Arizona, where he recently moved from San Francisco for the same reasons anyone would move from San Francisco to Scottsdale: for the sun, yes, but mostly for the space. And for a very particular lifestyle that Robbie would define as “desert money,” a phrase he frequently slides into conversations with about 40 percent irony and which is also the first thing in his Instagram bio.
“There’s something about the desert where people come out here with lots of money, and you don’t know who they are or where their money comes from, but they build these big, sprawling houses with pools and learn how to golf,” he says. “That’s the new goal: getting desert money.”
Another phrase Robbie uses quite often is “the haters,” who are the reason Robbie is hesitant to agree to a profile. The media, he says, has long been unfair to social media influencers, but particularly to Curvy Wife Guy. After the post went viral, he was asked to go on a Sky News segment in which he was unknowingly asked to debate two feminist authors; he later called the producer to tell him it was a “garbage move.” In 2018, he threatened to sue Babe.net after a writer compared his book to the Unabomber Manifesto. A few days after I left Arizona, he seemed to have had a change of heart — while on a trip to New York, he reached out to multiple reporters in the hopes of making nice. Just one agreed to meet up, and the resulting article did not seem to bolster his faith in journalism.
But he also knew that once the music video dropped, people were going to write about him anyway, so he eventually agreed. As we drive through Phoenix, we pass a truck with a bumper sticker that says “I don’t trust the liberal media,” which feels either like a very funny coincidence or an unfortunate omen.
We arrive at the Tripps’ temporary rental, where I finally meet the person who too often gets obscured in discussions about Curvy Wife Guy: the curvy wife. Sarah doesn’t always mind the nickname. (If she wrote a book, she says, she’d call it The Curvy Wife.) Though they have only been apart for a few hours when we arrive at their home, Robbie greets her with, “Hey, baby, I missed you.” Like her husband, Sarah is a hugger; she’s wearing a knit jumpsuit, a ponytail, and, of course, influencer-mandated lashes.
It should be noted that Sarah was already kind of a big deal on Instagram before she became known as somebody’s curvy wife with her blog Sassy Red Lipstick, where she’d amassed a following of 200,000. It featured images of her outfits, which were cute and feminine, and her life, then in San Francisco. She wrote about self-love and body positivity and shopping as an “in-betweenie,” meaning between straight and plus sizes — the 10, 12, or 14 range.
By early 2017, after years of working with smaller brands and Etsy sellers, two big fish finally returned the Tripps’ emails: Nike and Aerie. Nike came after a post of Sarah in a sports bra performed particularly well. (They couldn’t find an actual Nike sports bra to shoot, so the one in the picture was actually a regular black sports bra on which Robbie had photoshopped a Nike swoosh.)
This was around the same time that Robbie quit his job to work on the blog with Sarah full time, a move that Sarah was not exactly thrilled about. She’s the worrier and the realist to Robbie’s dreamer, a dynamic that played out more dramatically when that certain post went viral in the summer of 2017.
Here are the good things that happened to Robbie Tripp when he became Curvy Wife Guy: He nearly tripled his Instagram following from about 25,000 to more than 70,000; Sarah went from 200,000 to 250,000. Women around the world DMed Robbie and Sarah saying how much the couple’s love inspired them. The Tripps went on both the Today show and Good Morning America.
You are likely aware of the bad things that happened to Robbie Tripp: He became an internet joke, the most hated man in certain parts of the body positive community, and Twitter’s villain of the day.
You are likely not, however, aware of the bad things that happened to Sarah Tripp when her husband became a meme: While the hate from the legions of so-called “Twitter feminists” and the more private criticisms Robbie has said they received from certain Mormon circles (Robbie and Sarah are Mormon but do not discuss their faith on their platforms and say they don’t engage with the cultural aspect of the religion) seemed to have bolstered Robbie, it was harder for Sarah. Her anxiety, which she already struggled with, got worse. “It makes me scared to do things now in my career because of backlash and because how people treat us,” she says.
They also lost friends. After the viral post, a group of people from Robbie’s high school, where he was a basketball star, created a Facebook thread devoted to depicting Robbie as a horrible bully, and tagged news outlets. Sarah, too, had a bridesmaid in her wedding stop speaking to her.
And, like many people who suddenly become very, very famous, they got Milkshake Ducked. Internet users discovered past racist and transphobic tweets from both Sarah and Robbie’s accounts, for which they apologized, and they both reiterated to me that they’ve learned from it.
“Robbie’s always like, ‘There’s no such thing as bad press,’ because it puts us in front of more eyes and hopefully those people can make their own opinion,” Sarah says. “I personally wish that people weren’t writing articles about us all the time — it never feels good to see people say hurtful things, and I think people forget we have feelings. He’s really good about brushing off the hate, but internally I’m like, ‘This is so not fun.’”
But the backlash Sarah hates most is the kind that paints her as a hostage. She still gets DMs from people telling her that while she seems so sweet, they can’t stand Robbie. “People have literally messaged me saying, ‘You need to divorce him, sis.’ They try to pit us against each other, and we’re like, ‘It’s not gonna work.’”
They experienced the cycle all over again a few weeks ago, when Robbie was widely mocked for using the phrases “carrying my seed” and “sacred vessel” in an Instagram post announcing Sarah’s pregnancy. He was just being ironic, he says: “I’m not saying ‘seed’ as in sperm! That’s a term used biblically in, like, old medieval times. Calling her a ‘sacred vessel’ and things like that, I’m just being funny!”
And they are experiencing it again, right now, as Robbie releases the long-awaited music video for his “curvy girl hip-hop anthem.” He first posted a snippet of himself in the studio last fall and a few months later announced on Instagram Stories that he was casting for the accompanying music video, which also happened to be the same time that I asked my editor to send me to Scottsdale, Arizona.
That is how in late April, I found myself eating what they call “Sarah Locos tacos” (they are tacos with Old El Paso’s nacho cheese shells, and they are delicious) in the Tripps’ kitchen, among the first few people to hear the song “Chubby Sexy.”
Here is a sampling of the lyrics:
My girl chubby sexy, call her bonita gordita
She rockin’ that peach emoji like hey, nice to meet ya
She got thick thighs, stretch marks, big booty
She lookin’ like a snack, I take her out to eat
She fills up her plate, not trippin’ ’bout her weight
Got those Khaleesi curves, knows how to dragon slay
Her inner thighs chafe, she knows how they taste
They say less is more, I say more is great
She got a waist so big that her belt can’t reach
So I call her James and the Giant Peach
It is the “James and the Giant Peach” line that causes me to completely lose it, but Sarah and Robbie are laughing too.
It’s meant to be funny, but it’s also meant to bang, which it sort of does. The comments on Robbie’s post teasing a sample were already starting to get to Sarah, though at that point the song’s official debut was still a month away. “I know there will be more positivity than negativity, but the negativity just seems louder,” she says.
She’s trying to take a page out of her husband’s playbook and stay positive about what will happen when the song drops. When Robbie raps about her stretch marks? “We’re trying to destigmatize these things that people thought should be hidden or are ugly,” she says. What about calling her “gordita”? “It’s an endearing term for ‘chubby cute’!”
Robbie, of course, knows that many people will continue to be “haters.” But, he predicts, “I have a strong feeling this is going to change things.”
There was at least one person to whom Robbie Tripp never needed to explain himself. Robbie, Sarah, and I meet her at Shake Shack the next day. Alexandra Bowie is the director of marketing at Haven Health, a nursing and rehab center with locations throughout Arizona, and also a model (she’s the one in the orange swimsuit) in the music video for “Chubby Sexy,” which had just filmed that weekend. She’d only met the Tripps for the first time on set.
Alex is the first Curvy Wife Guy superfan I’ve ever met. She is tall and stunningly pretty and stumbled upon the Tripps at just the right moment: She had called off an engagement a few months prior, and though the pain was still raw, it was at the point where her family, as well-intentioned loved ones are apt to do, encouraged her to “get back out there.”
But dating is not easy, and it is often particularly not easy for women who aren’t skinny. After the engagement ended, Alex lost 70 pounds, thinking it was the only way she’d have a shot at finding love. But it came at the expense of her mental health. “A curvy girl’s biggest concern when you’re meeting someone online or being set up on a blind date is, ‘I hope they’re okay with my size,’” she says. “I’d be in Pilates or eating a salad thinking, ‘This is going to make it easier the next time I go out with someone.’”
Which is why one night, when Alex was lying in bed scrolling through Snapchat and saw an article on the Daily Mail about a man who loved his curvy wife, she clicked on it.
“I had never seen anyone talk about women the way that Robbie talks about Sarah,” she says, her eyes beginning to water. “And in that moment, full of self-doubt, dating people that were really shitty on Tinder, I felt there was a little bit of hope, a little bit of light at the end of this tunnel.”
It was pure luck that when Robbie was casting for the music video, Alex happened to be living in the same city. It is also in large part thanks to Alex’s openness that along with “Chubby Sexy,” there is an accompanying video depicting the conversation that Robbie, Sarah, and the models had during the shoot’s lunch break. Robbie and Sarah are both extremely forthcoming when it comes to talking about body image issues in general, and as the conversation became increasingly personal, everyone ended up crying. They hope that those who watch it will have a different perspective on what Robbie and Sarah are trying to accomplish.
Sarah says she continually fields DMs from women who are worried they’ll never find “their Robbie,” and though she’s been married for five years, she can relate to the hard parts of dating. “There were points with the boys I thought I would end up with, I remember being on the treadmill and thinking I needed to keep running so that I could keep being thin,” she says.
It’s still hard for Alex. About a year ago, she’d met a guy on Tinder, and things were going great for six months — they’d spent holidays together, met each other’s families, and slept over regularly. But he avoided defining the relationship or committing to exclusivity.
Finally, during an argument after they’d arrived home late one night, he blurted it out. “He said, ‘You’re amazing, you’re everything that I’ve been looking for, but I don’t typically date girls your size.’ I just remember sitting there in shock. I was prepared for anything he was going to say, except that. Usually I can get a sense of that stuff. After he said that, I was done. I didn’t even cry on the way home,” she says, adding, “That one hurt.”
It is the intensely personal relationship that each of us has to our bodies and how those bodies shape the way we experience the world that makes judging someone else’s ideas about body positivity and self-love extraordinarily difficult. Like much of my Twitter circle, when I first heard about the Curvy Wife Guy, I was pretty sure I hated him. Men have always been celebrated for exerting the least amount of effort, be it performative fatherhood or the simple act of, like, I don’t know, doing chores. And here was a man who, rather than speaking about his own body image, was deifying himself as a body-positive crusader for, of all things, loving the woman he married.
But I, too, have sat on barstools waiting for Tinder dates that I hoped wouldn’t think I looked bigger than I did in my photos, and I’ve spent too much time pedaling on sad ellipticals so that some dude might be a little bit more grateful to make out with me. I’ve felt inspired by Instagram influencers — who make far more money and live a far more fabulous lifestyle than I do — simply because they are doing so while also being heavier than I am. It is impossible to sit across from a woman like Alex and still hold on to the dispassionate wokeness that is required of reporters who cover topics like body positivity when the subject of discussion is also the very personal, human need to be found attractive. Those who find Curvy Wife Guy to be “goals” after legions of men have said awful things about their bodies for their whole lives can’t be discounted.
Neither, then, can the longtime activists in the body positive space who have seen their language repeatedly co-opted by the mainstream, to the point where supermodels — already American culture’s bodily ideal — are being touted as body-positive heroes. They’re people like Ushshi Rahman, a creative and influencer in the fat acceptance community.
“What [Tripp is] doing isn’t that different from what brands are doing, which isn’t that different from what body positivity itself is doing, which is co-opting from radical fat acceptance and making it palatable while excluding the people that were marginalized the most in the first place,” she says. “I’m down with people self-objectifying or choosing their own objectification. When someone else is objectifying folks, they don’t always have the right tone. I’m very pro-thirst trap and pro-choosing how you get desired, but I also feel like he shouldn’t be the one to set the tone for that.”
In this way, critiques of Robbie are similar to the ones directed at the brands the Tripps have collaborated with: Nike and Aerie, both of which have rebranded themselves to promote “body positivity” yet still profit from it without offering solutions to the problems that made it necessary in the first place.
It’s part of the larger conversation on whether empowerment marketing is actually doing anything besides getting us to buy more stuff. As Gaby Del Valle wrote at the Outline in 2015 on the rise of plus model Ashley Graham, “[She] is often heralded as a sign that the fashion industry is becoming more inclusive. But Graham’s inclusion in the supermodel pantheon isn’t putting an end to a culture that objectifies women. If anything, she’s just expanding the category of who gets to be objectified.”
Sarah often hears this strain of criticism from people who say she’s not big enough to be a mouthpiece for body positivity. “People in my comments are like, ‘You’re obese; you’re fat.’ But when we’re in the public eye, the comments are ‘You’re not even big. How can you even represent this group of people?’” she says. “It’s so fascinating how different those trains of thought are. Listen, you can’t tell me that I don’t have a hard time shopping when a lot of brands only go to a large and plus sizes start at a 16.”
By virtue of being a slender, straight white man, Robbie is someone whose body American culture does not inherently disdain. This is, naturally, a complication for his place in the body positivity discourse. He says he has never really struggled with body image. Robbie receives criticism about placing too much focus on his wife’s body, which will surely be a touchpoint for discussions about the “Chubby Sexy” video. The close-ups on Sarah’s and the three other models’ butts and other body parts will likely do little to silence critics who already take issue with Robbie for objectifying his wife.
Rahman, who when we spoke had not yet seen the video, knows this is a divisive factor. “I do keep in mind that there are people that want to and need to hear that they are desirable, and desirability politics are very, very complex for a lot of people,” she says. “But it’s toxic for male desire to be any kind of stepping stone for an internal process of coming to terms with your body.” How much body positivity can be accomplished, really, with the simple act of swapping thin models for curvier ones, still filmed in the traditional male gaze?
Like many questions related to body positivity, it depends on whom you ask. Alex, for her part, considers Robbie a body-positive ally. “Every day in TV and film and media, men love their wives, they hug them, they kiss them, they caress them. It’s never creepy; it’s never a fetish,” she says. “And I want people to ask themselves, do you think you would have said [Robbie] was creepy if his wife was skinny? It’s [implying] that women our size don’t deserve the same kind of affection and attention that women that are smaller do.”
“How can you call yourself a feminist and also trash Robbie for what he’s doing?” she asks, and there is no answer I could give that would satisfy us both.
Later that day, Robbie and Sarah need to take some photos. We’re by the pool at a nearby resort that we sort of maybe kind of snuck into, but I’m told it’s chill and nobody really minds. The walls are a Palm Springsian palette of hot pinks and oranges against a bed of astroturf and a sea of yellow lawn chairs. Robbie tightrope-walks across a tiny bridge in the pool to grab a pineapple float as a prop, and Sarah knows immediately what to do with it.
Watching Robbie and Sarah work together is a fascinating experience for anyone who has ever attempted to force a loved one to take a photo of them. Common refrains in such circumstances like “Why are you angling the camera like that, this isn’t MySpace” or “Are you actively trying to make me look terrible” are absent here, and the whole process takes roughly 30 seconds.
“It’s not quite the vibe,” Robbie announces, even though the pictures he’s taking are the most Instagrammy I have ever seen. But the problem is the light. The sky is a frequent issue for influencers living in Arizona: Because it’s so bright, the subject ends up looking too dark. The problem is solved, however, when Robbie switches from a real camera to his iPhone. “This is it,” he decides. “This is the vibe.”
What else does the Curvy Wife Guy want, other than correct vibes and desert money and for everyone to stop being mad at him all the time? Well, for one, he wants a million views on the “Chubby Sexy” video. He wants a New York Times best-seller. He wants to build a successful business, and then another successful business. He wants to publish a rhyming children’s book, which technically he’s already written, called Getting Dressed With Sarah, about body positivity for young girls. He doesn’t yet know what he wants to do with an Instagram account he’s secured called @CurvyWifeClub, but he might want it to become a “couple goals page.”
Sarah, meanwhile, is in the process of developing a fashion line of feminine, trendy basics geared toward women in the “in-betweenie” range, though it will span straight and plus sizes.
I imagine what it must be like to want, and to reasonably feel like you might actually get, all of those things, and I wonder why Robbie spends so much time thinking about haters. Robbie and Sarah seem to have a great marriage. They have a baby on the way. They’re building a lovely house. They seem happy, like, truly happy, and it is difficult for me to understand the way Robbie bristles at any mention of negativity and the outsize way he responds to things that are written about him.
The closest to angry I see him get is when we talk about things like Twitter. “Internet rage culture and Twitter trolls and social media justice warriors want to try and warp and distort you and who you are as a person and take your success and try and minimize it and cut you down to size,” he says.
Sarah says the way Robbie views the world — in a black-and-white dichotomy of positivity and negativity, supporters and haters, success and failure — comes from his dad. His father was self-employed his whole life, and is the same optimist dreamer that Robbie is now. That he was raised at times middle class and at times lower middle class depending on his father’s career, Robbie says, is the reason he’s so flashy about getting that desert money.
“Some people think it’s arrogant and that I’m rubbing it in people’s faces, and other people are like, ‘I’m inspired by this. How do I get to where you are?’ And those are the two lanes,” he says. “It’s a complete reflection of a person who’s watching it. I’m a mirror for people’s inner feelings about themselves.”
I don’t know if I agree with that, but saying so would likely put me in the “haters” category of his universe, so I refrain. Robbie, who yearns for the media to write about him with careful nuance, seems to have little of his own in the way he views the world. It is at this point in the conversation that I gather that he is probably going to dislike whatever I end up writing about him, even though he is, in person, extremely likable.
But in writing about him at all, I am helping Robbie get what he wants. And he has some awareness of that. When news outlets mocked the Tripps’ pregnancy announcement, it hurt his feelings. “This is the most special moment of our lives and you’re turning it into clickbait,” he says. “But then it took me a few minutes and I realized, this is also what I’ve always wanted.”
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