She’d spent a glorious day at the beach and Linda-Marie Nilsson took the perfect picture to capture it – her in her favourite red and white bikini.
Then, as has become the trend among stars such as Heidi Klum, Rihanna, Miranda Kerr and others with “perfect” figures and washboard stomachs, she uploaded her snap to her Facebook profile.
But there was a big difference as far as journalism student Linda-Marie, 20, was concerned. At 5ft 5in and weighing around 12st 5lb, she was a dress size 18, a shape many women would rather hide under a sarong than put on the internet.
Yet within 12 hours her snap, captioned: “If girls with flat stomachs can post bikini pictures, I can too,” had been “liked” by 60,000 people, turning her into an internet sensation and a champion of curvy women around the world.
“If you’re not super-slim, the only holiday snaps you normally share are head shots, or pictures of the view,” Linda-Marie tells Fabulous. “But I thought it was such a beautiful image, why shouldn’t I share it? I didn’t mean it to make such a wave – I just wanted to show that my photo was as beautiful as anyone else’s.”
It was a brave decision and a major step forward for Linda-Marie, from Skånes-Fagerhult, Sweden, because it has taken many years for her to accept her size.
Bullied at school
From the age of six, she was bullied by her classmates for being bigger than them.
“They told me I was fat and disgusting, so I’d end up crying in the toilets. I felt so bad about myself, I was made to believe I had to change,” she recalls.
Aged 12 she put herself on a diet, cutting out sweets and chocolate. When her worried parents quizzed her, she insisted she was just trying to be healthier.
Although Linda-Marie lost a few pounds, the bullying continued until she moved up to senior school at 15.
“The bullies were in a different class so they finally left me alone,” she says. “But as I grew up, my size made it hard to buy the clothes I wanted to wear. I was sick of shopping for bras more suitable for a granny than a teenager.”
And three years ago she was subjected to vitriolic abuse after posting a bikini picture of herself
on her personal blog.
“Someone linked to it from another internet forum, where everyone started discussing my body. I was horrified.
“‘F*****g fatty,’ they said. ‘How can a pig like to show off?’ I was devastated and felt so ashamed.”
Last March, after another trip to the shops ended with her feeling utterly dejected, Linda Marie signed up to Weight Watchers. In three months, she dropped from 13st 5lb and a size 20 to 11st 8lb and a size 16.
Yet being slimmer didn’t make Linda-Marie happy. She soon realised happiness needs to come from within and that she had to learn to love herself, curves and all.
“In August 2011, I moved to Stockholm to study. I got my own place, and with my new-found independence, I gradually realised that the size of my body didn’t have to define me,” she says. “I made new friends who liked me as I was. And thanks to support from them and my family, I began to love my body.
“I’ve had a couple of boyfriends and they love the way I look. In fact, all the hatred and abuse has made me strong.”
Curvy and proud
She felt so strong, in fact, that in July she posted the now famous bikini shot on Facebook. And this time the reaction could not have been more different.
By the time Linda-Marie got home, the photo had over 200 “likes”. An hour later the tally was up to 1,000. Spurred on, Linda-Marie bravely made her Facebook profile public.
Within a few hours the picture had gone viral and received 10,000 “likes”. She watched in disbelief as comments flooded in – most of them positive, saying she looked amazing.
“I was receiving messages from all over the world – Brazil, Russia, Croatia and Taiwan,” she says. “I had people agreeing that you don’t have to be a size six to be beautiful and to be seen in public in swimwear. It felt like people understood me.”
By the next day, 60,000 people had “liked” the photo, and she received 5,000 comments and 3,000 private messages.
“I’ve already had clothing stores approach me to model for them – it’s hard to believe after years of abuse,” she says. “I hope the attention helps the shift towards accepting that bodies come in all shapes and sizes.”
Amid all the praise, there have been a few negative comments – saying she’s promoting an unhealthy lifestyle, which Linda-Marie rubbishes.
“I’m as healthy and active as anyone. I love walking, cycling and horse riding,” she says. “I don’t eat cake for breakfast. I just happen to have a curvy body. I won’t waste another second wanting to change it.
“The letters from girls saying they love that I’m brave for ‘daring’ to post my picture make me want to cry,” she says. “It’s sad that so many women are opting out of the joy of going to the beach because they’re embarrassed about their bums or bellies. I have 80,000 ‘likes’ on Facebook now, which is brilliant. But the one ‘like’ that really counts is the one that comes from me.”
Tell us what you think on Twitter #FabMagCurves