At 59 I went viral on TikTok I was afraid

At 59, I went viral on TikTok. I was afraid of the comments – but I never expected them. -HuffPost

I squeeze my body between the dilapidated structure that collects rainwater from the roof and a 50-gallon drum of yesterday's laundry water.

“Can you position the camera to avoid this mess,” I ask Emily, the young woman I hired to film me, “and just get me and the wash water in the frame?”

I'm nervous – the most insecure I've ever felt since I started posting on TikTok three weeks ago. In the first few videos I wore the little black club dress with the flattering neckline. But today I'm wearing an old trapeze costume: a one-shoulder outfit, gold and glittery. Fifteen years ago I cut 3 inches off the skirt to keep it from wrapping around the bar during a show. My thighs were firmer then, not wrinkled or patchy.

“I’m afraid my legs look saggy,” I say, staring at Emily’s iPhone camera right in her private parts. Emily comes from the body positivity generation. I come from the Twiggy generation.

“You look amazing,” she says, sounding sincere.

I tell myself to trust her that I've been self-critical for too long. I judge my waistline and blame myself when I gain 2 pounds. It is exhausting.

Open image ModalThe author wears a short, sparkly costume in her garden while harvesting bananas for a TikTok video.

Courtesy of Laura Faye Tenenbaum

I know my colleagues dismiss social media as a waste of time and a threat to mental health, and that TikTok gets the brunt of criticism because it's new and we should be afraid of it. But for me it's a beacon of freedom – young, fun, a place to dance.

I've been bitter lately and tired of pretending to be Little Miss Agreeable for my parents and former bosses, for randos I don't even know. I'm tired of trying to turn myself into a gentle, kind lady that I imagine everyone will love.

I'm also terrified of that gold glittery mini dress. It's incredibly short, it doesn't cover my stomach and my right breast wants to pop out. Leave it alone, I tell myself. I don't care if anyone thinks I'm old and ugly. I have to believe in myself even if no one else will.

“Welcome to Random Bleep in my Bleep-Bleep Garden,” I begin. I introduce my laundry water collection system and drag Emily to the bucket. It's slimy and gross. We laugh.

I talk about drought tolerant landscaping and keeping microfibers out of waterways. I sat the camera. I'm being sarcastic. I am myself.

Emily sends the footage the next day.

“I love it, except for my legs,” I write, adding a screaming emoji. “There's one shot where my ass is particularly sticking out.” I'm so ashamed. “Can you trim the clips?”

I squint into the phone, knowing that most people are too busy with their own lives to care about my imperfections. Still, I ask Emily to hide my legs behind the captions.

She releases the video the next day. It's a week before my 59th birthday.

“It's gone crazy. Check the numbers,” I text Emily a few minutes after publication.

It's hard to see the video or the numbers because there's a flood of comment banners crossing the screen. Thousands of people click the “Like” button.

Open image ModalThe author, 36 years old in this photo, hides her body behind baggy clothes in the hope of appearing boyish.

Courtesy of Laura Faye Tenenbaum

“I would kill to have you as my mother,” one person commented. Another writes: “You are an icon.” They ask questions about soil composition and laundry soap. It's exhilarating. I wonder if the video will surpass 100,000 views.

I'm overloaded with endorphins. I can't stop looking at my phone or getting up from the couch. The video reaches a speed of over 200,000 views. It will exceed half a million very soon.

I feel dizzy – scrolling, the comments, the likes. Too many people to count tell me I'm beautiful, I'm funny, and the best thing they've seen on TikTok. People love my dress. They call me Wilma from The Flintstones and Jane from Tarzan and Chelsea Handler and a better-looking version of Carole Baskin.

I force myself to drink water and feed the dog, then climb into bed and decide to do nothing but watch TikTok. I scroll through the comments and ponder a lifetime of insecurity surrounding my appearance.

As a child, I slept under a frilly white canopy in a bedroom wallpapered with pink roses. My mother embodied modesty and body shame in a loose-fitting pinafore dress over a high-necked blouse. She criticized big-breasted women in front of me so often that I learned to believe that nice ladies had small breasts and that gazongas were bad. Throughout my teens and into my 30s, I chose loose shirts to make me appear flat-chested. It felt safer. I wanted a body that looked like a boy. I still want a body that looks like a boy.

Some comments are cruel. Some people act like know-it-alls. I watch new commenters attack the cruel commenters on my behalf.

Open Image ModalThe author harvests zucchini in a miniskirt for a TikTok video.

Courtesy of Laura Faye Tenenbaum

Over the next few months, my TikTok audience will grow, sometimes slowly, sometimes in spurts. The dopamine rush wears off and I start to process the attention. And while my colleagues and the press continue to vilify social media, three friends I haven't heard from in ages write to me to rave about my channel. Neighbors stop me on the street to tell me how much they like the videos. My brother opens a TikTok account so he can follow me.

I'm making more videos. I don't know what it means to be sexy or follow the rules of being a woman, so I'm breaking them. I harvest zucchini in a miniskirt, weeds in pink booty shorts, and compost in a strapless dress.

One young woman writes: “You have inspired me so much, gardening is not as complicated as I imagined.” Another says: “You have made me a better member of the community.” People ask questions about plants , seeds and soil. They discuss flowers and non-toxic cleaning products. Sometimes they tell me I'm pretty.

The YouTubers I follow on TikTok talk about the systemic minimization and marginalization of women. It inspires me to practice taking a seat. When I speak in public, I communicate more slowly and pause for drama. In a salon, I'm more likely to be in the spotlight than ashamed of wanting attention. At a board meeting, I notice in real time when people are talking about me so I can address it and correct it.

For as long as I can remember, I was told by my peers and colleagues, even a yoga teacher, that I was too bold, too loud, too much. Then I enter the world of TikTok, where boldness is celebrated and fierceness is an asset, and here I find acceptance. I'm also finding out what it feels like to be noticed – to have agency. It's awesome.

Open image ModalThe author gains weight over the holidays, focuses on her stomach area, and then makes a breakthrough thanks to the objectivity her TikTok provides.

Courtesy of Laura Faye Tenenbaum

I gained a few pounds over the holidays. I stare at my midsection in a video draft. I don't notice the rosemary or the bees, which are also in the frame. All I see is my stomach. I've done thousands of sit-ups and millions of crunches, a dance class, trapeze and yoga, but for me my abs were never flat enough. I know that this body shaming is harmful and that I need to let go of my inner critic.

I'll look at the draft again. I look at it three more times, focusing on the 2-inch area of ​​my stomach. I try to imagine myself through the eyes of TikTok to see what these mostly 20-30 year olds see when they look at me. Something in my brain switches on. I find myself outside myself, looking at the video through a lens. I see my whole body moving and interacting with the environment. It is shocking. I think I look great.

The next morning, instead of judging, I see a confident woman with a beautiful figure in the bathroom mirror. On the night of my date, I don't worry about my outfit. And when Emily sends a new video for review, I'm kind to myself.

At 59, I never imagined that just six months of interaction with the TikTok generation could have such a profound impact on my self-image. And while I understand that posting on TikTok isn't for everyone, it has helped me overcome years of insecurities about my appearance.

A week later, I stroll into cardio sculpting class in a leopard-print sports bra, determined to look at myself in the gym's floor-to-ceiling mirrors. I watch my C-cup breasts, my round hips. I sneak closer and turn sideways to examine my butt. “I love your top,” says Stephanie – tall, slim Stephanie. Her loose top covers her slim figure. “You have no idea how hard I worked to wear this,” I reply.

Laura Faye Tenenbaum is an author, speaker, and TikTok creator currently working on a memoir about her love of nature and her fight to strengthen the scientific community. You can also find her on Instagram @laurafayeten.

Do you have a compelling personal story that you would like to see published on HuffPost? Find out here what we are looking for and send us a pitch.

Support HuffPost

At HuffPost we believe everyone needs quality journalism, but we understand that not everyone can afford expensive news subscriptions. That's why we're committed to providing fully reported, fact-checked news that's freely accessible to everyone.

Our news, politics and culture teams invest time and care in producing meaningful investigations and research-based analysis, as well as quick but in-depth daily analysis. Our Life, Health and Shopping Desks provide you with the well-researched, peer-reviewed information you need to live your best life, while HuffPost Personal, Voices and Opinion features real stories from real people.

Help us keep the news free for all by making a donation from as little as $1. Your contribution will make a big difference.