Whitney Bell is a powerhouse public speaker who amplifies the issues facing marginalized groups and creates an inclusive space with every platform she’s given. Whether it’s her installation, “I Didn’t Ask For This: A Lifetime of Dick Pics,” which garnered attention surrounding its unconventional, bold statements about sexual harassment in the digital age, her writing in publications like Teen Vogue, HuffPost, Playboy and Cosmopolitan, or her everyday discourse on social media outlets like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, Bell stays true to herself and her convictions. Her unapologetic, intersectional feminist views and clear intention to empower women brings people to her platforms and her sharp, engaging posts keeps them coming back.
Queer Eye’s Tan France was recently spotted donning the “Let Boys Be Feminine” tee from your Kidd Bell shop. Is this the first time you’ve been pleasantly surprised by a celebrity repping your shop?
So, it wasn’t a surprise. We are sort of Internet friends. It’s not the first time [a celebrity has repped my shop], but that time was pretty exceptional because he has such a huge reach and because he’s doing so much to change the dialogue around masculinity in active and tangible ways—which not that many people are doing. Plus, it sold an insane amount of shirts, so that was good. We’ve had some other celebrities wear stuff. That always feels good when people with notoriety or people who are engaged in activist circles feel a relationship with the stuff I make.
You have a platform through social media, and you’ve consistently used that platform to address current events and social justice issues—everything from cannabis to gun control. Has there ever been a time where you regretted a post, after the fact?
I’m pretty intentional and thoughtful about the stuff I post, because almost everything I talk about can get really reactionary, aggressive feedback from people who disagree with me, so I try to be super careful about every single word. I’ve never really regretted a post, but I do sometimes regret in general the scope of stuff I talk about. I feel a need every time something horrific happens—which is every single fucking day—to post something or say something, and it’s actually negatively impacting my mental health. Social media is quite addicting, as we all know, and when you do have such a large following, and when you’re talking about political shit—especially if you’re a woman—you’re gonna get a huge amount of harassment, and that takes a huge toll on me. I’m trying to create a better balance.
Your cannabis advocacy and feminist agenda often intersect in your writing and the Kidd Bell shop. Do you think cannabis and the growing industry has been an outlet for the advancement for women and femmes?
Absolutely! It’s about to become the first billion-dollar industry that’s not dominated by men. That’s groundbreaking. One of the biggest uses for cannabis is PTSD and trauma treatment, and women have experienced so much sexual violence and oppression. I know myself and a ton of other women and survivors do use it for that purpose, and it really has helped. I think there’s a thoughtfulness women put into their choices, and I think cannabis is one of those places.
What are some of the unexpected effects of social media fame?
Other than the aggressive harassment, one of the worst things about social media—and especially social justice circles on social media—is callout culture. The fact that people even with the best of intentions are afraid to say the wrong word or use the wrong term, and they get aggressively called out by their peers, by people who are on the same team as them. It sort of does give credence to the “liberal snowflake” ideology. The greatest way to keep people oppressed is to keep them fighting, so that they don’t rise up and band together . . . social media has sort of created this fighting. Hopefully that will shift and change. If you have a movement that’s all about empathy, you have to allow that in [social] spaces.
You briefly touched on the addictive component of social media, and I think even people who have few followers have concerns about becoming irrelevant. Can you speak to that?
We’ve started to place our self-worth on outward-facing things. We’re taught to receive worth from the outside in, and social media is a way to receive pretty empty, hollow ideas of worth. The way these apps are designed—if you’re not constantly engaging, then your posts are going to be pushed down lower by the algorithm, and you don’t get seen.