eileen kelly, instagram star turned sex educator
The 20-year-old New Yorker behind the account @killerandasweetthang may have experienced her share of trolling, but she's putting her 300-thousand-strong following to good use. Eileen speaks to i-D about her new project, an online space for talking...
Eileen Kelly is using her cat-green eyes to scour pine boxes at her favorite New York haunt, Dashwood Books, on Bond Street, to find something rare and cool and inspiring to feature on her new blog, Killer and a Sweet Thang, or in her upcoming zine. Eileen is most widely known as the girl behind the Instagram account @killerandasweetthang (named after a line in her favorite song), a feed with a following of over 300 thousand people, who identify with its posts about underground MCs, young artists, and scene-stars like Luka Sabbat, as well as Eileen's innumerable selfies that photo-map her awkward steps into adulthood. Because she's only 20. And it shows.
Her newest project builds her voice from that of a social media star to a provocateur. Today, along with a line of casual clothing, Eileen debuts a sex-education blog for young adults. It's a step up from the popular Tumblr she started during school, which attracted thousands of followers through oversharing before it was a trend. There, she answered questions from fans about dating, sex, health, and life, with honesty - because, mostly, they wanted honesty and a friend. If her Tumblr was a peephole into teen life, her new site is a lengthy study: with medical and physiological insights, cultured reads, celebrity interviews, and multimedia offerings. She's building a digitized girls' world.
When did you decide to start a sex-ed blog?
When I was 16.
I started a Tumblr in high school and I'd spend hours on it after I finished my homework, answering questions and giving advice. It became this dream of mine. I would tell my friend, "This is what I want to do for a job."
Where do you think that desire came from?
It comes from a really vulnerable place. You know, I didn't have a mom to ask questions to and I couldn't ask my dad because it was too weird. Going through middle school was a really confusing, hard time for me. I had to learn everything through life experience or my friends, who'd ask their mom. And sex-ed in school doesn't tell you everything, either. I want to help girls who are stuck in that tough spot.
You're pretty young yourself. Do you feel qualified to give advice to other girls?
I studied. I finishing my sex education certification from Planned Parenthood this fall, and I know myself better now. I have experiences to pull from. Taking care of people has always been a part of who I am. And I've never been ashamed of the body. The body is natural. I was the one who taught my friends how to use tampons!
Initially, as you gained followers on Instagram, you dealt with negative press.
Yes! When [a New York Post article by Dana Schuster] came out, I was sitting with an old friend of mine. He just said, "You're not going to like this." It was horrible. I was getting these texts from people - some apologies, some questions, and some judgements - and all I could think about was what my dad would say.
I was being attacked. I'm a 20-year-old woman. I'm still learning how to be an adult and be sexual and learning how to be me, and it's healthy to express and explore that. I felt like this writer was trying to shame me into silence. Into hiding. It felt like cyber bullying. She wrote about a me that didn't even exist. And for a week I couldn't read the comments below the article because I knew it would hurt. But then, I realized they were commenting about this fake image, not me. My dad said, "None of this matters. I love you, your friends love you...This isn't you." People post crud all the time and, eventually, it all gets buried by the internet. No article is bigger than me.
And that was your first experience with press.
She [the journalist] was like, "Oh! I just want to know about your Tumblr, what you're doing." But I learned.
What did you learn?
When I talked to people about it, I asked, "What do I do? Do I stand up for myself?" A few people told me to keep quiet because they'll come at you again. But I think it's important for me to have a voice, so I wrote an essay as a response and it did really well. I think just staying true to yourself and standing up for yourself is important even if people don't accept it. I think as young women, people always try to shame us into being silent or submissive, but you can't lose your voice.
Which women inspire you with their voices?
Maya Angelou. She's someone with a huge voice that only used it for good. I love reading her books and poetry. Actually, my first book review on my blog is about her essay collection Letter to My Daughter. She's the female role model in my life and I don't have too many of those. I always had to be my own.
So now, with this blog, you get to use your voice for some good.
I have a great team: designers and coders, a fashion designer. It's a six-person team. I'm not in school so I have time to do this, finally. And I know not everyone will accept it. It's hard for me to wrap my head around because I want to spread something positive: body acceptance and feminism and equality as it applies to my world and these girls. I want to build people's self-esteem and create a safe place online for people to be themselves and share without being attacked like I was. No labels. No "crazy" or "weird."
What will the site include?
Lots of stuff. I'm not talking about beauty or fashion, though. It's about very human and empowering things - intimacy, honesty, emotional wellbeing, and self-acceptance. I want to teach young people it's okay to be yourself even if you that day is lying in bed, feeling sad.
What's your favorite thing about the site?
Now, when people meet me, they will know me for more than just photographs, what I look like. They can like me because they connect with my way of thinking, my writing. They can like what I have to say.
Your Instagram includes some sexy pictures.
It's just me. Sometimes I want to feel sexy and sometimes I think everything is beautiful and I think all bodies are beautiful. There's no adulterating. I have friends that say if I can look good in a photo that's great, and if I can make myself look a little better, good. But I want my Instagram to reflect my blog and who I am. Way back, I used to edit pics but now I don't feel comfortable promoting unrealistic beauty ideals. It feels inauthentic. I think showing your flaws is this act of pure self-love.
So what are you up to for the rest of the day?
Just going home, Writing! Finishing up a few articles.
Text Kristin Huggins
Photography Natalie Yang