Social media has recently narrowed in on specific ways that women can act to put other women down—see “the pick me girl” or “the girl who wants your boyfriend/chill girl” trends of TikTok. But before society became self-aware, there was Acacia Brinley, at the exact wrong place at the exact wrong time.
Internalized misogyny has been the enemy of women for as long as society has been dominated by men, but the girls on Instagram and Twitter were so cruel and unrelenting from 2012-2015 that their actions seem monstrous today.
Perhaps it was because we were in our tween and barely-teen years during this pocket of time. Perhaps it was the lack of social advocacy against competition between women. Perhaps it was the craze over One Direction—1D—and Five Seconds of Summer—5SOS, which seems to have no parallel in the years following 1D’s breakup.
If you were a hard-core directioner, which almost every tween seemed to be with the increasing popularity of fandoms over social media, you probably knew about Acacia Brinley. But before we get there, we have to cover 5SOS.
1D introduced their fanbase to 5SOS in 2013 during 1D’s “Take Me Home Tour.” The 1D craze spread to 5SOS. The sheer amount of romantic and sexual 5SOS and/or 1D fanfiction produced during the 2012-2015 era is astounding to contemplate.
Maybe the fanfiction played a role in convincing fans, who were often underage, that they had a shot at dating a member of one of the two most popular bands in the world at the time. Regardless, fans of 1D and 5SOS took fandom to an entirely obsessive level.
And this is where Acacia Brinley comes in. Brinley gained a following through Tumblr when she was incredibly young. If you’ve ever searched the internet for the original 2013 “Tumblr Girl” aesthetic, most of the pictures you’ll find are of Acacia.
After gaining a Tumblr following, Brinley became popular on YouTube and even starred in a movie. Acacia was one of the first modern influencers. She became synonymous with this specific era of the 2010s.
According to user BrinleyBabe on Tumblr, Brinley was hated by several fandoms. She was publicly friends with bands like Hollywood Ending and After Romeo, which stirred jealousy in the fandoms of those bands, especially when Brinley began dating After Romeo member TC Carter. Brinley began getting more hate when she developed a relationship with another popular YouTube content creator Sam Potorff.
Trigger warning: possible non-consensual release of photos. Brinley’s nude photographs were spread around Tumblr when she was still in her early teens. She made new social media accounts, but this event in Brinley’s life was used against her by individuals who sent her hate, fueling the use of slut shaming against Brinley.
Brinley received the most hate for her “affiliation with … 5SOS.” She made her friendship with 5SOS member Michael Clifford public by posting texts from him, but also expressed interest in 5SOS member Luke Hemmings. Brinley also apparently attended a 1D concert “for free,” which made several of the bands’ fans attack her over social media.
Hatred of Acacia Brinley almost became a trend on the internet, as if she weren’t a human being. Criticism of her appearance, activities, and friends was invasive and persistent.
Brinley often changed her style and aesthetic, which critics claimed was a tactic employed to entrap boyfriends with. “Her ‘punk’ phase is reported to come from trying to impress 5SOS,” BrinleyBabe notes. “Her previous, more hipster phase, correlated with her ‘friendships’ with bands like Hollywood Ending and After Romeo.”
Most of the hatred targeted at Brinley was rooted in slut shaming. It’s not hard to make the connection between fandom jealousy and overwhelming hate directed at a beautiful, successful woman.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t valid reasons to critique Brinley, such as past evidence of racism and suggested animal abuse. However, Brinley did not deserve the slut shaming and defamation she received online for attracting the attention of the male celebrities we wished we could attract.
Though our society appears to have progressed beyond attacking women for being successful and sexual, this is a warning that we have to keep an eye on any type of mockery of women. Yeah, even TikTok mockeries. Let’s never regress to those early 2010s again, please.