'So here's the thing. Umm ... you can't do that.'
Meghan Tonjes awoke to an interesting Facebook message a few days ago.
It didn't bring the best news.
The message was from one of Tonjes' 237,000 subscribers on YouTube. She's a popular vlogger, so getting a message from one of them isn't that uncommon.
But this message was particularly ... interesting.
A subscriber asked her about an apparent photo of Tonjes being used as an ad at a weight-loss clinic in Georgia.
Yep, the photo was of her. And nope, it was not being used with her permission.
"I was in shock," Tonjes told Upworthy. "Shock soon became anger."
The story that accompanied Tonjes' photo in the ad made matters worse. It claimed that Tonjes' initials were "D.A." (nope), that her weight was 230 pounds (wrong again; she's actually more like 270), and that she was a mother trying to shed fat after having a baby (three strikes — you're out).
Here's what it looked like:
"It's such a misrepresentation of my weight and why I'm at that weight," Tonjes explained.
It's not even that the clinic alluded to the fact Tonjes is fat. In fact, as a fat activist, "fat" is a label she wears proudly.
Tonjes is an outspoken advocate for loving yourself regardless of your shape or size and has been working to end misconceptions about what it means to be fat for years.
"I think it's important to remember that the word 'fat' is not in itself hurtful," she explained in a video back in 2012, noting she's not offended by the label. "It's all the things that you attach to the word 'fat.' Call me lazy, call me unmotivated, call me ugly, call me sloppy, call me unhygienic, call me all these other things that people associate with the word 'fat' — that is not true."
She's onto something. Because while there's no shortage of harmful stereotypes about being fat — like that fat people are certainly unhealthy, that they must lack willpower, or that they're surely desperate for dates — the over-generalizations don't hold up. (So before you think, "But isn't Meghan encouraging people to live unhealthfully?" — nah, not at all.)
Tonjes was outraged because the clinic used her photo to promote a method of losing weight she certainly would not endorse — even if they had asked for permission.
"This business is selling a dream of meaningful or long-term weight loss through injections and special drops," she told Upworthy. "Now, I'm not a doctor, but..."
Tonjes did what many of us would do — she called the weight-loss clinic's office and demanded answers. The doctor in charge was apparently on vacation, so Tonjes left a message with the receptionist.
“I just wanted to let the doctor know that I hope that he had a good day off, and I will be contacting my lawyer," she says on the phone with the clinic in her video. "Because that's incredibly illegal to use my face as advertising without payment and without notification."
Although Tonjes threatened legal action in her video, she told Upworthy she believes the conversation around using photos without a person's consent — especially to promote something that person might not support and that might not even be true — is the most important thing right now.
"Be critical of businesses using photos like this," she said. "Be critical of any business that sells you a dream of overnight change. Protect your brand and your work. "
"I just want people, wherever they are with their bodies, to know that they are worthy of love and respect," she said. "There's no magical weight or size where life magically starts, so start doing what you love now."
So far, Tonjes said she has not been contacted directly by (let alone received an apology from) the clinic.
Upworthy reached out to the business that used Tonjes' photo for comment but had not heard back by the time of publishing. The article will be updated should the business respond.