Life
Life beyond style

Instagram etiquette can be a minefield. How quickly do you have to like your friend’s picture? Is it appropriate to follow mutuals you’ve never met? What does it mean if someone likes—or doesn’t like—your selfie? And that’s before factoring in the recent update that now makes it possible to leave people on read.

However, as confusing as social media can be, there’s one thing that we’d like to think most people would agree with — don’t send your nudes to unwilling strangers.

Despite it being a very simple rule, a lot of people just can’t seem to follow it — something that a large portion of women on social media already know. Now, photographer Atisha Paulson has joined the unlucky club of people who regularly receive some unwanted dick pics in their inbox.

Paulson, who is a man despite many people assuming otherwise, is a photographer whose work includes natural “sexy” pictures of women. His work caught the attention of Playboy, who reposted him on their Instagram. That’s when things started to blow up.

Paulson was inundated with DMs from men who assumed he was the women in the picture. They sent dick pics, told him their sexual fantasies, and asked him personal details about himself — basically, they were insanely creepy.

Not used to receiving this kind of attention, at first, Paulson didn’t know what to do. Then, he decided to fight back. The photographer would reply to these men, toying with them and leading them on, before revealing who he actually was. Then, he started to publicly shame them on his Instagram Stories before he collated some of the worst messages he’s received into a zine called DM.

We caught up with Paulson to find out why he decided to make the zine, what the reaction has been like, and how men can send unsolicited DMs in a respectful way.

What made you decide to make this zine?

I was taking pictures of models and posting them on Instagram. Playboy saw my work and thought it would fit nicely with their rebrand at the time. After they posted my pictures on their Instagram, my DMs started blowing up.

I got my first dick pic not long after. A lot of the people messaging thought I was a woman, maybe because of my name, but it made me think to myself, “what woman would want to see this.” The answer was obvious — NONE. But just because the answer is obvious doesn’t mean anything, especially in the world of social media. Initially, I didn’t respond to the messages, I simply took a screenshot of them and tucked it away.

I’m not even close to proclaiming I know what it’s like to be a woman because of my super limited exposure to this… BUT… I do know that some dudes are gross and eventually I started fucking with them back.

I started posting screenshots of their messages and my replies on Instagram Stories and people freaked out. I was getting so many messages from both men and women thanking me for exposing these guys (I was posting their actual handles). A lot of people suggested I make a book or zine or project out of it, and that’s what I did.

What’s the worst message you’ve received? Were any so bad that you couldn’t print it in the zine?

I don’t know, there were dick pics and sexually explicit messages, but I just couldn’t believe that anyone would say this to a stranger. I mean, I know some guys can be pigs but this was disturbing because it opened my eyes to something that I’d been completely blind to.

Honestly, I was raised by a very strong woman, I have two very smart, powerful sisters and I married a woman who is probably one of the most powerful people I’ve ever met. So it never really crossed my mind to speak to a woman like this. Even though I’ve been around a lot of men in my life, most of them have never been the sort who would send a stranger a dick pic or say they want to eat them out.

To answer your question, we pretty much printed everything, and shamed the people who sent them for their behavior.

What do you usually reply to the DMs?

It really depends on my mood, my patience, and my tolerance level that day. Sometimes I would drag it out, cat and mouse style, until I pounced on them at the end.

There was this one really funny exchange when some man was asking me to model for him. I asked him what the rate for the job was and he said that first, he wanted me to do some “test poses” so he could get a “sense” of my style. When I asked him what he wanted to see it was like, “ass in the air, on all fours….”. I was fucking dying so I had my wife take the photos of me doing the poses, exactly as described and sent it to him.

After that, I started feeling ridiculous taking photos of people in those types of poses. I couldn’t ask anyone to do that again. It was like a switch flipped inside me and I actually get a little sick thinking about it.

Is it only men who message you in this way or has there been women too?

Mostly men sent the filthy messages but I had a few women send me nudes asking if I’d shoot them for Playboy. I didn’t put that stuff in the zine because it didn’t make sense and I didn’t want to embarrass them. More than anything, I felt a little sad for them. Maybe because I’m old and I don’t understand why you’d send a naked pic to a stranger.

Do you think there’s a way that men can slide into the DMs in a non-creepy way?

I think so. Let me put it like this: sliding into a DM should be like knocking on a strangers door. You don’t just drop your pants and bang away. No, you compose yourself, tuck your shirt in, fix your hair, stand up straight and knock politely. You hold your breath as the footsteps approach, hoping they won’t open it, give you a once over and slam it in your face.

Have you ever had a positive experience DM-ing a stranger?

Yes, I’ve gotten so many good messages and that’s one of the things I actually like about Instagram, it can connect you with anyone, anywhere, anytime. As a matter of fact, I DM’d Jessica Holmes who designed the zine. We had been following each other for a while and I really liked her style. I reached out to her via DM and told her about the project and asked her if it was something she’d be interested in working on and she said yes! She’s incredible, she was able to take what was in my head and put it on paper. She breathed so much life into the zine. I’m beyond thankful for her.

What has the reaction to the zine been like?

After posting screenshots, I was getting a lot of encouragement from women via Instagram stories, which is why the zine came to fruition. I think if I hadn’t got input from women, I wouldn’t have moved forward with the project. You have to remember, I started taking the screenshots and posting them like over a year ago. I don’t think people were as aware then as they are now about what women go through, I know I wasn’t.

As the DMs came in, I was learning as I went, and trying not to be dismissive of the gravity of the situation by mocking these guys. My editor, Erica Henegen, really helped me maintain the message on the zine, which is that this type of behavior is not acceptable—anywhere, anytime. I really deferred to her because as a woman, her perspective is invaluable.

What message do you want men to take from the zine?

Don’t be a pig.

You can buy DM online here, and in person at American Two Shot in Soho, NYC. 

Next up; here’s what it’s really like to be Instagram famous. 

Senior Staff Writer

Berlin-based writer and Rihanna enthusiast.

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