After sharing a text conversation where her boyfriend encouraged her to lose weight from her “beer gut” on Twitter, one woman gained thousands of internet friends — and decided to dump her boyfriend, losing “a hefty 180 lbs.” in the process.
Shelby Johnson, 23, shared their text exchange after her boyfriend said that she didn’t look like she did when they first met.
“It’s not like I haven’t told you you’ve been gaining and needed to lose anyway,” he wrote. “You’re definitely getting a beer gut babe.”
His comments were tough for Johnson to hear, because she went through years of body frustrations. As a high schooler, she had to be hospitalized because her body wouldn’t gain weight and got down to 80 lbs., to the confusion of doctors. By age 20, Johnson was finally able to add pounds and her body image soared.
“I haven’t been self conscious in years. I was when I was underweight, but when I started getting to my goal weight my entire mindset changed,” she tells PEOPLE. “I felt more confident, more whole even. I knew that I was getting where I wanted to be and strived to be. His comments did make me self-conscious. I started trying to work out 24/7. A couple friends noticed and expressed concern in my sudden desire to be ‘so fit.’ “
Johnson, who said in her tweet that she’s only gained 5 lbs. in the five months that they’ve been dating, decided to post the exchange because she thought she might be overreacting, and wanted a second (or 39,500th) opinion.
“I had been struggling in our relationship for a while due to other concerns I was having about his behavior toward me,” she says. “So none of my friends or family knew what was going on. I had a few close internet friends that I thought would give me a good, genuine, non-biased reply. I had no idea it would go viral. I only had about 200 followers!”
But it definitely did go viral, with nearly 39,500 likes and over 5,700 comments from people telling Johnson to break up with him, and that she’s beautiful already.
“The reaction was and is still overwhelming,” she says. “But the people sharing their stories has been so heartwarming. Men, women, everyone has reached out and told me my story has inspired them. I couldn’t ask for a better outcome. It’s not even about me anymore, it’s about touching other people.”
Johnson decided to dump him — though she says that she had made that choice before the Twitter reaction. “The comments only made me realize I wasn’t crazy for being hurt,” she says. And she joked in another tweet that their breakup meant that she was “dropping a hefty 180 lbs.”
And she adds that the split was tough, but she wishes him the best.
“I really did love him,” Johnson says. “He is a good person deep down — he has a lot of growing to do though. Hopefully this motivates him, he said it has.”
The photographer and college student also encourages everyone to love themselves.
“Don’t let anyone tell you what’s healthy or not healthy besides your doctor, because that is how eating disorders happen,” Johnson says. “Be careful, notice red flags and don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself and leave something that is no longer making you feel happy.”