Natalie Hage, a 30-year-old plus-size model from The Colony, has been trending online for days.
This week, she appeared on both Good Morning America and Good Morning Britain. Even musician Questlove, who appears on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, tweeted his approval of the way she confronted a body shamer on an American Airlines flight.
Hage's message is clear: "It's OK to call out people who hurt you." The full-time college student at University of North Texas in Denton with a full-time job has been doing numerous interviews to inspire confidence and shatter misconceptions, she says, about being "fat."
"Plus-size people live in fear that people will say something horrible about them," she explains in an interview with GuideLive. "We've been taught our whole lives that fat is the worst thing you can be."
Five years ago, Hage pursued an interest in modeling and fashion. On social media, she started documenting her lifestyle as a plus-size person.
"There are all these really poor misconceptions about how we live our lives -- that we're sad, incompetent, stupid or lazy," Hage says. "All of these horrible stereotypes have come along for no reason other than for us to be a punching bag for people."
Hage particularly takes issue with the notion that she is promoting an unhealthy lifestyle. "I wish my doctor could do a news broadcast on how healthy I am," she says. "Being plus-size is no indicator of health. And health is not a marker of worth and should not equate to how we are treated."
Her social posts started gaining traction. By 2017, Hage had more than 100,000 Instagram followers and was featured in several fashion articles. She considers herself more of an influencer than a model.
But she has been constantly harassed, typically in the form of fat-shaming comments online, she says. Hage doesn't censor them; she wants people to see what it can be like to be a plus-size person.
That experience went viral last week when she boarded a flight to a modeling shoot in Los Angeles and the passenger sitting next to her started fat-shaming her via text messages on his phone.
"I didn't think twice about him until he started acting so dramatically, huffing and puffing and jerking around in his seat," she says.
"I wasn't in his space."
Hage, who has a fear of flying, says the flight crew was friendly and sympathetic when she asked to be moved, but the flight was oversold and other seats weren't available. She asked another passenger to switch seats with her but he refused. A flight attendant offered her a drink and she ordered wine.
Hage confronted the man after the plane landed because he'd sent text messages about her size that said things like "I think she ate a Mexican." He also suggested a plus-size person can't be helpful in an emergency situation, and they were sitting in the exit row, Today reports.
"It's these kind of damaging perceptions that perpetuate this hate and shame towards fat people," Hage says. "It's sad that people can't see past the size of someone's pants."
Security personnel were waiting to speak with Hage after the flight. But with no crime committed, they suggested she file a complaint with the airline. She did this after returning to Dallas on Sunday and has not yet received a response, she told us.
The story was out, though: Hage's video of the exchange quickly went viral. More than 1.5 million people around the world have watched the footage on Facebook.
Hage says she intentionally left the man's face out of the video to make sure people didn't shame his appearance. "I wanted the camera to be a fly on the wall in a situation that plus-size people experience a lot," Hage says. "This kind of treatment ruins people's self-esteem."
Some have said Hage invaded the man's privacy by looking at his phone and photographing his text messages. She says his phone was close to her, and that he wasn't trying to hide his texts.
Through the experience, Hage gained another 20,000 Instagram followers. She is particularly proud of the messages and e-mails she has received from teenagers.
"I was the chubby teenager who was bullied," Hage says. "It would've meant so much to have someone to look up to. There was nobody fighting for me to be treated like a person."