Behold, the Fine Art of the Lesbian Thirst Trap

"If we can’t post hot photos of our butts online and celebrate each other, what the f*ck are we here for?"

What’s in a thirst trap? For queer women, the answer isn’t always as explicit as it may seem at first (or second, or third) glance.

As its name suggests, a thirst trap is categorized first and foremost by its purpose: capturing the attention of potential suitors on social media. Urban Dictionary defines a thirst trap as “a sexy photograph or flirty message posted on social media [with] the intent of causing others to publicly profess their attraction,” sometimes without any concrete plan to “respond [to] or satisfy any of this attraction.”

So, yes, there’s usually a very surface-level, ISO external validation factor to uploading a racy pic of oneself to Instagram, though for some queer thirst trap evangelists, the power of the art form doesn’t stop there.

Vanessa Pamela Friedman, Autostraddle’s community editor and resident thirst trap expert, tells me that thirst traps can double as a potent tool for boosting one’s self-confidence. In her January 2019 Autostraddle magnum opus titled “Your Homework for 2019 Is to Assume Everyone Thinks You’re Hot, I’m Serious,” Friedman points out that the thirst trap’s true power actually has nothing to do with the thirst trap itself. It’s the unabashed show of confidence—in oneself, in one’s body—that ultimately attracts others.

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HAPPY SAG SEASON LET’S SET THINGS ON FIRE // : @mollyktadams

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Vanessa Pamela Friedman.

It’s not a stretch, then, to argue that this logic applies even more so to queer women, who experience the magnified effects of navigating a cis-heteronormative patriarchy as both women and members of the LGBTQ community. Many of us are familiar with the phenomenon of #Instagays, or perfectly sculpted, conventionally attractive gay men who boast (and often commodify) their likenesses on Instagram.

Few queer women who post thirst traps on Instagram have ascended to the online fame of top-tier Instagays, whose followers can number into the millions. That’s not to say popular queer women influencers don’t exist, because girlthey do. Trust me. They also tend to embody traditional beauty ideals in a similar way (read: thin, androgynous-leaning white women galore). There’s no shame in getting your coin, but for queer women whose bodies—or messages—aren’t as easily marketable to mainstream brands, thirst traps can serve a very different purpose: celebrating yourself and your body with like-minded followers in a world which does not inherently champion you.

There’s a degree of safety that comes with a scaled-down following, too. For queer women—especially those who aren’t interested in attracting romantic or sexual attention from cisgender, heterosexual men—posting thirst traps sometimes means attracting attention from unwanted parties. Friedman says she’s lucky enough that her small, majority-LGBTQ following means she rarely attracts unwanted attention (or unsolicited DMs) from cis-het men. That said, she does employe Instagram’s block button very liberally. “If someone follows me and I don’t know them and don’t like their vibe,” she explains, “I block without hesitation.”

In fact, Friedman worries more about a different audience unintentionally finding her thirst traps: potential employers. As an academic at a liberal arts college, Friedman is currently on the hunt for teaching gigs. While she knows posting hot pics of her in a bikini doesn’t make her a bad teacher, the people hiring her might not feel the same way. It’s a consideration to keep in mind when posting racy photos on social media—and the kind of foresight Friedman believes should factor into “posting…anything, really!”

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FUQQQQQQQ Dress: @asos

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Jazzmyne Robbins.

“I don’t believe we are doing anything wrong when we post celebrations of ourselves,” she adds. “I think we are actually doing something very right. And while I will always stress safety and comfort first… I will also always, always, always support everyone’s right to post thirst traps on the internet. It’s 2020, and joy is scarce—if we can’t post hot photos of our butts online and celebrate each other, what the fuck are we here for?”

Jazzmyne Robbins, a queer Instagram influencer and a producer for Buzzfeed’s “As/Is” digital series, tells me she rarely considers the potential for unwanted attention when uploading thirst traps to Insta.

“I post photos for me, and then for my followers that I know support me,” Robbins says. “I do understand that anyone can see anything that I post, and sometimes I will get comments that are not cool to look at, but I just delete the comments.” She likens deleting disparaging comments on her posts to weeding out toxic people in her life: “I wouldn’t keep people in my life who make me feel bad, so I’m not going to keep comments on my Instagram that me feel bad.”

As for what makes a perfect, eye-catching thirst trap? Good lighting and a strong image composition help. It might sound obvious, but Friedman also stresses the importance of actually feeling good during the photo-taking process.

“At the end of the day, the main point of a selfie or a thirst trap for me is just to feel good in my body,” she adds. “Like, This is my face, this is my body, I like myself even on days when I don’t like capital-L Love myself, please enjoy this glimpse of myself.”

Robbins agrees and describes her goal aesthetic as “pure confidence pouring out.” “That’s what I’m going for,” she says. “It does start with [intention] because if you are trying to impress others or do something not true to you, the picture will not be good!”

There’s some vanity inherent to taking and uploading saucy selfies, sure, but thirst traps are—well, more than just skin-deep. They’re an exercise in complete control over one’s image—which, for women and members of the LGBTQ community, is a rarity. They’re also tools for attracting romantic and sexual partners, and for self-care through body positivity and self-love. And if that’s not a radical political act, then I don’t know what is.

Brooklyn-based writer and editor. Probably drinking iced coffee or getting tattooed.
@_sammanzella