Home Entertainment AT&T’s Lily Faced Sexual Harassment Online — Then She Got a Call...

AT&T’s Lily Faced Sexual Harassment Online — Then She Got a Call of Support From Progressive’s Flo: I Felt ‘Like There Were People on My Team’

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If you don’t know the actor Milana Vayntrub by name, then chances are high that you would recognize her face. Since 2013, Vayntrub has been the on-and-off again star of many AT&T commercials as the character Lily, a jolly AT&T employee who has comedic interactions with customers. Vayntrub’s Lily was the face of a national AT&T campaign for three years before she took a hiatus and revived the character in 2020 for a series of pandemic-themed commercials.

Vayntrub is the subject of a new profile from The New York Times, in which she reflects on the highs and lows of her tenure playing Lily. She auditioned for the character as a 26-year-old and “dressed like I imagined a friendly girl would dress.” When the pandemic hit, Vayntrub herself pitched Lily’s return to AT&T.

Per The Times: “This time, Lily would be working from home. AT&T greenlit the proposal. Vayntrub directed the spots herself. She filmed the national ads in her own house, recreating Lily’s hair and makeup herself under the remote supervision of a professional.”

But stepping back into the national spotlight as the face of AT&T came with unexpected results, mainly online sexual harassment and unwarranted attention from internet trolls.

“A few months into the reprisal, however, the tenor of Lily’s — and therefore Vayntrub’s — reception abruptly veered from benign tolerance to lecherous malevolence,” The Times reports in the profile. “In the summer of 2020, seemingly overnight, one small but vocal corner of the internet fixed its gaze upon Vayntrub and began referring to her by a new name: Mommy Milkers, a reference to her breasts. En masse, people spammed the comment sections of AT&T’s social-media posts with lewd declarations and emojis of glasses of milk. The jeering became inescapable for Vayntrub, bleeding into the comments of her personal social-media accounts. Recent posts and years-old ones were targeted. Her personal photos were widely redistributed among strangers. Spammy websites promised access to pornographic videos of her that did not exist.”

The online sexual harassment got so extreme that Vayntrub took to Instagram live in August 2020 to call it out. She disclosed at the time that the harassment included people making sexist comments to her and some followers asking her to send them nude photos.

“Maybe it just has to do with being a person on the internet, or maybe it’s specific to being a woman on the internet,” Vayntrub explained at the time. “But all of these comments — it hurts my feelings. I’m hurting and it’s bringing up, like, a lot of feelings of sexual assault. I am just like, you know, walking my dog and getting messages from people who have distorted my pictures to get likes on their accounts. I am not consenting to any of this. I do not want any of this.”

Amid the online sexual harassment, Vayntrub received a phone call of support from none other than Flo from Progressive — actor Stephanie Courtney. Courtney told The Times that she has not experienced the kind of harassment that Vayntrub has battled online. But Courtney saw the trouble Vayntrub was in and called her. Vayntrub told The Times that Courtney was a good listener and said Courtney’s call made her feel “like there were people on my team.”

Despite the harassment, playing Lily for AT&T has given Vayntrub a career and a salary that has completely changed her personal life. When asked if the benefits of playing Lily outweighed the toxic downside, Vayntrub answered: “One hundred percent.”

Head over to The New York Times’ website to read its profile of Vayntrub in its entirety.